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  It’s withdrawn from the hectic, helter-skelter pace of the U.S.  It’s away from all the craziness of media, politics, social agendas and the likes.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)

Dana’s Guest Perspective

When my friend Deanna came to visit, I asked her to write her guest perspective after she returned home.  I requested the same of Amy & Melanie, but they got thrown back into their busy lives and never got around to it.  So I warned Dana early on that I wasn’t going to let her forget to write her reflections from their trip.  Here is what she had to say about her visit to Ecuador:

Hello all – first let me say I am a terrible writer, but Mary asked me to give my thoughts of my visit, so I will try my best to give a visitor’s perspective of Ecuador for the first time.

I was so excited to be able to finally get to visit.  I have been wanting to go ever since she moved there, but year after year something big had been going on.  I knew that I wanted to go in February, and I knew I wanted to have plenty of time there.  So finally around November, I looked at the 2017 calendar, checked with my husband, Mike, and determined it was a “Go.”  I called Mary and the timing was perfect.  God was good to us during this trip, and I wanted to give you my thoughts on Ecuador and Mary’s life there.

I loved Ecuador, the people, Mary’s house, the food and her community.  It was just a blessing to be able to go and visit. Mary was so wonderful to carve out the time for us, and she was a wonderful host.  She had everything perfectly planned, and God gave us perfect weather.  I felt like I was in a luxury hotel, the view was gorgeous with the beach and the sunsets, and then the mountains on the other side to see beautiful sunrises.  It was peaceful from the very minute we arrived.  I loved the little restaurant in Mary’s community – everyone knew everyone and it was like family.  They just hung out, laughed and talked, and the food was fantastic.  Since Mary’s water was filtered, we could drink and shower without fear of getting sick.  I got to meet all of the people in her community, and got to visit her good friends, Bill and Elaine, the second day.  What a great couple, and they treated us to dinner, pool time, beach volleyball and great stories.  Over the time we were there, it was so amazing to see all the connections that Mary had made, and the respect that people there have for her.  She has a great balance of respecting the culture and differences, and then bringing in her own influences.  It was so fun to see Mary speak Spanish just like a pro.  One of the days we went into town, we ran into Duver, who was riding on his motorcycle.  It was a fun atmosphere to be able to just run into people on the street that she knew and just talk and visit, like we had all the time in the world.  Also we got to meet Sam and see his place in town – we just stopped by and played cards during the day.  Mary had us try all the local foods there, and the lunch specials that gave a taste of the culture.  The food was fantastic, and the fresh fruit was amazing too.  Such a variety of different tastes that would grow in one of the neighbor’s yards, or would come on a fruit truck.  One of the other people we got to meet was Edwin, who had lost his transportation in the earthquake about a year ago.  We got to listen to his first hand experience on how scary it was, and how he was so blessed with the donations from everyone.  He was able to continue his business and make money to provide for his family (I was also able to meet his precious wife and daughter).

I was so excited when we found a church in Cuenca because the city has tons of Catholic churches, so I was not sure if there would be one there.  But again God prepared the way and gave us our desire that day.  One of my favorite songs, and was so appropriate for Mary, was the “Oceans” song.   They were singing in Spanish and I was singing in English. We were all in one spirit, just different languages.

Mary planned our trip out so well, that we got to experience so much in such a short amount of time, yet didn’t feel exhausted when we got home.  I loved that it was the same time zone, and that we had quality friend time with people, but experienced the big cities and “tourist” spots, as well as hanging out at the beach with friends.

If any of you reading this has the opportunity to go and visit, I would encourage you to do it.  It was such a blessing.  If you love Mary’s blog, the trip makes everything come to life.  I would say just go if you can – you will love it!

Twice Blessed

Thank you to all those who commented here or sent emails expressing sympathy at the passing of my birthfather.  In some ways, this has been even more difficult than when my adoptive father passed away in 2005.

