Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Village It Takes

I have never been so mindful of the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child," as I have been this month. We said "yes" to fostering two preschool boys without having anything in place to make room for them in our home, our day-to-day lives, or even in our car!

We moved the "spare bedroom" into what used to be my glass shop and more recently the reading nook for my older school kids. Now it is our spare bedroom. There is enough room for the bed and that's about it! But we still have a spare bedroom, and we'd love for you to visit us.

The upstairs bedroom (that used to be the spare) now has two toddler beds, a dresser (anchored to the wall!), a rocking chair, and a bunch of toys. The dresser is full, as the boys came with lots of clothing, and our ten-year-old shared her entire collection (which was quite extensive) of Ninja Turtle toys.

And two car seats have been installed in the Chile Bus. The Chile Bus is a 7-passenger van that my stepdad gave us for the students I teach, so that I can take them all skiing and on field trips. It is now in much more common use because our Subaru is small for five.

Those are just the changes made in the first 12 hours! Then our friends heard that we were fostering. Near and far, they asked what we needed. At first, I didn't even know! Then I realized that we were lacking warmer clothing for the boys, and I suggested winter clothing. I mentioned healthy snacks to another friend because it's hard to avoid packaged, processed junk food.

Over a thousand miles away, a friend with twin sons mailed an enormous box of winter boots, coats, hats, shirts, and even some toys (and a special gift for our 10-year-old). Another friend met me with a huge bag of long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts. I can't even begin to know how many apples we received, along with many other healthy snacks! We are all so blessed.

A dear Christian friend, the mother of one of our daughter's pals, very deliberately offered to take all three of our children for several hours every Sunday afternoon to give us time to be a couple and time to do the chores that are almost impossible with three underfoot. Another sweet Christian sister handed me a couple of folded-up bills and whispered, "Use it for whatever you or the boys need."

Our village. I am so thankful to God for our village! And it has really opened my eyes to ways I can be of service to those around me in the future.

If you are not in a place to become a foster family, find a foster family and offer something. Offer time by running an errand. Offer grace by holding a screaming child in the back of the church (or by sitting with the one(s) who are not screaming!). Offer a gallon of milk or a box of homemade granola. Offer a gift card to a kid-friendly restaurant. Or babysitting so the parents can go to a non-kid-friendly restaurant! Give a pat on the back to an older sibling in the family.

And if even those offerings are beyond your ability right now, offer prayer support to the family (and let them know you're praying for them!). Fostering can be difficult for the new children... and for the existing family. It can also be a delight! Lend an ear for joys and frustrations.

So, thank you to our village. Thank you to those who pray for our ministry here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation. And thank you to all the foster families out there taking in children in need!

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Unlikely Anniversary


When Brad and I got married ten years ago (October 16, 2007), we never in a million years would have dreamed that we would celebrate our tenth anniversary on the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, with three children under our roof! We intended to serve God in a church in the MidWest, near our parents and grown children. It was a prudent plan: Me teaching and Brad preaching in a small town.

But as God often does, He had different plans. Better plans. Infinitely, eternally, better plans. A year and a half after we married, we adopted our 2-year-old granddaughter. I stopped teaching to be home with our new daughter, and we adjusted to living on one income and to parenting together. We thought differently about our future, no longer being "empty nesters." Instead of pursuing my career goals, I tried to provide the best experiences for our daughter.

When God called us to serve among the Jicarilla Apache, we were surprised. As we went through the interview and visitation process, we became more and more certain that this was God's call. We moved our daughter and ourselves here more than four years ago. It has been a delightful place to serve! God, of course, knew what He was doing. Brad is a terrific pastor for this place, these people. My skills as a teacher have been put to use well as I homeschool our daughter and five Jicarilla children.  I am leading a very successful AWANA youth ministry program. We have all grown in our faith and our faithful service.

Even a month ago, we anticipated our 10th anniversary being much like the past nine anniversaries: The three of us going out to eat somewhere nice, stopping somewhere to take some family photographs. One difference was going to be "our party," as our now-ten-year-old called it. She loves to celebrate! We decided a while back to celebrate with our friends at church, inviting our friends in the community, as well. I've been making table decorations and buying supplies over the past few weeks.

But yesterday morning, we were juggling three children as I tried to finish the salad and get the hot food warming up safely. While we talked to the gathered group briefly, thanking people for coming to celebrate, I was holding a wiggly two-year-old who wanted to EAT. As Brad prayed over the food and our marriage, our ten-year-old was hanging onto the hand of an unhappy four-year-old wailing to be "set free." Instead of sitting and visiting through the afternoon, I changed small soiled clothes, chased down children, and said, "No more sweets!" to three.

This is a most unlikely anniversary for us. We are too old for preschoolers; we are even too old for elementary schoolers! We are far, far away from our families, when we had wanted to stay close as our parents age. But we are not disappointed or dissatisfied. Several times today, one of us looked at the other and said, "Who would've thought...?!" But not wishing for it to be different.

