Saturday, December 24, 2011

Feliz Navidad

Christmas 2011 - my first one as a married woman. Certainly this holiday is special as my husband and I celebrate together, blending the favorite aspects of our respective families' traditions with new ones that are uniquely ours. Recently we were sharing our favorite Christmas music and why our chosen songs were meaningful to us; after reflecting on this conversation, I would like to share a piece of our hearts and our stories with you, even as we share it with each other for the first time. 

Collins has a particular affinity for O Holy Night. For him the song triggers fond childhood memories of going to church on Christmas Eve and listening to a close family friend, his 'Aunt Judy,' belting this song out in her amazing soprano voice during the annual candle light service. As he grew older, however, he began to pay attention to the lyrics and one particular verse came to hold significance for him. He explained to me that the words point to the promise that is fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ - nine brief lines sum up the gospel. Here are those words:

from 'O Holy Night'    

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

The song that speaks to my heart most powerfully is O Little Town of Bethlehem. Though I knew it from years of childhood church services, the first time I remember taking notice of it was back in the late 80's when Amy Grant released a jazzy rendition on her holiday album. It was a favorite of mine and my college friends because it was so catchy. I didn't consciously ponder the lyrics at that time, but I'm certain God used them to penetrate my heart unknowingly. It is no coincidence that, years later, after I had given my life to Christ, my church's tradition was to sing one verse of the song each week of Advent, culminating in singing the entire carol at the midnight candle light service on Christmas Eve. During those years the words took on new meaning - one verse in particular - because it speaks to the way I came into relationship with Jesus - quietly, silently, very unassumingly: 

from 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

As I have observed Advent with my Peruvian brothers and sisters this year, my heart has been filled to overflowing each Sunday as we sang Noche de Paz, the Spanish version of Silent Night. Throughout the past three years, I have heard many familiar tunes played and sung, but the words are always at least slightly different. Some of them are as close to a literal translation as possible, while other lyrics must be altered significantly to convey a meaning that can be understood by Spanish speakers. For me, the words always seem so much more powerful in Spanish - I attribute that to the fact that I am in love with the language, and, as a result, I hear the words with fresh ears because they are not in my native tongue. I am struck most by the simplicity of the words that are so heavily charged with implication for all of humanity:

from 'Noche de Paz' (Silent Night)

Noche de paz, noche de amor,
(Night of peace, night of love,)
Todo duerme en derredor;
(All around everyone sleeps;)
Sobre el santo niño Jesús
(Over the holy baby Jesus)
Una estrella esparce su luz,
(One star disperses its light)
Brilla sobre el Rey
(Shining over the King)
Brilla sobre el Rey.
(Shining over the King.)

And so I share a little piece of us (myself, Collins, and my Peruvian family) with you. As I read over this I am aware of how unbelievably blessed I am: first in the fact that God would choose to put on human skin and become part of finite time and space so that we may have opportunity to join Him in eternity, second that He has allowed me to marry a man who finds His life's meaning in the same place I find my own, and third that I am privileged to be welcomed into a culture that is not my own as though I were one of their own. This, my friends, is a true gift of Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Financial Security

No other time of the year brings my financial insecurities and issues to the foreground like Christmas does. I'll spare you the soapbox lecture on gross consumerism, abhorrent materialism, and outright greed - all of which turn me to a most brilliant shade of florescent lime green and color me 'GRINCH.' After literally spending years getting out from under a mountain of debt, I am sensitive to even the slightest bit of economic pressure. My most recent money woes began with getting married earlier this year so that there are now two people to be considered in all matters financial instead of just one (not to mention two families to buy Christmas and birthday presents for). Then they branch out to a constantly declining foreign currency exchange rate (which means the dollar is steadily losing its value against the Peruvian Nuevo Sol and effectively destroying my budget), to a loss of donors (not a good thing when 100% of your salary is based on fundraising), to rising insurance premiums (the likes of which take a bigger bite out of my budget than any other single line item), to a basically non-existent retirement account (kissed that good-bye when I left teaching). Add it all up and it amounts to absolute panic.

I have been in 'freak-out' mode for a while now. Being the chronic worrier that I am, I seldom rest in the promise of 'manna.' Thankfully my husband remains grounded and frequently talks me down off the ledge when chaos rules my brain. He reminds me of the fact that, thanks to God's supernatural provision almost twelve years ago, I became debt-free in just six years rather than the ten years my financial advisor projected. He points out, again, the evidence of God's faithfulness in my pre-mission field fundraising, making it possible for me to move to Peru a year sooner than I originally planned. And he readjusts my point of view so that there, in plain sight, are the countless little ways God meets our every need - things like that unexpected check in the mail from someone who is not a regular donor, or the women's Bible study group whose shopping spree stocks me with a year's worth of shampoo, toothpaste, dryer sheets, and blueberry muffin mix, and the list goes on. Then I feel ashamed. Why are things like this impossible to forget when times are good, but so hard to remember when things seem bleak?

