Thankful For Friends

This year marks my 5th Thanksgiving in Ecuador!  It’s interesting when you are in a foreign country and celebrating a big holiday for you, that the rest of the country doesn’t even acknowledge.  In Ecuador, the 4th Thursday in November is just like every other day.  But those of us who are from, or who lived in the U.S., know it as one of the biggest celebrated holidays there.  So our local expat community enjoys keeping the tradition here, and this year I gathered with 15 of my closest friends to celebrate.  Never mind that only four of us were originally from the U.S.!  Not to mention, our host, Wayne, is from Canada and our hostess, Fatima, is half Brazilian and half Japanese!  But they did live in Houston, TX for about 10 years, so they certainly qualified to host the gathering.

It was such a wonderful evening spent with people who have become family to me.  We had TONS of good food – and I made chocolate orange marmalade cake! 😮  And we all agreed that topping our gratitude list are the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  Below are pictures of the festivities (click on the first photo, to scroll through it as a larger slide show and read the captions):

 

Living On The Other Side

It was four years ago today that I left behind my familiar world of Dallas, TX (where I had lived all my life) and boarded a plane to move to a country I’d never even visited – Ecuador.  And now, four years later, although it is still in many ways a foreign country, I feel more at home here than any other place I’ve ever lived.

The life I have here, although far from trouble free, is so different in ways I can’t even begin to describe.  It’s slower and more serene.  It’s withdrawn from the hectic, helter-skelter pace of the U.S.  It’s away from all the craziness of media, politics, social agendas and the likes.  In a word, it’s much more peace-filled.  I have absolutely no desire, even would loathe the idea, of moving back into my former life.  It feels like it was a whole other lifetime ago.

As I was laying in my rooftop hammock pondering all this the other day, I thought about how this same experience will be multiplied many times over when I’m living on the other side of this life.  There, life will be perfect.  There will be no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, no problems, no tears – only peace, joy and love, the likes of which we cannot even begin to fathom on this side.  I believe we will remember our former life and it will feel a million miles away – and we wouldn’t want to go back to even the best parts of it, ever.

As much as I thank God daily for the life He has given me here, I cannot wait and would still trade it all in an instant, to be on the other side.  There, I know I will finally be in the place that is truly my home.

No Matter What!

I haven’t written much in quite a while.  At times, I’ve not had anything to write about.  At other times, what I did have to say was too overwhelming to try to put into words.  But lately, there is something I feel the Lord has been impressing on me, and I hope I can communicate it in an understandable and not too long-winded way.

This reflection was born out of a time of prayer and meditation on various events and struggles in the lives of people I know.  One of the main ones began a year ago, when a series of truly providential circumstances (too long to recount) led me to read a book called, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  I was riveted to this true story of a young man and his journey of faith from Islam to Christianity.  I literally could not put it down and finished reading it in two days.  Afterwards, I felt strangely led to go to his website.  It was there I learned that the author, Nabeel Qureshi, a then 33 year-old new father, had just been diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer.  I joined literally thousands over the next year who followed his video blog updates and prayed for his healing.  So many people praying with so much faith, including him.  But still, he passed away in September.  He even declared many times that Jesus was able to raise him from the dead, and his wife delayed his burial for 7 days, in continued prayer.  All this from a man with a conservative Christian background, as well as a medical degree and three theology degrees.  The whole story of his life, timing of his diagnosis, etc. is unbelievably poignant and way too much to share here.  But it is truly so inspirational – he lived and died amazingly well and his legacy will live on.  If you have interest, I encourage you to read his book(s) and visit his Facebook page (where his widow continues to post updates).

This past year of following his journey and intensely praying for his healing has not shaken my faith, despite the outcome and great loss to his family and future ministry.  But it has certainly left me with probably the biggest, “Why Lord?” I’ve ever had.  There is so much I cannot understand looking at it from a finite “here and now” perspective.

I also think of a faithful Christian acquaintance just a little older than me.  A mother of nine children, grandmother of twelve, beloved wife and loved by many others.  Her husband is even a minister.  Most people would describe her as one of the sweetest, most sacrificial people they know.  Last year, she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in her tongue (and no, she didn’t smoke).  What followed were medical procedures and intense suffering too horrible to even describe, all which failed to save her life – she died ten months later, last December.  When I think of the horrendous physical pain she endured, and the early end to a faithful life, leaving so many heartbroken loved ones behind, it leaves me with another, “Why Lord?”

