Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mementos from Prison

I'm a very sentimental person. Look around my house and there's probably a story related to just about anything you find there. The picture of daisies in the dining room? My husband took when we were in Neurenburg, Germany about 15 years ago. The photo of a man with tomatoes? That was my dad. The lithographs of two horses in the family room? They were purchased in Japan and given to us by Mark's parents. I like to be surrounded by memories. It feels cozy, like a home should be. 

Last Sunday I returned to the States and I find myself missing El Salvador. I miss the strong breezes, the sweet people and the adventure of it all. A country I couldn't have identified on a globe, has now found a place in my heart. I was only there for eight days but I want to remember the time and all that the Lord allowed me to experience. Being a sentimental person, I came back with very special souvenirs. 

Which is why before Thanksgiving I had Mark do some "husband training" which is my affectionate term for what my boys will one day refer to as a "Honey Do" list. Husband training is a way he can teach our OS a few ways to help around the house and become great husbands. They see it as a pain in the butt but one day, their wives will thank me (I hope!).  I thought I'd show you a few of the new treasures that are now in my home. 

This picture is of Garfield. The picture says, "I miss you." 

This drawing says, "Thinking of you. I love you. I love you."

Yeah, these pictures aren't exactly going to be hanging in the Louvre anytime soon but I couldn't stuff them in a drawer knowing who made them and gave them to me. 

Two girls at the El Salvadorian prison gave me these drawings. They even wrote something on the back of each of these pictures! We were not permitted to take pictures of the girls' faces so we got creative. 

Each time I look at these drawings, I will remember to pray for these girls facing long sentences and difficult choices. I wept as each of these girls lovingly presented their humble gifts to me. 
Now I have remembrances of them in my home. 

My friend and fellow traveler, Beth Anne, was given a little washrag from one of the prisoners. It had a little cartoon on the cloth and might have been one of the girl's favorite washrags, maybe even her only one, but this girl wanted to give BA something. BA has already threatened her husband saying, "I don't care how cheesy this might look, we are going to hang this washrag up in our apartment!" I think she's going to shadow box it which would be pretty cool. Until then, she will have a washrag hanging on her wall and that's that. 

I also have a favorite wrist and that's because since my return I've been wearing three bracelets I received from Salvador (as I often heard the natives say) which is probably like us saying "the States" as opposed to the United States of America. Our sweet, sweet translator Lulu gave me the red bracelet, a lady from a women's conference gave me the leather bracelet which she took off her wrist and put on mine and the third, well that's a bracelet of hope. I can't wait to tell you about the bracelets of hope. It's on my list of things to share but if I make this post too long, I'll lose your attention. 

If you see my left wrist, ask me! If you see anything in my house, get ready for a story! Tell me yours too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Memory of an Incredible Man

Today's post is in memory of a precious man of God who loved his family and served his Lord to the very end. Strangely I never met him in person but came to know him through my blog. His valiant fight with cancer ended today and I feel honored to in some very small way to have known this man and his amazing family. 

Although Jim probably wasn't a perfect guy (because there has only been one of them and His name is Jesus), Pastor Jim had his priorities in order. Jesus. Family. Others. He seemed to live his life pouring out the love of Christ to his family and others. Even when unable to respond with words, he would still wink at his wife as the cancer spread through his body. Please pray for his family as they grieve and adjust to life without their husband, dad, son and brother in their lives. May God remind them that He has placed each one of their tears on His scroll. 

Here is a link to Jim's blog. If you are struggling today and need a proper perspective or if you just want to meet a really amazing person who will inspire you, a few minutes on is worth your time. Have Kleenex nearby. 

