You Should Watch This!

Hey Everyone – it looks like the docuseries Elaine and I watched online that got us started on the Ketogenic diet is being replayed in about a week.  Each episode is posted for 24 hours to view it, but it is well worth the time commitment to watch it.  Don’t let the title fool you, because it’s not just about fat and weight loss, but on learning overall lifestyle changes that can transform you health.  I highly recommend it!  Go to this link to register:

http://therealskinnyonfat.com/optin/

General Update

A cross marker was made and his collar hangs on it

First off, thank you to all of those who offered their condolences over the loss of my sweet doggie friend, Pablo.  He was buried on his beach, off the side of the property next door where he used to live, and one of my neighbors made a marker for his grave.  All of us have said our goodbyes in our own way.  Just this morning, I finally made it over there to leave his remaining “cookies” that were in my beach walking bag I carry.  It is still a frequent topic of conversations amongst us how much he meant to each of us – his presence will be missed. 😢

Overlooking the beautiful beach he lived on

Other than that, I did promise a general update on my life.  After returning from my stateside visit in February, the bee business in Dallas picked up, and I picked up an extra work day, so I am now working four days a week.  Up until recently, we were in our peak season and it has been a busy one, so work days were pretty much non-stop all day.  Things began to slow a few weeks ago and I am grateful.  It’s nice to have the breaks in between calls and time to get some things done around the house like laundry, gardening and cooking.

Speaking of cooking, I’ve continued to do a lot of it!  One of the main reasons is that shortly after I returned, Elaine and I watched a health docuseries online and at the conclusion, decided we were both going to go on the Ketogenic diet together.  My goal was to not only lose the 15 or so pounds that I first lost when I moved here, but had gained back, plus the 8-10 pounds I gained while in the states. 😳 We both also just in general wanted to be healthier (although I have eaten better than most for years) and wanted to achieve some of the other benefits purported.  Let’s just say my expectations were more than met, they were way exceeded!  Never in my lifetime of yo-yoing with every possible diet out there, could I have expected the weight to literally melt off me!  I felt like I barely made any eating adjustments, but easily lost 20 pounds in about 2 months, and am now maintaining an approximate 25 pound loss.  The best part is, it does not feel like a diet at all – it is an easy lifestyle change.  Anything you might miss eating, you can easily find a recipe for a Keto friendly version of it online.  Elaine has lost about 40 pounds now, and several other friends have jumped on the band wagon, so we now all trade information, recipes and encouragement.  I have noticed many other benefits of this way of eating and can’t imagine ever going back.  As Elaine says, we are “Keto for life!”

Elaine, Bill, Rick and many other local Canadians are back summering in their country right now, so it’s kind of slow and quiet around here.  Tag has two sets of pet sitters to look after him this time. The lovely couple for the first two months are from England and New Zealand, and the lady who arrives next week to relieve them is from Idaho.  I have visited Tag several times since Bill & Elaine left, and he is really enjoying life with his new girlfriend, Patches, a stray who Rick adopted several months before he went back to Canada in May.  A local friend of ours is house/puppy sitting for her until Rick returns in August, but Tag’s pet sitters have been bringing Patches for beach walks, as she and Tag would be happy to be inseparable. 😍 (Photos courtesy James & Clare, Tag’s current pet sitters)

 

The last thing to update you on is that after years of inactivity, I’m finally studying and re-training myself again in TPM – now known as Transformational Prayer Ministry.  Many of you know that for nearly two years, I was very active in facilitating these sessions (that can best be described up as an inner-healing ministry) up until the day my mom fell and my life took a watershed turn.  After that immediate dust settled, the Lord made it clear it was not time to pick it back up yet, as the next phase of my life was to be about “getting my house in order” to move to Ecuador.  Once I arrived, in addition to all that I had to navigate to establish a life here, Robert was definitely the next “assignment” on my radar.  Since then, it’s just been a continued process of establishing my roots.