We are serving God as He calls. We are here in New Mexico, happily. We are permanently parenting a ten-year-old, delightedly. We are foster parenting four and two year olds for an uncertain amount of time, willingly and joyfully. Life is not simple and clear-cut. God's call is often messy and sometimes unexpected. But His call is always good.

Always.

Good.

So jump right in! Follow His call. Trust that He will provide all that is needed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Dozen Dinosaurs

A couple of weeks ago, I said to my mother in a phone call, "There's not really anything exciting going on here. Kind of boring, I guess, but we don't mind." She agreed that "boring" was a good thing...

And then life happened. We were asked to consider being foster parents for two boys, ages 2 and 4, for an undetermined amount of time. We prayed. We talked. We included our 10 year old. We prayed some more. Then we said, "Yes."

That "yes" was based on Scripture:

Jeremiah 22:3 says, "This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place."

Matthew 25:40 says, "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

That "yes" was based on prayer. On knowledge of what happens to children when they don't have a stable, consistent home. On trust that God would provide... energy, finances, security...

No longer is life "boring!" Our house is filled with loudness, laughter, tears, and prayer. We would ask for your prayers as we parent these two, in addition to our 10-year-old. That God's grace would cover us all as we adjust to life as a bigger family and the boys adjust to life with us. That God would provide all that we all need to follow Him.

On the day after the boys arrived, I wrote this:

Tiny socks
And little jeans
A moment to reflect
On what this laundry means...
It means that God has worked in us
To want to spend a life in service
To put our time, energy, and more 
Into what God has in store
Instead of what we want to buy
Or have or do
The reason why
is God has loved us
Beyond all measure
And has made us His earthly treasure
And we, instead of hoarding here
Are to bring heaven's love near
With our humble feet and hands
To be where this laundry lands


Today I took a dozen dinosaurs, six ninja turtles, and two horses to church... along with two little boys and a half-grown girl. It was a joy and a blessing!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Joy We Share

Due to a short power outage, we had to "punt" this morning on our praise song in worship. Instead of Steven Curtis Chapman, Pastor Brad asked if anyone had a hymn they wanted to sing. Our wee one immediately said, "In the Garden!" (I didn't even know she knew the song!)

So we all turned to the hymnal and sang..."I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses..." I had the scene to the right in my head, from a recent family hike. We belted out the chorus, "And He walks with me, and He talks with me. And He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there... none other has ever known."

I was struck by those words: "And He tells me I am His own." Wow. Me, sinful, meager, small and selfish me. I am His. I belong to God, the Father Almighty. To Jesus Christ, His One and Only Son. To the Holy Spirit.

Me.

His.

I smiled. I know I did because our daughter said, "What's funny?" I replied, "Nothing. I'm just happy." I should've said more. I should've said, "I'm just happy I'm HIS."

I should have explained because this is what I want for her. I want her to know the happiness of belonging to God. I want her to come to church to worship with joy in her heart. I want us to share this joy!

I will speak up. I will tell her how I felt in worship this morning. And not with just her, I will share this joy with anyone who will listen! We should feel joyful in our redemption in Jesus Christ, and we should share it with the world.

May God help me to do this each and every day.

Amen.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sweet Hour of Prayer

This morning, like most Sunday mornings of much of my life, I attended church. It was a remarkable Sunday in that it was the first Sunday of our fifth year of service here at the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church, but otherwise, it was a regular Sunday. We sang praise to our Lord; we greeted one another, taking joy in seeing people we hadn't seen in a while. We prayed.

We prayed.

We, God's people here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation, prayed for our families, our friends, strangers in Texas and Louisiana, for housing, for sobriety, for safe travel.

Prayer is a vital and living part of worship at the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church. My understanding of prayer has grown during our time here. We pray deeply and strongly and powerfully.

We prepare for prayer by singing "Sweet Hour of Prayer" each Sunday. Today, the song was sweet and strong and loud.

The words "In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief; and oft escaped the tempter's snare, by thy return, sweet hour of prayer" rang through the sanctuary this morning. I knew individual voices reaching up to God for comfort:

A woman who has lost both daughter and granddaughter since we've been here.

A man grieving for his addicted son.

Children whose mother was taken by alcohol, gone too soon.

A grandmother raising her grandchildren from two different families.

And then we prayed our repentance. We prayed for healing. We prayed for our concerns. We prayed for teachers and bus drivers. We prayed for hurricane victims. We prayed The Lord's Prayer. And we prayed for the Holy Spirit to be present in the Scripture reading and preaching.

Hope was preached. Hope was felt. Hope was known in that place. Hope is known in this place. We Christians know hope amidst the distress and grief of life. May we bring this hope to those who surround us in this world.

Amen. And amen.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finishing Four

Today, we finish our fourth year in Dulce. Tomorrow starts our fifth year... hard to believe. After four years, some things are exactly as I expected them to be... and some things are very different from my expectations!

Sunday Services: Pretty much as I expected. My husband is turning out to be an excellent preacher! I help with Sunday school for a couple of months a year. Kathleen (10) is antsy during services and requires an occasional reminder to engage.