God obviously knows that I've been engaged in a spiritual struggle over finances lately. Not willing to pass up an opportunity to humble me and screw my head back on straight, He orchestrated a string of 'coincidences' that have taken my eyes off of myself and lifted my gaze up and away once again. The first proverbial smack in the face was the Holy Spirit leading me into a study of the book of James:

1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

2:5 - Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…?

2:15-16 - Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 

4:1-3 - What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

4:13-14 - Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes.

5:1,3 - Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you…You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

5:16 - Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

WOW! The Lord skipped right over my superficial issues and went straight to the state of my soul. As a result, Collins and I have had some pretty heavy conversations about our (well, mainly MY) attitude about money and feeling the need to hoard every penny, afraid of what unexpected expenses the future might bring, when we're already living on salaries so small that were we each living alone Collins would just be getting by and I would have already been evicted. We determined that we are holding on too tight and decided that the proper course of action is to pry our fingers off of some money and give sacrificially, trusting God to meet our needs as we meet the needs of others. This is a leap of faith, folks, but we're stepping out on that limb nonetheless - and I'm a little scared. Scratch that…I'm terrified!

But God didn't stop there. Over the course of the past week I had the pleasure of spending time with some Peruvian pastor friends. We covered a variety of topics throughout our lengthy discussions, but no matter what theme we strayed to, our conversation always seemed to come back to money. It started with a discussion centered around a pastor who was angry that his gringo friends, who visit his church several times a year, were not giving him money. His perception is that they are white and North American, therefore they are wealthy (relatively speaking he is correct!). He attempted to manipulate them (the gringos) by refusing to open the church and hold services for several weeks, then threatened to abandon the church altogether. A member of his congregation dared to approach the pastor and point out the error in his thinking. This man told his minister that their duty as Christians is to look to God, not man, for provision. Now there's an idea - trust God - look to Him to meet my needs. Hmmm...

Yet another pastor, with whom I was whiling away the morning, spoke of church members who not only refuse to tithe, but will not give any amount of money to the church. Regular home visits with his congregants yields the same story; family after family informs him that if they put change in the offering plate, then they will go hungry at least that day, possibly longer. His response? He quoted Malachi 3:10 and challenged them to put God to the test . He told them that they don't know how to give and, as a result, they don't receive; if they want to be blessed, they must first be a blessing. Ok, now God really had my attention. For the people in these jungle villages, any giving is sacrificial, so who am I to refuse to dig deeper into my pockets and give until it hurts?

And just yesterday I was reading The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn't Exist by Craig Groeschel. The chapter entitled When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money drove home the lessons God has been teaching me in recent weeks. I invite you to ponder the following statements with me:

"Instead of comparing ourselves with our neighbors, we need to compare ourselves with the rest of the world. More than half of the people on earth live on less than two dollars a day in conditions of incredible squalor and hardship. The reality is that most of us in North America are filthy rich."

"I always told myself, one day when we have a certain amount saved, then I'll feel secure. Yet each time I crossed that imaginary line of security, my line moved. What before seemed like more than enough suddenly didn't feel like close to enough. After serious prayer and reflection, I realized what I was doing. I was placing my trust in money instead of in God."

"Americans are not known for being sacrificially generous. In fact, 21 percent of consistent American church members don't give anything to their church - not a single cent. Seventy-one percent of Christians give less than 2 percent of their income. Yet the Bible is clear that Christians are called to give generously, lest they start trusting money until it becomes their god."

"Hearing that you should give a full 10 percent often induces involuntary seizures. 'What!?' people exclaim, dumbfounded. 'To give 10 percent would mean I'd have to totally rearrange my life!' Exactly! You get to rearrange your life around God!"

"The Christian Atheist justifies himself: 'Sure, I'll give…as long as it doesn't lower my standard of living.'"