I absolutely loved the season when I was doing TPM ministry, because it was amazing to watch God transform people from places of deep emotional pain, to complete peace before my very eyes.  I always only felt like a tool in His hand and that I was so privileged to stand on “holy ground” and watch Him work.  Leaving behind that ministry was truly a “laying Isaac on the alter” moment for me, and I didn’t know if God would ever allow me to pick it back up again.  But there was a definite shift in some things when I returned from the US (as I sensed there would be, even before I left) and I have finally recently felt His grace to return to it.  It’s been so long, that I knew I’d have to pretty much completely re-train myself.  Fortunately for me, they’ve now made the process more streamlined and all the training available for free on the internet.  So my latest “hobby” has been going through all the materials and brushing up on the “process, principles and purpose” of the ministry.  I’m hoping to begin praying with friends both here and back home (via Skype or FaceTime) very soon.  This morning on my beach walk was the first realization I had that it was nearly 7 years (7/11/11 – the day my mother fell) that I had been out of this ministry.  I felt the Lord remind me that 7 is the number of completion.  So I’m happy to have completed that portion of my journey and thrilled at the prospect of Him once again using me to help “set captives free.”

Yes, I still wear it 😊

One final remembrance about Robert was that it was four years ago, around this time, that he visited me here (twice).  The last World Cup was during that time and he was a rabid World Cup fan.  We watched Belgium play a few early games the first time he was here, but they were long out of it by the time he returned and we watched the finals.  This year, Belgium has currently made it to the semi-final round!  They have only ever been in the World Cup 12 times since its 1930 inception, and have only made it to the semi-finals one other time, losing to both Argentina and France, to come in 4th Place.  This year, they face France again in the semi-finals, and they are going in undefeated in all their World Cup games thus far.  Robert would have been absolutely over the moon proud of his Red Devil team – GO BELGIUM! 🇧🇪

Farewell Pablo

Pablo shortly after he first came to us in 2016

Yes, I know that I am woefully behind in my blogging.  Thank you to those who have checked in to see if I’m still here.  I have been meaning to post a general update for several weeks now, but that will have to wait, because this blog takes precedence.

A few weeks ago on the beach

I, along with many of my friends and nearby neighbors, are grieving the loss of our sweet friend, Pablo.  As you can probably tell by the photo, Pablo was a dog.  But he wasn’t just any dog – everyone agrees that Pablo was very special.

Pablo lived at the former hotel/restaurant next door.  I still remember when he first showed up a little over two years ago.  He was abandoned by some people and the first chef from the U.S. wanted to keep him.  He was still a young dog, maybe 6-8 months old, and he quickly captured our hearts.  Back then we all gathered regularly to eat and drink at the restaurant/bar, and Pablo was a staple there.  He became everybody’s dog and we were his people.  When the chef left a short time later (following the earthquake), the hotel owner didn’t want to keep Pablo and asked my neighbor, Lisa, to take him.  She did initially, but Pablo just kept jumping over her wall and going back next door.  Shortly after, the next chef couple arrived and they too fell in love with Pablo.  They begged the owner to let them keep him and began feeding and training him, as well as getting his shots and sterilization taken care of.  When they left about six months later, there would be no moving Pablo by then – that was his domain.

During that time, Pablo and I began a fairly regular beach walking routine.  Eventually, I started to carry dog biscuits in my bag, and we had our familiar routine of him bounding towards me to get his treats before we started on our walk.  Some mornings he didn’t come out until I was returning, but he always got his “cookies” no matter what.  Sometimes we’d play fetch the stick, but what he really loved most was chasing birds (and sometimes crabs).

But what was unique about Pablo was his personality.  He was a super special dog indeed. The truth is, he’d walk with anyone he saw going that direction.  He was a friend to all.  All our volunteer workers instantly fell in love with him.  Everyone loved Pablo.  He was always happy, always friendly, always joyful and full of mischief and life.  He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  Everyone adopted him into their life in some way.  Our newest residents that moved here full-time a few months ago have four dogs, but had still welcomed Pablo by feeding him and letting him inside to hang out and play with their dogs. They even paid for the final vet bill for him.

I used to always say he reminded me of me, because when we were on the beach, if we saw a person or another dog, he ran straight towards them, tail in the air, looking forward to making a new friend.  It was always interesting to watch the reactions both of people and other dogs.  Some were afraid of him, and he’d always look puzzled as to why they didn’t understand that he just wanted to make friends and play.  Some were even hostile towards him, and he couldn’t understand that either.  It was fun to watch those people and dogs who finally realized how sweet natured he was, and they began to warm up and play with him.