Although I loved my adoptive father, sadly he was from a very unhealthy family, and was an alcoholic who battled many demons.   Although I have some very warm memories of him in my younger years, as I grew older, his inability to relate in any healthy way left a big void in my life.  This brought predictable consequences in many ways.  Eventually, as an adult, I sought my own healing and was able to feel compassion towards my father and the brokenness of his life.  I loved him, but due to the circumstances, was never able to have anything more than a superficial relationship with him.  Although I know in his own way, and to the best of his ability, my father loved me, not once in my life did he ever tell me so.  I was sad and grieved when he died, but what I mourned most was the loss of not ever having a real relationship with him.

In contrast, I first met my birthfather 21 years ago this month.  The first time he flew my husband and me to Denver (not where he lived) to meet him, we had never even spoken or corresponded.  Everything had been arranged and communicated through my birthmother.  After we arrived at the hotel, he called the room to see if I was ready to come meet him.  In my mind, I was meeting a total stranger and expected to shake his hand and say, “Nice to meet you.”  But surprisingly, as soon as I saw him, my heart said, “Daddy!” and I gave him a big hug.  And not long into getting to know him, I came to realize that the emotional and demonstrative side of me, that didn’t quite fit with my adoptive parents’ personalities, found its home in him.

Although I can count on one hand the number of times we met in person these past 21 years, those episodes are burned into my memory.  In addition, we had countless phone and internet conversations on a regular, sometimes weekly basis.  He always sent beautiful birthday and Christmas cards.  My birthfather was generous with praise and affection for me, two things I never received from my adoptive father.  Obviously, due to his family circumstances, our relationship was less than ideal, but I am still so grateful for the time that I was able to spend knowing him, learning about his life, and discovering some of my personality traits that came from him.

On one of the first visits with him, he took me to my first performance of “The Phantom of the Opera.”  (I’ve since come to love this musical, not only for its haunting melodies, but it’s deep, spiritual symbolism.)  Sometime later, he sent me a “Phantom” musical snow globe as a gift, and we both felt the song, “Think Of Me,” was a poignant reflection of our relationship.  I remember after one visit with him, coming home and listening to it over and over.  Below is a rendition with the lyrics (and even more ironic, my birthmother once told me she thought of naming me Christina!)

As hard as it is to lose another parent, I count myself very fortunate.  For although I’ve always considered the ones who raised me to be my “real” parents, I’ve been doubly blessed to have been given, as my birthmother affectionately calls it, “A pair and a spare.”  The fact that I’ve suffered more loss, just means I’ve had more love in my life – and for that I am truly grateful.

Transition…

There are many ways I could have shared this news with you, but I choose to do so this way.  I’ve chronicled here, and mentioned many times, the significance the number “11” has taken on in my life.  It wasn’t until well into the phenomenon of it showing up everywhere, that a friend enlightened me to the fact that it was the Biblical number for transition.  During the time it began for me, there was much transition happening in my life.  Ever since then, I’ve continued to steadily see it in various forms (usually 11:11), to greater or lesser degrees.  When it escalates, it always signals more transition.

So when I saw 11:11 four times within a 24 hour period over New Year’s Eve/Day, I knew it meant something was coming.  Transitions often happen for me around the first of a year.  I can remember many, many years ago when life seemed to be going along just fine, but as the New Year approached, I had a foreboding feeling I could not shake.  Very shortly after the calendar changed, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, while simultaneously my father was hospitalized with a mysterious heart ailment.  It was a very stressful several months before things “normalized” again.

Of course, for the past five years, as the calendar changes, the dates begin reminding me of the approaching anniversary of my mother’s death on 1/11.  As I noticed the date the day before, I made a conscious decision that this year, I would briefly acknowledge the day and move on.  No memorial blog post or time of going through remembrances.  But later that day, all of that changed.

As I recounted in my Thanksgiving blog post, just 7 weeks ago today, my birthfather had been diagnosed with cancer at the same age my mother was when she passed away.  He then finally revealed my existence to his oldest son, my brother, who has since been keeping me informed as to my birthfather’s treatment and progress.  I spoke with my birthfather just one more time on December 3, following the Thanksgiving weekend they had called.  It was before he was to begin his radiation treatments.  Although the doctors were quite optimistic that the small sizes and types of tumors meant a good prognosis, my birthfather didn’t feel the same.  When I asked him why, he said, “I’m just so tired.”  But he said he felt such a relief and weight had been lifted, now that he had told my brother about me.  Although I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be our last conversation, I still told him how much I loved him and how grateful I was that he’d wanted to know me and that we’d had a relationship all these years, despite the less than ideal circumstances.  He apologized again that it had not been more, but told me how much he loved me and was proud of me.