Thank you, Jim for the impact you had on my life. My family has held hands and prayed for you so many times. I had hoped to meet you in person but I will look forward to seeing you in heaven. I pray Merrily and I will meet and hug and cry in person one day. Surely you are hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Day to Remember

Amazing things I have done in the last 24 hours:

Washed my hands in hot water

Immersed my entire body a shower and was able to step away from the experience without being emotionally traumatized due to the freezing temperature

Walked on carpet

Saw a little bit of television

Heard some music I could understand

Wore a seatbelt

Kissed my husband

Snuggled with my boys

Missed a beautiful country and special friends

I am very tired and immeasurably blessed with so much more to share, stay tuned...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spending Time In Prison

When I thought about the things I wanted to do in my life, going to an El Salvadorian girls' prison never made it to the list. Tahiti, yes. A really cool place in France where there are houses carved in the mountains, absolutely. Montana, very high on my list. But seriously, an El Salvadorian girls' prison, let's face it, nowhere near the top thousand. But I have experienced two of the most emotional and tender days of my life and I would say every Christian mother needs to visit an El Salvadorian girls' prison. 

It's almost an insult to even try to explain all that I have seen, heard and felt because all words are lacking.

We entered the locked doors and teenage girls some as young as 13 began enthusiastically greeting us. Beth Anne and I along with our wonderful translator Lulu went upstairs into the stark meeting room and the girls practically jumped for joy! It was a pretty cool to see girls so happy to see us. 

About a week ago, I did something else rather unexpected. I put some blue highlights in my hair! Think the colors of a parakeet and you have a fairly good idea what it looks like. I did it on a whim and just decided to go for it. Members of my own family, (AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) ;) have not approved of this decision but I seriously have been wanting to do it for a while. I dyed just about 10% of my entire I know why I did it. The girls in the El Salvadorian prison have LOVED it! We have definitely bonded over my stylish coif. They have found my blue (azule) hair VERY beautiful and maybe even glamorous! So take that everyone else who hasn't found it especially "bonita," y'all I've been workin' it at the El Salvadorian girls' prison! 

We shared our message about hope and purity. In the middle of the presentation, the mood in the room became so precious, so sweet. Beth Anne, Lulu the translator and I were talking about the infinite love of God. His grace. His mercy. His forgiveness. If you could have seen these girls, some serving sentences for extortion and other crimes, wiping tears from their eyes, you would have been as emotional as we were. We told them that despite all the things that they have done, and quite honestly we have done, Jesus loves us and died for our sins. There was a hush in the prison walls. 

Here we were, behind bars, in a prison, with young criminals and we had the humble privilege of  telling these girls that THIS place could become a place of hope and freedom because of Jesus. Lulu had to stop translating for a moment, she was so overcome with God's presence. Tears were streaming down our faces and there was love overflowing. Even the prison guards were touched by the message as we also told these ladies that Jesus loved them. 

We couldn't take pictures of the girls' faces but in a moment of creativity, we found a way around it. We took pictures of feet! Our feet among their feet! 

And we took pictures of our hands. Our hands embracing their hands. The white hands holding the little brown hands. The women who were free to leave this prison among the girls who were going to stay. 

We took pictures of our shadows. Our shadows among theirs. 

We took pictures with our backs to the camera with all of our arms around each other. It will be among my most treasured photos. As soon as I come home I will post the photos. You've got to see them. 

What am I doing here? I do not deserve to be in a place like this. It is too beautiful, too moving and yet the Lord has brought me to this place for such a time as this. I am deeply, profoundly, eternally humbled. 

Every Christian mother needs to spend time in an El Salvadorian prison. Put it on your list.

Monday, November 17, 2008

El Salvador, Day Three

We awoke this morning to the sounds of barking dogs and cooing pigeons. A brisk breeze blowed throughout our house and slammed many doors which caused us all to jump. It was our second day on the mission field and we were ready for an active day!

Our intention was to do a medical clinic at the girl's prison but the Lord had different plans for this day. We all wore colorful scrubs and although Cindy begged Beth Anne to wear the especially attractive orange scrub pants, she flatly refused and we still had fun. A boy's orphanage and a girl's prison were in close proximity to each other. Gaggles of boys ran and played and I saw one with a thin strip of demin serving as a belt along with many boys cavorting shoeless around in the dirt. As we entered the prison, we soon learned that the girls had other activities for the day and we would be unable to serve them. Although we were disappointed, the director graciously showed us around the prison. Teenage girls warmly greeted us and despite our very limited Spanish, we were able to show them kindness.