I think about and pray daily for the sufferings of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are enduring persecution for their faith.  They live in countries too numerous to list.  In fact, the majority of those who are following Jesus in this world are living under great difficulties and persecutions (after all, He told us if we followed Him, we would).  I read their stories and I am humbled beyond words and moved to tears.  The only daily hope they live with is looking forward to the New Heaven and New Earth.

I think about Jesus, when He hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Surely Jesus, of all people, had His theology straight.  He knew exactly why He’d come, why He was dying and that He would rise again three days later.  Not only that, but certainly He had the most intimate relationship with God, His own Father, than any other who walked the face of this earth.  He knew all the truth (yea, He IS the Truth), and yet in that dark moment, it felt to Him that God, His Father, had abandoned Him.  I find it interesting that in Hebrews 5:8 we are told, “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things he suffered.”  If Jesus, the One who was without sin, had to learn obedience through suffering, why would it be any different for us?

Recently, my spiritual twin brother has been on a very intense journey with God.  I will not share his personal details, but suffice it to say he is in the midst of following some steps of radical obedience, the likes of which few people would ever consider.  He’s basically stepped off a cliff with no safety net, and not even a real understanding of the “why” behind the things God is calling him to do.  It’s truly one of the most sacrificially painful examples of “walking by faith and not sight” that I’ve ever witnessed.  He has no guarantees that things will come to a happy conclusion – he’s just being obedient.

Certainly we have examples of “happy endings” in the Bible.  Abraham was spared from having to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved from the flames of the furnace unharmed.  And then there is Job, arguably the greatest sufferer of all time, next to Jesus.  After he endured the loss of almost everything but his life, we are told, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” (Job 42:12)

But lest we get too comfortable with these examples, what about the apostles, who history tells us all but one died a martyr’s death?  Or many of the Old Testament prophets, such as Jeremiah.  God chose Him as a prophet “before he was born.” (Jeremiah 1:5)  He was never allowed to marry or have a family.  He prophesied for nearly 40 years to a people who totally rejected his message.  Several attempts were made to kill him.  He saw the fall and captivity of his beloved nation because they would not listen to him.  And in the end, he was forced to travel with the small remnant who were disobeying his warnings not to go to Egypt.  Jewish historical tradition says he was later stoned by his own people there.  He was not nicknamed “The Weeping Prophet” for nothing!

Which brings me to the point of all these mentionings.  We’re told all throughout the New Testament that trials and suffering are a part of the Christian walk.  Not only that, but these trials actually serve a purpose – to strengthen, refine and purify our faith.  What that looks like is different for each person.  But I’ve long believed for the church in the last days the times will be very dark, and it will often look and feel like we’ve been abandoned.  What will we do in those times?  Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)  Will we be hanging on and walking by faith, despite what we see or feel in the circumstances that surround us?  If we are not “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17), then the pain and suffering we don’t understand can cause offense against God to rise in our hearts, and even the eventual abandonment of our faith.

What will we do when there seems to be no end to the darkness or pain in our life?  What will we do when there is no happy ending to the story on this side?  Jesus said, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:23)  He made that statement in a message sent to John the Baptist, when John had sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah, or should they expect someone else.  John had been imprisoned for his faithful witness, and shortly after receiving this answer from Jesus, he was beheaded.

The purpose of our time spent on this earth is not for God to make us happy, it is for Him to make us HOLY.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)  I’m continuing to see more and more “faith shaking” events happening in the lives of so many people.  And yet the Bible tells us that in the last days, God will “remove what can be shaken, so that only what cannot be shaken will remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)  What is it that will remain?  “Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love…” (1 Corinthians 13:13)  So once again I will repeat, but rephrase Jesus’ question just a little differently:

When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith IN YOU?

Here is a song that I’ve posted before, but I think it is a fitting finish to remind us of what we are called to do in this life, NO MATTER WHAT!

A Final Warning – Worth The Watch

Hello Friends,

Yes, I know I haven’t written anything in an unprecedented nearly 4 months.  A few of you have checked in to make sure I’m still on the planet – thank you.  I’m just fine, actually.  I have just been doing all of the same kinds of things I’ve written about before (including a trip to Cuenca and Salinas).  Plus, for some reason, my inspiration just shut down.  I started a few blog posts, but never finished them.  I just can’t write unless I really “feel it.”

But in all honesty, I’ve been watching the “signs of the times” with much sober mindedness.  A few of you will know what I mean, but most of you probably have no clue.  There is so much I could have shared, but quite honestly it’s been overwhelming to see so many things coming to fruition and a head.  I’ve been warning that we were headed for the “last of the last days” for some time, but even as they bare down on us, I’m still blown away at all that I see.  God highlighted 2017 to me years ago, because there is a long list of prophetic fulfillments that fall this year.  And since then, He’s just added more things to the list.  It’s truly a time to be “looking up,” as Jesus told us to.

Below is a video that packs a lot of astounding information in its short 22 minutes, but still just scratches the surface of all that is going on right now.  I hope you have “ears to hear and eyes to see” what is happening all around us.

And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.  Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able (KJV “counted worthy”) to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

Don’t Mess With (Little) Texas!

I’ve been a bit behind on chronicling my recent life events, so just like my last post, this one is over a week past the incident.  But I could not let it go by without sharing it with you.  Warning: it’s not for the squeamish!

Some time back, a friend of Bill & Elaine’s came to visit.  Her name was Samantha and she was from Texas.  We became friends too, and so some other friends here nicknamed her “Feisty Texas” and me “Little Texas.”

Not long after that, I met my friend Terry, and in our times of running around together, I kept telling him I wanted a machete.  I was a woman living alone (still am) and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have such a thing handy.  He kept telling me he would get one for me, and eventually presented it to me for my birthday.

So now you have the background for this story…

I was coming down my stairs first thing in the morning, and paused at the first landing to open Charcoal’s bay window.  Just then I looked out in my yard to see this:

A snake slithering in and out of my bamboo fence.  I froze and my mind went through a list of several possible actions.  Finally, without taking my eyes off the snake, I called my neighbor, Ed, and asked, “Can you come kill this snake in my yard?”  “I’ll be right there,” was his response.  However, it became apparent as the minutes passed, that Ed’s “right there” was based on Ecuadorian time.  As I waited, I continued to watch this thing slowly slither its way around and across my fence, and make a turn towards my house.  It wasn’t going to be long before I lost it from my sight line out the window.  Knowing there were some potted plants, large rocks and various other spaces there that it could disappear into, and still seeing no sign of Ed’s vehicle headed my way, I did the only other thing I could think of.  Go back up to my bedroom and get this:

I paused at my front door to consider whether flip flops were appropriate foot wear for snake killing.  I took a look at the length of my machete and decided time was of the essence, rather than appropriate footwear.  I carefully rounded the corner and found the snake was halfway under some large rocks next to my house.  Only its back half was showing.  I knew everyone had always told me you were supposed to cut off the head.  But with a thought of what I would have to do to get at its head, and wondering how swiftly it would move once I disturbed it, I decided the best course of action was surprise attack wherever I could.  I raised my machete over my head and brought it down as hard as I could across the snake’s back (if there is such a thing).  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the result I wanted.  Apparently, when they sell you a machete, they leave it rather dull for the store and sale handling, and expect you to sharpen it later.  Rather than severing the snake, it merely injured it.  After one more whack, the snake brought its head out.  I then attempted to chop off its head, to no avail.  It took numerous hackings to get the thing dead.  When it was all over, with heart racing and hands shaking, I looked at the bloody machete – it felt like a scene from a horror movie.

I then called Ed to let him off the hook.  He scolded me for not waiting and said he’d be down anyway.  When he arrived, I explained that the snake was on the move and headed for my house.  We then found a new hole, just under my window next to my house.  Apparently the snake had recently made it his home and was headed that way.  Ed then said I did the right thing.

Ed and subsequently several others (my friend Terry, our gardener Jaime, and my Ecuadorian friend Luis) identified it as a boa constrictor.  They tried to convince me it was a “good” snake.  I felt a little guilty for just a moment, but then remembered that the Bible never calls any snake good.  I am a redeemed daughter of Eve and I HATE SNAKES!!!

There is a snake here in Ecuador, called the Echis, that is one of the most deadly in the world.  A bite from one will kill you in ten minutes.  I encountered one at my first rental, just a few months after I arrived, when I opened the door to find it on the door frame!  Its head was eye level with mine.  I slowly stepped back and called upstairs to Bill on their balcony.  When he came down and saw it, he took a step back in astonishment.  The goal was to get it gone without damaging the door.  After some thought and little weaponry, he hit it with a broom and it fell off and disappeared in an instant.  I suspected at the time and later identified what it was.  Since then, some of my volunteer workers recently made another suspected siting of one in our development.  So my reaction to snakes is to kill first and ask “what” later.  Fortunately, constrictors move slowly and are harmless.  Echis are very fast and highly aggressive.  So I take this all as a lesson to sharpen my machete!

Did I happen to mention that I HATE SNAKES!!!

Mall Mania!

Bloggers note: this blog post is three weeks old!  I’ve had it mostly written, but life got so busy, I never got back to finishing and posting it.  Since then, Bill & Elaine have returned to Canada for the summer, and I’ve been to the mall four more times!  But I thought it best to leave it in its original format.

This week my good friend, Elaine, and I made a trip to Manta to check out the less than a week old new shopping mall!

Elaine and me in front of one of the entrances. The sun was too bright for our friend to see well, so she just got the “Pacifico” of the sign, but you get the idea.

I have actually known about this mall long before the general public.  It was just after I arrived in Ecuador and was stuggling to correct my property/visa fiasco.  One day I was in the office of my first (bad) attorney, and he couldn’t help himself from boasting and proudly telling me he’d just helped close a deal for a new shopping mall in Manta.  He asked if I’d like to see the architectural drawings and showed me the artist renderings of the new project.  I asked where it would be and he said, “Do you know where the abandoned olymipic sized swimming pool is?”  I did – it was right in the heart of town, just across from the original SuperMaxi grocery story.  I asked him how long before it would be open and he told me four years.  That seemed like an eternity to this few months old new immigrant.

But I watched the spot, and sure enough some months later dirt began to move.  Knowing that things usually take much longer in Ecuador than they say to accomplish (if ever), I wondered if I’d live to see it completed.  But the earthquake really motivated them to step up the pace, with the goal of finishing it in time for the anniversary.  They opened last Thursday, just a few days past, to a large and very excited crowd of 70,000 people (according to the local paper).  I would have been among them, but was in Manta that day with my friends Mesfin and Elaine, both who didn’t want to go anywhere near the mayhem.  However we did drive by a few times and witness the crowds and excitement.

On Tuesday, Elaine and I took the first bus in and last bus home, and still barely had time to scratch the surface!  Elaine had previously told me she wasn’t really a mall person.  I told her growing up in Dallas, a city full of shopping malls, I still usually only went once or twice a year, mainly at Christmas time to enjoy the decorations and festive environment.  But even if I don’t care to go often, I just like knowing I have options, and this mall has certainly brought us many more options than we’ve had in this part of the country up until now.

The new Mall Del Pacifico is now one of the five largest malls in Ecuador, and that says a lot because there are many in Quito and Guayaquil that rival anything I’ve ever seen in my hometown of Dallas.  The new mall is 120,000 square meters and has 200 business, as well as a section for medical offices.  It will also soon open an attached seven story, 126 room hotel.  The best part about all of this is the many local people that the mall will employee.

There are so many things that we couldn’t find in our grocery and other stores before, that we can now find here.  Malls in Ecuador almost always have a mega grocery store in them, and this mall has transformed our small neighborhood sized SuperMaxi grocery store into a MegaMaxi (it’s basically like a Super Walmart or Target).  Having spent a lot of time discovering some other new stores, we only had 1.5 hours in there on our first visit, and that wasn’t nearly enough – we needed at least four!  So many more choices of food items we’ve never had access to here.  Maybe still not everything we are missing from back in N. America, but I was so excited to find couscous, Dijon mustard and REAL maple syrup!

We discovered several other great stores as well.  One thing that always makes me laugh in Ecuador is how stores will carry such an odd mixture of items that we would never put together in a store back in the states.  Elaine and I went into one store and on one side it had all kinds of items for commerical kitchens and restaurants.  On the other side was equipment and supplies for beauty salons!  We finally realized the connection of supplying to these two professional industries, but it was so funny to have one aisle with cool kitchen gadgets and on the next, nail polish and hair dye!

Plasticware and medical supply equipment – what a store combination!

Another new store we loved was called Almacenes Estuardo Sánchez.  This was another everything store from housewares, to office supplies, kitchen items, toys, etc.  But what really cracked me up was rounding the corner of looking in several aisles of plastic kitchen goods, to find a huge section of medical equipment!  The thing we loved most about this store was their prices.  We are used to many household and decorative items being quite expensive, but we found the prices in this store to be very low.

The only thing I was a bit disappointed in was the food court area.  Official articles before the mall opened stated we’d have such new offerings as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and even TGI Fridays.  But none of these were among the vendors, with no “coming soon” signs or even apparent space to be added later.  Most of the restaurants are Ecuadorian fare, with the exception of KFC and Pizza Hut.  But my favorite local cafe/bakery, Dulce y Cremosa, has TWO locations in the mall!

There is really a nice variety of stores and services (including four banks and a beauty salon).  And since the mega grocery store is there, the mall can easily be the one stop shop for everything.  All the places I taxied around to each week, now in one air conditioned location – sweet! 🙂

Below are a few more pictures (thanks to my friend, Ryan Kelly, for most of them off his Ecuador Shores Realty Facebook page):

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One Year Later…

Well, today marks one year since the devastating 7.8 earthquake that rocked Ecuador last April.  I find it very fitting that the anniversary falls on Easter/Resurrection Sunday, a day that celebrates the new life we have been offered in Jesus.  My friend, Aileen, wrote a short, but fitting Easter blog post, and I would encourage you to take a look.  But I would like to briefly update you on the earthquake recovery efforts in my area.

Demolition in the devastated Tarqui area following the earthquake

My shopping city of Manta has made an amazing comeback!  Many buildings have been repaired or torn down, although there are still others awaiting either.  Most impressive has been the efforts towards helping the many home and store owners/vendors of the destroyed Tarqui area.  For the most part, Tarqui still remains closed off and demolished.  I have been told eventually all of it will be torn down and turned into a large city park.  But the government has done a fabulous job of building a whole new area, even closer to the bus terminal, for the venders to relocate and sell their wares.  There are three large sections side by side, with two sections being rows and rows of garage style stalls.  The third section is larger stores made out of railroad car containers!  This area has some of the bigger chain stores here, including appliance stores, pharmacies and even a bank, as well as a food court area.  All of this opened within about six months after the earthquake.  There is also a new mall that was under construction prior to the earthquake, but afterwards they really stepped up the pace, with the goal of opening it in time for the anniversary.  They are falling a few days short, but I’ve heard it will be open this week – we are all very excited!

Edwin playing tour guide during Mike & Dana’s visit. We rode in the car he purchased with your GoFundMe contributions.

In addition, the people many of you personally helped are doing very well.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, my friend Edwin was able to get back on his feet quickly with the vehicle that was purchased with funds many of you donated.  As is true of many hard working Ecuadorians, he wears several entrepreneurial hats to make a good life for his family.  He now is in partnership with another friend of ours and has started a successful car rental business.  He also has been buying and selling silver jewelry, as well as doing private taxi and tour guiding when the opportunities come.

Edwin has also reported to me that his church has raised enough funds to begin work on a new building.  It is truly amazing that they could manage to do so in such a short time, considering all the personal devastation suffered by so many families in the earthquake.

The funds some of you donated helped erect this structure for Leonardo and Maria: foundation, columns and roof, all built to better earthquake standards. Part of it is now enclosed, with the hope that he can add more rooms later.

And finally, the couple from Edwin’s church, Leonardo and Maria, that some of you helped fund their rebuilding effort, are doing well.  It took quite a while from my initial appeal, to make it happen.  Funds came in slowly, and the work had to be done as we received the money and had volunteers to help.  A neighbor allowed them to build next to and use their existing wall, and we were able to make a good concrete foundation, support pillars and roof for them, as well as buy some bricks for the remaining three walls.  We fell short of the amount we needed to raise, but in the end God blessed Leonardo with a significant sized plumbing job, and he was able to contribute the remaining money to purchase what else was needed and finish putting up the walls.  That has only been completed in the past few months, and he will add water, electricity, more rooms, etc. as he is able.  But I’m happy to be able to show you these pictures that Edwin just recently took of an inaugural gathering Leonardo and Maria hosted in their new home:

The earthquake I went through was truly one of the most surreal events I’ve ever experienced and something I hope to never repeat in my lifetime.  However my damage was minimal and repaired within six months.  Many other people suffered loss of homes, livelihoods and even loved ones.  But I have been so impressed with the solidarity I’ve continued to see on every level, from individuals, to organizations and even the government, to help get Ecuador and its people back on their feet.  I am thankful, one year later on this Easter Sunday, to be able to look around so many places and see “beauty instead of ashes.” (Isaiah 61:3)