And the crowning statement - the one that addresses the primary issue that drives me into 'Grinchdom' every year as the news reports millions of dollars of sales and people buy thousands of gifts for those who already have everything they could ever need or want anyway, and as I feel the financial pressure to buy those same types of gifts, spending money that, for me, is not disposable and would be better spent on things of eternal significance - is this:

"At Christmas this year…we sat down with our kids and proposed a much different plan than their usual wish lists for the latest and best toys, games, and clothes. We asked the kids if they would consider not giving or receiving presents this year. Instead, we would give what we'd normally spend to support an orphanage…After hearing about the children who have nothing, my six - who have almost everything - happily voted unanimously in favor of this decision. It was probably the best Christmas we've ever had."

It's a lot to chew on, I know. But it seems to me the choice is very simple, albeit difficult: trust God or not.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Today is just another work day in Iquitos, Peru, but back home in the U.S. you all are celebrating Thanksgiving. It's that time of year again when we pause to count those things for which we are thankful - family, friends, jobs, children, grandchildren, church families - the things we deem 'good' in our lives. But when is the last time we thanked God for our troubles? I know, I know - you think I've lost my mind. Or have I? In my recent study of the book of James, I was greeted immediately with these words from the opening chapter:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing

of your faith develops perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work

so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

Are you kidding me? I'm supposed to be joyful in the hard times of my life? I should trust that something beneficial is being accomplished in my misery? If you're like me, you are 'thankful' to fast forward through those moments/days/seasons of life. Yet the reality of the Scriptures is that God not only allows difficulties to befall me, He goes a step further and works in those trying times to further mold me into the person He intends me to be. If trials are blessings, then the past couple of years have left me with my cup overflowing. I should be one of the most grateful people in the world; and I am. 

In January 2010, my husband and I took our first steps onto the path that would eventually take us to the altar. But before we said our "I Do's," we faced many months of criticism, judgment, and outright opposition to our relationship. My character, integrity, and entire Christian walk came under scrutiny. Gossip raged about me and my life became like a specimen in a lab with numerous 'scientists' jockeying for position around the microscope to take a look at me and perhaps even poke and prod me as well. While we were loved, encouraged, supported and defended by many in our respective families, in our church family, and among our friends, those who stood against us often did so in a very public, deeply hurtful way. It was a tribulation that would tear at the very core of our beings and test our faith like nothing else ever had. Collins bore the brunt of the attacks as he was on the front lines in the U.S., while I grieved and ached from a distance here in the jungle. We shared our individual and collective pain frequently with each other, and more than once wondered, out loud, why God was leading us in this direction when it was clearly filled with so much heartache. Innumerable prayers and days of poring through the Scriptures revealed to us that the accomplishing of His good and perfect will would not be pain free, nor should it be in light of the price that was paid for our salvation.

Now, nearly two years later, we are beginning to emerge from the desolation of the desert. Every day - 'poco a poco' as we say in Spanish - we realize just how blessed we have been by the trials we faced because they drove us straight into the outstretched arms of Jesus, both as a couple and as individuals. He became the only solace for our pain and we gained a most valuable insight - that we, one man and one woman, are ultimately unable to meet the most profound, soul-level needs of the other - only God can fill those voids, satisfy those yearnings, and bring peace in the midst of turmoil. As a result, on April 16, 2011, our marriage began firmly and completely rooted in God as our foundation. It is virtually impossible not to be grateful for this truth that we could not fully grasp were it not for ' our light and momentary troubles' (II Corinthians 4:17). I invite you to join Collins and me in counting all that we encounter in our lives as blessings - the good as well as the not-so-good.

And so I leave you on this Thanksgiving day with lyrics penned by my precious friend, Laura Story:

'Blessings' - by Laura Story

We pray for blessings; we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
But all the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness; we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desperate plea
But long that we'd have faith to believe


When friends betray us; when darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart that this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know You're near
What if my greatest disappointments, or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
And what if trials of this life: the rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

***Laura Story, originally from Spartanburg, SC, is an up and coming artist on the Christian music scene. She won a Dove Award in 2008 for Inspirational Album and has since been nominated twice for Female Vocalist. You can find her music on iTunes and YouTube, or you may visit her website at***

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picture It…If You Can

I would love to be able to supply you with photographic evidence of this, but Villa ran before I could stop laughing and get a steady enough hand to take the picture. But I think a mental image will do you just fine!