Day-to-Day Ministry: I fully expected to feed the random stranger, living next door to the church. We do do that, but we also give rides, send uncooked food home, and invite complete strangers to join us at the table. We have occasionally hosted an unknown overnight guest in our home... but just recently, a work group transformed one of the church classrooms into an emergency shelter! This will prove very worthwhile, I'm positive. We have also recently become involved in the informal distribution of surplus food from Farmington, NM.

Special Events: Being far from our families, I anticipated that we would spend Thanksgivings, Christmases, and other special events with our small family of three. Nothing could be farther from the truth! We have been graciously included in family celebrations of every holiday, and also of weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. We have camped with church families, eaten scrumptious holiday meals with 50 friends, enjoyed football rivalries, attended musicals with Christian sisters, and so much more! I do not hesitate to say that if I ever felt lonely in any way, I could easily reach out and find a supportive friend here.

And All Those Kids: I have been involved with children since I was one myself. My mom always called me "The Pied Piper" because of the number of children I had in my life. I knew that I would continue homeschooling our wee one, at least for a while, but I had no idea how many children would come into my life in Dulce!

First, there are the AWANA kids. We've had an AWANA children's ministry for three full years now. It has grown and developed, and I am one of the co-leaders. It is a joy to meet with those 5-18 year olds weekly and explore the Bible with them. It's such a blessing that the adult volunteers and the kids come from many different churches here in Dulce and beyond. We are incredibly blessed by the support of people here in Dulce and in far-flung parts of the United States! We are able to give every single child a brand new Bible and an AWANA shirt. The kids feel so supported and loved!

Second, there are the "science kids." From the beginning, I invited other homeschooled children we knew to attend a twice-weekly science class at our house. It grew from 2 children... to over a dozen!!! On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, from 1:30-3:00, our house and yard are overtaken by kids learning about science and having fun. Some wonderful friendships have been built with these families, and the kids have many terrific memories of our fun together.

And thirdly, there is the homeschooling crowd. I am now homeschooling six children full-time and another one part-time. These include children who have been expelled from one of the local schools, who have been bullied to the point of hating school in one of the local schools, who have never attended school at all, who have special needs that were absolutely overlooked in one of the local schools, and who are talented and gifted and under-served at one of the local schools. It has recently become very clear to me that this too is a ministry. 

I've always looked at the homeschooling as something I do for our daughter, but the need for a quality education is desperate here in Dulce. The local schools have difficulty hiring and retaining quality staff, and the committed long-term staff members cannot do it all. I know I could make an income teaching at the public school, and I have considered it for this reason, but God has made it clear to me that homeschooling is where my teaching talents need to be utilized. I am equipped to reach each of the children in my home, and each one needs me (sometimes for very different reasons!).

So, tomorrow is another day. I'm taking six kiddos in the "Chile Bus" to explore New Mexico history first-hand at the ruins of a pueblo and a 16th century Spanish church. We will study geography and math on the way, read some poetry, and generally have a great time. I'll take some more pictures to share with their families, and on Monday we will write an essay about what we learned on the trip.

May God work in your life just as powerfully. We are blessed. Four years blessed. And we pray that God would grant us many more years of service here in Dulce, whatever it looks like!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#1680

I have tried to write about Charlottesville, VA, and the racial protests and violence there. I despise the hatred displayed by the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I hate the violence that stems from that hatred. I hate the fact that our president did not immediately, completely, or honestly condemn these groups.

I think of the world in which my biracial and multiracial grandchildren are growing up, and I dread seeing them face the racism so clearly displayed in Charlottesville and elsewhere. The faces I love come in all colors and shapes.

I have watched on social media as my loved ones shared their fear, their outrage, their worry, and their interpretation of events. I've also talked with my Native friends here locally. Many feel entirely unrepresented by the current government. They are angry that President Trump has not taken a firm stand against all forms of racism.

I'm heartened by the #resistance. Following the alt* accounts on Twitter has shown me an entire network of resistance workers fighting against the demands of Trump to be silent, to fall into line.

I take hope in much of the church's response, standing firmly with the oppressed. I pray that those who claim Christianity and hold that whites are supreme would wake up to Jesus' true message.

And tonight I saw a new hashtag on one of my Native friends' posts: #1680. If you do not know Southwest US history well, you probably won't recognize this, but it is a signal of strength. Strength of the Native peoples. A refusal to buckle under.

Educate yourself. On today's racism. On the year 1680 in New Mexico. On the lives of Americans of color in 2017.

This viral photo shows the moment a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Many have commented about the shoes in the road. Instead of looking at those shoes in the road, I am urging all of us who stand against racism to get our boots on the ground. Stand up and refuse to be silent! Do not sit back and wait for justice; get up and work for it!

When you hear a racist comment, call it out. When you see a person of color being unfairly treated, step forward and stand with them. When a policy targets a minority group, fight it. In Zechariah 7, the Bible tells us to resist oppression. Those using "faith" and the Bible to justify their hatred and violence have great need of actually reading the Bible!

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  Edmund Burke.