I can't imagine a group of foreigners getting a tour of a girl's detention center in the States. The sign-in process was as easy as writing our names and signatures on an old piece of paper. We observed the dorms where both the short-term and girls serving longer sentences were lodged. 

In general, the prison was clean. Some girls were making crafts in one room, others were busy sewing. 

Although the highlight for many of us was going to the market and shopping for souvenirs later in the afternoon, I think for Reba, her prayers were answered when she saw Lissethe. In July, Reba and Lissethe met for the first time. They connected when Lissethe learned that Reba had a tattoo. 

Tattoos are a big gang symbol and Lissethe was "all tatted" up as we say in the States. Reba just has a little blue hummingbird on her back in memory of her father. However, that served a very holy purpose. These two connected in an explicable and God ordained way and the Lord would use that tattoo as a bridge to bring Lissethe to Jesus. Reba was instrumental in leading Lissethe to a saving grace in Jesus Christ. As they said their goodbyes, Reba told her that she woudl return and Lissethe clasped Reba's hand and said, "Promise?"

Upon arriving back home in North Carolina, Reba sent Lissethe a letter. She even had it translated to offer this girl encouragement but it never arrived. The person who was supposed to give it to her, misplaced this precious message.

Imagine Lissethe's surprise when she looked up from her sewing machine this morning and through the bars saw her beloved Reba! When we were allowed into the sewing room, they embraced and the rest of us met the other girls. It was a sweet fellowship for all especially Reba, alleluia! Lord willing, we will return to ISNA in Soyobongo on Thursday to further interact with the girls. Beth Anne and I feel the Holy Spirit's prompting to share our message, we shall see.  

So much more to share, many blessings. Glory to God in the highest!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mi Cabeza Esta Loca! - My head is crazy

With no time to blog, I am already shaking my head in disbelief and I haven't even boarded the plane to El Salvador. Adventures have already begun...

I went to FedEx/Kinko's to make copies of my passport this evening. I haven't stopped moving since this morning, it's ridiculous how much I need to do before tomorrow at 4am.

After running many errands, I returned home and began arranging my suitcase with all the junk I'm bringing. My husband was on his cell phone talking to our oldest OS at West Point. Lorraine, the missionary we will be visiting, called from El Salvador on our home phone. As she was talking to my husband, I heard my husband saying to Lorraine, "Bring your passport." Apparently this was in response to something Lorraine had said on the other line.

So that got me to thinking...where is my passport? "Hmmm, I wonder where that little passport of mine is located?" I thought to myself. And thusly, I began shuffling and rifling through everything, I got this sick feeling. My search soon turned frantic when I realized that I had two copies of my passport but the original was not among the stack of papers I had with me from FedEx/Kinko's.

I'd like to say I gently spoke to my DH and requested his help but that would be a lie. I FREAKED OUT! I'M BOARDING A PLANE IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS AND MY PASSPORT IS GONE! GAAAAAAA!

The time was 8:14pm and I knew for sure that the FedEx/Kinko's was closed and my year long prayer to go to El Salvador was not going to happen. This particular store is located in a less traveled part of town, there was no way they would be open. I was doomed. 

But I was wrong! Mark called the FedEx/Kinko's and to my amazement, a human person answered the phone. They were still open! When he inquired if they had found a passport, the guy said someone else found it:


Without delay, we raced over and it was like seeing an old friend as I kissed my beautiful passport and praised the Lord for this small miracle. Y'all, the store closes at 9pm. I had only 46 minutes to retrieve that passport before I would have created a whole lot of trouble for myself and others. Maybe even had to cancel the trip! The way I see it, the Lord put all these pieces together and reacquainted me with that precious document with little time to spare. There is no other reasonable explanation. I am still shaking my head in disbelief at my own stupidity and forgetfulness and even more so at the awesome God I serve.

Mi cabeza esta loca that's for sure! I'm leaving on a jet plane,

Here I am Lord, send me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Open Letter to the Military

To all those who served in the military,

I am sorry that I used to overlook Veteran's Day.
I apologize for being annoyed when I didn't get mail because November 11th is a federal holiday. It doesn't bother me anymore. 

Or forgetting to fly our flag, it has been waving proudly on our porch since last night.

I wish I would have told more of you "thank you" a long
time ago but I am now the mama of a Soldier and you deserved my appreciation before then. 

Now I see your Veteran's hats and your license plates and my heart is beginning to understand.

I notice the bumper stickers of parents of military service people and I want to jump out of my mini-van and tell them I am learning what this means.

My life and this day will never be the same.

Thank you for your sacrifice to defend our freedom.

God bless you for being away from your family, friends and the comforts of  home.

For those birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, even just regular days when you are not surrounded by the people who love you, I am humbled whenever I consider what that must be like for you. 

Thank you for being able to serve our country whether you like the president or voted for him. I didn't realize that until my own child put it into perspective. 

Thank you for going to places most of us would never want to live or visit. 

I confess that I might have still remained ignorant about all these things if my son hadn't joined the Army.

You have done your job for your country and all the people in it. Including those completely support your endeavors and those who scoff at your service, those who would never have the courage to give everything up for a cause greater than themselves.

Until my own son made an oath to serve his country and I saw him in his uniform, 

I was naive.

But not anymore, and that is a good thing,

I just needed to tell you this from the bottom of my mama's heart.

Thank you.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Going to a Cat Party

While our oldest OS was getting buzzed through the air by a B-52 bomber thanks to the Army/Air Force game last Saturday, the rest of us attended a cat party. Yes, you read correctly, cat party. 

Nathan was walking on post at West Point when all of the sudden, the autumn air was pierced with the sounds overhead as the B-52 tore through the sky.
And 800 miles away, we sat at out on our neighbor's deck and "celebrated" the return of their beloved cat, "Taylor" (not his actual name).

Even though Army lost, I think Nate had a better time than we did. It was our first cat party and there were several rather awkward moments. The strangest thing was when our neighbor joyfully announced, "We have our son back!" He made this remark stroking his furry pet as his human son stood nearby. I think Taylor brings more happiness to this man than his own child. Priorities, anyone? 

This event has allowed us an opportunity to speak about God and His unfailing love. Upon first learning of Taylor's sudden disappearance, I immediately called our neighbors and offered our thoughts. We knew they cared a lot about their cats and assumed this was a big shock to them. A bit of mystery still brews about exactly what happened to Taylor and his disappearance. They are convinced it was the result of their arch enemies aka, the neighbors across the street, but that doesn't make much sense to me.

Anyway, the husband came over a little later and told me how deeply touched they were by our kind thoughts. I told him we were sincerely sorry to hear about Taylor and said that we were praying for them.

A couple days later, the neighbor dropped by again. As he was talking to my husband, I ushered him to our kitchen and pointed to our blackboard. On the blackboard, I had listed a variety of people we were praying for. I wanted him to see his family's name prominently placed on the board. I had no idea he was coming over so I didn't secretly write their name or anything like that. It had been there all along. I distinctly remember our neighbor being very moved by this and for a moment, I thought he was going to cry. 

I told him that God cared about everything, even things the world would deem trivial, He still cared. It blows me away when I think that there is a Lord who cares about about every aspect of us.

Which includes the owners of Taylor, the cat

And this country I'll be in, Lord willing, this time next week

And an imperfect sinner like me.

All reasons to celebrate and rejoice this day! Remember this the next time you're invited to a cat party or have a B-52 overhead, both of which I hope don't happen to you anytime soon!