Today we have had a true 'rainy season' day. The morning consisted of intermittent showers interrupted by sunshine and extreme humidity. By around 1:30 p.m., though, the sky opened up and the torrential tropical downpour began. At first I was kicked back, enjoying the soothing effects of the rain - hanging with my pups and doing a little reading - when Villa returned from lunch. About the same time, the wind picked up and I decided I should probably make my rounds of the house to be sure none of the rooms were getting wet due to open windows. I shrieked and panicked as soon as I got to the room that serves as both the pharmacy and the Medical Missions office. I flashed back to my British Literature and caught myself quoting Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - 'water, water everywhere.' And there was water alright - LOTS of it - but the wind had nothing to do with it. It was raining down the inside of the exterior wall as well as through the ceiling rendering the accountant's computer thoroughly doused. 

While I was in the house trying to do technological damage control and get the computer out of the water, wiped down, and in front of a fan to dry out (I have no idea if the computer will ever work again - and given that I'm not fond of the mix of electricity and water it won't be me who tests it), Villa scaled the roof to discover that an overabundance of leaves had clogged the gutters and the pile up left the rain nowhere to go but through the roof, soaking the ceiling tiles, thus creating a one inch pool of water in both the office and an adjoining bedroom. Villa cleaned the roof off and I began alternately soaking and wringing the mop to get the standing water taken care of (this job was way too big for a few towels).

When all was said and done we were both sopping wet. Not a problem for me - I live here and so do my clothes; Villa, however, is not so fortunate. Having been on the roof during the worst of the downpour, he looked like he'd just emerged from the Amazon after a swim. I offered to throw his clothes in the dryer, but he said he didn't have anything else to wear, so he asked for a towel and headed to the pond house to wring out his clothes before he headed home. About 15 minutes later he appeared at the back door wearing only the towel, socks, and tennis shoes (he'd gone onto the roof barefooted so these were dry), and holding his clothes in his hands saying that after he showered the clothes were just too cold and wet to put back on, wanting to know if I would give them a spin in the dryer. I said of course I would, but first I needed to get my camera to take a picture of him and I exploded laughing. As I bolted for the camera, he dropped his clothes in the doorway and, holding the towel securely in place so as not to scar me for life, took off running for the pond house again. I tried to tail him, but afraid of falling again and actually getting hurt this time I couldn't keep up with him in my flip-flops on the slick concrete and he got away. I was laughing too hard to get anything other than a blur anyway. After that he hid and wouldn't come back; he yelled from a distance, somewhere out of sight, for me to leave his dry clothes sitting on top of the dryer and he would come get them and put them on. Ordering me to go back in the house, to close the door, and to stay away from the windows he said, and I quote, "I don't trust you with that camera because you will send the picture to everybody in the U.S. and they will laugh at me." What can I say? He's got me pegged.

Did I mention that I absolutely love this life here?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Slippin' and Slidin'

Life in the world of full-time foreign missions is a regular, daily exercise in intensely spiritual and emotional experiences; both the highs and the lows come with the territory and lead me into fuller, deeper communion with God - for that I am grateful. But not everything about mission work is heavy. There are everyday occurrences that require laughter as a coping mechanism (i.e. dealing with cultural and language issues), and others that are just outright hilarious. 

If we had seasons here we would be entering spring, but since we are situated only about 3.5 degrees below the equator - so close we can almost touch this imaginary line - the climate here is pretty consistent year round (other areas of Peru are jealous when they are in the throes of winter). Instead we jungle people distinguish our seasons using the terms 'rainy' and 'dry' (which is subject to questioning because we often have as much rain during the 'dry' season as we do in 'rainy'). We are entering what is considered the official 'rainy season.'

Last week brought several days of torrential rain to Iquitos. On Thursday morning, during a particularly potent downpour, I was scheduled to meet with the architect in charge of the new construction here on the Jardin property at 7 a.m. Having spent so much time on this property over the past 5 years, I am well aware that the dampness and dense foliage in here produces algae, and this said algae makes itself at home on concrete surfaces. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that algae and rain make a very slick combination. Because I am aware of this, however, I was being overly cautious as Villa and I headed out the back door of the main house and across the property to the construction area. Walking gingerly, I paid close attention to the sidewalk, avoiding spots with the potential for disaster. But on this day, caution would not be enough…

The gigantic rain drops pelted me, slapping my jacket with a steady rhythm, as the fatal moment arrived. It happened so fast, yet it was as if I was moving in slow motion. Mere steps away from my destination, I placed my flip-flop clad foot down and began what can only be described as a half-split, followed by a partial back-bend and full leg extension, accompanied by a backstroke motion (ensuring that my upper back hit the concrete first), followed by the painful thud of my rear, winding down into a rocking motion, and ending with me lying flat on my back in a full stretch (arms overhead, elongated body and all). I'll allow you a break here to recover from the hysterical laughter you are now experiencing as a result of the mental picture of my crash.