The updates I received from my brother the past several weeks were mostly positive.  There was a setback at one point when the doctor doing the radiation on the three tumors in his brain, decided “on the fly” to do them all at the same time, instead of spacing them out as previously planned.  That was too much for my birthfather’s body and it threw several other things out of whack, causing him to have to be hospitalized for several days.  But he rebounded from that, tolerated the rest of the radiation treatments on his lung well, and was making good progress.  He had entered a two month pause between treatments, at the end of which, they would re-scan everything and see what progress had been made.

This past Tuesday, I had gone shopping in Manta and was riding back with Mesfin and Elaine.  She asked how my birthfather was doing and I gave her the updates I knew.  I told her my brother had been very gracious to keep me informed and although I’m sure my dad had not had any time alone to call me, I missed talking with him and hoped during this recovery period he might be able to call.  But when I arrived home, I saw I’d missed a call from my brother.  Up until now, he’d been sending email reports, so I thought the call, along with not leaving a message, was not a good sign.  I sent a text message and anxiously waited to hear back.  Shortly after, Craig called to give me the news that although my birthfather had continued to make very hopeful and positive progress, he’d taken a sudden turn for the worse a few nights prior.  They were not certain what happened (possibly a tumor ruptured), but he was no longer conscious, not eating or drinking, and they had him at home on hospice, who said it wouldn’t be long.

I spent all day yesterday grieving all of this, along with the flood of memories it brought up surrounding my mother’s death.  Then this afternoon, I received another call from Craig to let me know that my birthfather had passed away – just one day after the five year anniversary of my mother’s death, at the same age of 87.

And remember the number “11” that signifies transition?  Not only did I see it four times over New Years (and plenty of times since), but yesterday while working through all of this, I booked a bee call job and when I was given the address, it was 1111 and the appointment was for 11:00 on 1/11.

When talking with my good friend Rissa yesterday, she reminded me how often what is happening in our individual lives, is happening to others too.  She shared with me that she knew of several other people who have been thrust into a time of sudden transition at the beginning of this year.  Not to mention that America and the world are in a big state of transition at the moment as well.  As I’ve said before, I believe all this transition is rapidly leading to the ultimate transition, when…

“The kingdom of the world (becomes) the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

Until then, I will miss you, Jerry.

Moving Right Along

Well, here we are at the start of another year – unbelievable!  As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to be deeply reflective regarding a New Year.   At the end of every year, as I look back and evaluate, I can always see a theme.  In the three years since I’ve been here, each one has been very distinct.

In the first year (2014), the Robert Story was the primary focus of my time.  It was an incredibly intense, but profound journey.  However, in 2015, I spent much of the year struggling to get the details of my house finished (even though I had already moved in the previous November).  It was a season where I found myself frustrated and “leaning on my own understanding” in dealing with some of the obstacles and people I was working with.  In addition, some other happenings in my life that year really served to show me how much I had allowed myself to become preoccupied, distracted and off track – “forsaking my first love.”  But God, in His mercy, brought the gentle correction I needed to realize my loss of focus.  By the end of the year, I was disappointed in myself in all the ways I felt I had failed.  Which is why I was so thankful I was invited to join in the customary New Year’s ritual to symbolically burn up all the “fret and regret” I wanted to let go of.

This past year has been one marked with “staying the course.”  It has been an exercise in quickly recognizing those times and tendencies when I would be tempted to take my focus off where it should be.  Most of the year was rather routine and uneventful – except, of course, for the earthquake!  But even in that, the Lord showed me that I was keeping my eyes and focus where they needed to be.

So this past year felt like it was a chance to “put into practice” the things I learned from the previous year.  And for the most part, I feel like I can say I’ve stayed on track.  God has always seemed to deal with me in calendar years, and I have no idea the highs and/or lows in store for this next year.   But my prayer is that the ground I’ve gained (or at least maintained) will serve to prepare me to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

Feliz Año Nuevo!