Our development was part of his home and he’d wander around and through here daily.  A funny story from several weeks ago: I left my gate open all day one day because workers were at my house finishing work up on my deck. My friend/contactor, Luis, came back after lunch and said there was a dog in my yard.  I knew it was Pablo, and sure enough he came to my back screen door and peered in for several minutes while I was on a work call. Then he walked away, and I thought nothing more of it.  I was still sitting at my table (back to my front door) talking away and looked down and suddenly Pablo was standing beside me in the middle of my living room!  A worker had walked outside briefly to get something and left the door open and Pablo just let himself in.  I grabbed him by the collar and led him right back out, talking on a call the whole time.  Good thing Charcoal was hiding in the laundry room because of all the activity!

Earlier this week in the afternoon, the hotel owner came out of his room to find Pablo acting out of his head.  He’d been fine earlier that day and they suspected he’d been poisoned.  They brought him here to some of my neighbors, who tried to give him something to make him vomit.  Finally, they called the vet in Jipijapa (30 minutes away) and rushed him there, but it was too late to save him.  The next day, another ex-pat friend’s dog was also poisoned, but they were able to treat it and it is recovering.  However we learned yesterday that sadly, it’s some level of government putting out poison to kill stray dogs.  Whether that is local or national government I don’t know.  My friend/contractor Luis said there were 3 dead strays by his house.  But sadly, there are going to be a lot of “unintended” victims as well. 😔  I truly do understand the problem of the strays, and it’s heartbreaking to see them live a suffering life, but when my neighbors described to me how Pablo was suffering from that poison, it’s devastating. 😖

It has been super sad walking by the hotel the past few mornings and realizing I would never again see Pablo come out stretching from having just woken up, and then come bounding towards me looking for his cookies. Or missing him when I stopped to do my stretches and he’d come over from his wanderings and lay down beside me while I did my routine.  Just in the past few weeks we had some very memorable moments together.  One morning I was off work, so was taking my time and running a little later than usual leaving for my walk.  As I was fixing Charcoal’s breakfast, I heard a single bark and realized it was very close by.  I opened my front door to see Pablo laying outside my gate and looking at me like, “Come on, you’re late!”

In fact, I had already thought about writing a blog post about Pablo, because in some ways he was like my little angel companion and protector.  Although generally friendly towards all, there were a few times lately when he let a pack of dogs or a person jogging know that they’d better not have any ill intent towards me, or they’d have to contend with him.  I remember one sweet exchange just the other day, when I cupped his face in my hands, put my face close to his, looked straight into his eyes and told him what a special dog he was.  And his eyes answered back that he knew exactly what I was saying to him.

Ownership of Pablo was really a group effort and everyone around here had their own special bond with him.  As my good friend Fatima says, “There will never be another dog like Pablo” – he’ll be hugely missed. 😢

Overwhelmed!

Well, I just returned a few days ago from a month long, coast-to-coast U.S. visit – my first since I moved to Ecuador over four years ago!  It was an amazing time of re-connecting with so many friends and family (including a first time meeting with three of my five siblings from my birthfather).  Overwhelmed is the best word I know to describe the love and generosity I experienced everywhere I went!  I want to thank you all so much for the visits, home stays, rides, meals (bought and prepared) and gifts.  I truly enjoyed every non-stop moment of catching up with so many of you.  It amazed me how despite the years that have passed since we last saw each other, we could just pick right back up where we left off.  For those I wasn’t able to connect with, I’m so sorry, but it was amazing how even traveling a full month did not allow me enough time to work everyone in.  Hopefully, if I get another chance to return, I can see you next time (or you can come see me first!)

Sue & Rick, my amazing sitters from Canada. They took great care of my house and Charcoal and all my friends here loved spending time with them.

I just wanted to say again how grateful I am to all of you I was able to see, and how grateful I am to God for answering all my prayers surrounding this trip.  He gave me the perfect house/pet sitters, smooth and healthy travel, and many other providential things as well.

I have lots of reflections from my visit and hopefully will be able to process through and put some of them down in future blog posts soon.  My trip was awesome all the way around, but it’s wonderful to hear the ocean again, and I do have to say that walking barefoot on the beach beats mall walking in boots any day of the week! 😉

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!