In reality the fall took about 15 seconds (or less) from start to finish, but it seemed more like 5 minutes as I watched Villa reaching out for me in his unsuccessful attempt to catch me, or at least help break my fall while shouting "No, Pamelita, No, Pamelita, No Pamelita!" Perhaps the highlight of my slippin' and slidin' was lying on the algae coated concrete (my legs actually came to rest in a sopping wet pile of deteriorating leaves) in the pouring rain, most of my clothes and body now covered in muck, listening to the construction workers cheering and clapping. Evidently I delivered an award-winning performance. 

Luckily my sense of humor was not injured in the least - my first reaction was to laugh. Other than a sore wrist and a still-aching tail bone, no harm was done, and three days later I chuckle heartily when I think about how I must have looked on my way down. 

You'll be happy to know that business did not suffer - I picked my filthy, dirty self up, walked over to the engineer, shook his hand, and met with him as planned.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And So Goes My Life…

It has been a little more than a week now since the last gringo mission team departed from Iquitos, and it feels very strange to be in the house and on the property alone after 12 weeks of guests. I'd like to be able to say that things have slowed down a bit, but so far that hasn't happened. Bringing a mission team season to a close and getting adjusted to work without gringos again is more involved than you might think.

While life here may remain busy, it is never dull, routine, or boring. Just this morning, as I was getting my day started around 7:30 a.m., I heard the dogs going berserk. Such behavior at that time of day usually indicates that some scared animal (typically a cat) has either gotten trapped and cannot get away from them, or is already in the process of an untimely demise. So out the back door I went, whistling and calling their names. As I exited the house, I saw Dolly pawing at the door of one of the storage rooms, barking ferociously with Tamy jockeying for position and a chance to illustrate the euphemism "fighting like cats and dogs." About that same time I heard "meow," and another "meow" coming from inside the storage room. But something sounded weird, unnatural about this cat. Thinking that it had already been attacked and managed to get away from the salivating beasts that roam my yard so it could pass from this world in a somewhat peaceful manner, I grabbed Dolly by the collar, dragging her away from the door while Tamy followed. 

The next sound I heard was laughing; it was a very familiar, unmistakable giggle. I turned to see Villa emerging from the storage room where he had been hiding and "meowing." It seems he needed some entertainment to get the week started properly and thought the best way to achieve that was to taunt the dogs. Who does that??? He even went so far as to tell me that he plays practical jokes on the dogs all the time when I'm in the U.S. and it's just the three of them living here together. I have no idea exactly what that means and I don't want to know!

Suffice it to say that Villa continues to recover nicely from his gall bladder surgery.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Got Married!

While there are not enough pages in cyber space to recount the journey I've taken during the last 18 months, suffice it to say that a lot has been going on in my personal life - which, at least in part, accounts for the decreased number of blog posts.

In January 2010 my entire world was turned upside down. While I was in the U.S. celebrating the holidays with my family and friends, Collins McCraw informed me that after six months of prayer he was sure that I was the woman he was supposed to marry. For so many reasons this was a complete shock to me, not the least of which was that I had moved to Iquitos to start a new life and a new career here. Isn't that just like God? To interrupt my plan with His own?

Collins and I embarked on a journey that would change us, and many people around us, forever. We have faced obstacles and encountered hardships that we never imagined would come our way; and we have known joy and deep peace like no other time in our lives as well. We have learned what it means to keep our eyes focused on God and move forward one step at a time while a storm is raging around us. A number of years ago an older woman that I was in a prayer meeting with approached me and told me she had a word from the Lord for me. She held my face in her hands and looked intently, deliberately into my eyes as she spoke the simple but profound words that I have never forgotten: "The waves are crashing all around you dear one. You will feel like you are drowning. But have no fear, because you will look at Jesus and you will walk on water. Tears come at night, my love, but joy surely does come in the morning." Other than recognizing the biblical images and references in her words, I had no idea why she was speaking them to me. At that point my life was on an even keel, I was happy and content, and everything was going my way. Not too far into the future, though, the waters would become choppy and I would go back to those words repeatedly to get me through that particular moment's trial. But it wouldn't be until Collins and I began our relationship that I would understand the fullness of her prophetic phrases.

As I begin anew with my blogging efforts, parts of my story with Collins will surface as God reveals to me, one piece at a time, the purpose of that leg of the journey and how it fits into the big picture of His perfect plan for me. I have come to understand in a new way that the events of my life are not compartmentalized into personal and professional; they are not categorized into friends, family, colleagues and enemies. Rather they are all intricately woven together to create a work of art. God takes even the most severely broken pieces of my life and turns them into something stunning. The exchange of beauty for ashes is breathtaking.

God has always known the deep desire of my heart to find a soul mate and to be married; but, he also knows my tendency to lose sight of Him and to allow my priorities to become disordered. So He delivered the answer to a lifetime of prayers in such a way that He, and only He, would receive the glory. He took me down a path that would not allow Collins to become the object of my worship. I can say with absolute certainty that you would not be looking at the picture below if I had not kept my eyes fixed completely on God over the past year and a half. I know Collins would say the same.

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." ~ Jeremiah 29:13. My life's verse has taken on a whole new meaning for me and that is that God is present even in the darkest moments, but I can't see Him if I'm not looking for Him. While it is true that in the marriage relationship a man and woman are to pursue each other and make each other a priority, it will all be wasted energy if each is not first actively pursuing the most significant love of all in a deep and abiding relationship with the God of the universe.

I leave you today with these words:
To God be the glory for the things He has done…
A Dios sea la gloria por lo que hizo por mi…

April 16, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011


I met Johnny two years ago on my first visit to a local AIDS Hospice House here in Iquitos called Casa Hogar - Algo Bello Para Dios, which roughly means "Home -Something Beautiful for God." At that time Johnny was HIV-positive, but had not yet developed full-blown AIDS. I do not know how Johnny contracted the deadly virus, and I didn't ask, because it was none of my business; all I know is that he had to be good medicine for the patients because he had a brilliant smile that brought light to a dark place. Johnny was a very young man, in his 20's, and appeared healthy, but he knew what the future held for him. For that reason he came to the hospice every day to help attend to those who were suffering and facing imminent death. He knew that one day, sooner than he would like, he would need that same care, and so he gave what he knew he would want to receive were it him lying in one of those beds: a smile, a kind word, a ministry of presence, in addition to help with bathing, dressing, and eating. Living in a city where access to antiretroviral medications is virtually non-existent, and being so poor that he couldn't afford them anyway, Johnny's fate was sealed. But he didn't let that stop him from loving and being loved, from helping and being helped.

I looked forward to my visits to the hospice because I knew I would see my buddy. Though I took the time to sit and chat with all the patients, I always spent a little extra time with Johnny. It made me happy to be around him. How ironic.

Throughout the two years that I knew him, I watched Johnny's health begin to deteriorate. I watched him move from being a volunteer worker at the hospice, to a patient in one of the beds. I saw his physical body change from that of a healthy young man, to a skeleton with skin. The one thing that never changed, however, was that contagious smile. The last time I saw Johnny was in December and he was bedridden, in constant pain, unable to swallow and therefore couldn't eat, and unable to talk, with his only sounds being grunts or moans. When I walked into his room, in spite of his suffering, his face lit up with that signature gigantic grin. Though he couldn't answer me, I talked to him anyway. I told him I knew he was in pain, and watched as he shook his head yes while the tears rolled out of his eyes down the side of his face. I prayed for him, told him I was going to the U.S. to be with my family for Christmas, but that I would see him when I got back to Iquitos. As I walked out that day, I knew in my heart that he wouldn't be there when I returned.

On my first visit to the hospice in 2011, I learned that Johnny slipped into eternity on New Year's Eve. Man, do I miss him. I was over there just this week and had the privilege of not only talking with the patients, but also presenting each one with a new mattress, a sheet, a pillow, a towel, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of bath soap, and a package of laundry detergent. (A huge thank you to Betty Fleming's Sunday School class at Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church for their donation that enabled the purchase of these items for the AIDS patients!) It was a happy time of being able to give and enjoy watching them receive, but, for me, there was an emptiness. There will always be a gaping hole that Johnny left when he passed away.

The caskets lined up in a row along a wall down one of the halls in the hospice house are a poignant reminder that life is fleeting. It reminds me of the urgency of our call as Christians to spread the Gospel. And it has caused me to wrestle with the questions: "What exactly am I doing to really witness to others and share Jesus with them?;" "Can I do more?;" "Did I love my family, my friends, my enemies today in the way I should?;" "Will I have regrets if they are not here tomorrow?;" and "Will I be greeted with the phrase, 'Well done good and faithful servant' if I should be called home today?" If I'm honest, I'm not totally thrilled with some of my answers to these questions, which poses the ultimate question, "What am I going to do about it?"

Adios, Johnny. My life would be less today if I had never met you. You are missed. 

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint