You guys….

This blog is a long time in coming – but please believe the heartfelt thanks that is behind it. Right in time for the holiday season!

IMG_0516Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

Psalm 95: 2-3

So here I am, back in Nicaragua again, after two weeks visiting friends and family in the States, and I can’t even begin to express how truly blessed I felt getting on the plane back to Central America.

Throughout this year, my fellow staff members here at New Song have each taken trips back to the US, bringing back stories of their friends and families, and hordes of chocolate to last until their next journey to comfort-food heaven. Up to this point, though, I hadn’t left Central America, choosing to renew my Visa in Costa Rica while visiting my old haunts there.

I was nervous to go back, nervous about how I would feel leaving Nicaragua, nervous about shattering the illusion of my life in Chichigalpa, nervous about how cold the weather would be, nervous about reverse culture shock. In truth, as excited as I was to see everyone, I didn’t want to leave because I knew how quickly the remainder of my time would go once I came back.

Nevertheless, I packed my bags, arrived at the airport, and began my epic journey.

Those that saw me in the States know how crazy my two weeks were, full of road trips (Chattanooga, Atlanta, Kentucky, Durham, Philadelphia, Montreal!), coffee, and (thankfully) pretty decent weather. I was so busy, I almost forgot to miss Nicaragua!

Honestly, I went to bed so many nights just so grateful for the people in my life, smiling ear to ear from the day’s adventures. In this whirlwind trip, I was able to reconnect with old friends, go trick-or-treating with my nephew, take my sibling on a “college” trip to Montreal, and help one of my very best friends pick out her wedding dress…every single one of those experiences I treasure, knowing that those very moments are like so many others I have had to forfeit while living a life outside of the US.

I am so very very grateful for you guys….for all of you that I saw as I whirled by, and for all of you I wasn’t able to connect with while blowing through town….and so very very grateful to all of you who have made it possible for me to finish out my year in Nicaragua.

That’s right I AM FUNDED TO FINISH OUT THE YEAR IN NICARAGUA!

The bittersweetness of leaving Nicaragua was coupled with the immense relief of the knowledge that I would soon be coming back, that two weeks of travel would culminate in a return to my home of the past year. Although still a little short of the projected fundraising goal, it’s close enough to make staying through January possible.

Thanks to you guys….

…I will see my kids here finish the school year
…I will be there when my seniors graduate
…I will celebrate birthdays with them
…I will celebrate the holidays with them
…I will make sure they are prepared for the next step in their lives

…I will have 3 more months living life alongside New Song and the people that make up our community.

And that is no small thing.

Thank you to everyone of you who made my trip to America so great, and thank you to everyone of you who is making my precious time in Nicaragua possible.

You guys. You’re awesome. Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

Simple Diagnosis

Tragedies hit hard here in our communities, so when I heard about little Juan’s mother this weekend, I knew her troubles would be no small matter.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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Juan lives with his mother and older brother, and his father has little to nothing to do with them. He is eight years old, in first grade, and one of the happiest kids I know. His beaming smile arrives almost before he does, but a gleeful hug is never far behind. His high energy antics have him climbing up trees and running around their family complex – no outfit is complete until it is covered in a layer of dust!

Juan’s mother works hard to take care of their small family. She pushes a cart filled with snacks and drinks to the Central Park daily, and their only income is from the sales she is able to make there. From this, she struggles to buy food, clothes, and school supplies for her two sons.

Last Friday, her childhood epilepsy resurfaced and left her convulsing through the night. She was brought to the hospital, and the seizures controlled, but the doctors are unsure of what caused the sudden onset. She was sent home with anti-seizure medication to take in case of emergency, but no one is sure what to expect from here on out.

“She’s dying,” is the simple diagnosis uttered by all around her.

Pray for this sweet family in their current trials, for the fear and uncertainty that is ever present in such times. Pray for healing and medical understanding, that doctors may be able to find answers. Pray for the boys as they contemplate a future without their mother, that they might continue to be provided for and know that they are loved.

Losing a mother at such a young age hits hard. If it comes to it, Juan’s extended family is poised to take him and his older brother in, but the emotional impact of such a loss won’t be minimized, and the extra cost on the extended family will not be easy to bear, either.

If you would like to help provide some relief, please consider becoming a sponsor to Juan. In addition to ensuring that his schooling needs don’t fall through the cracks, knowing that there is a larger community thinking, praying, and providing for them gives hope and assurance in the face of such difficult times.

When Words are Not Enough

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Galations 6:9

IMG_6519It has been a challenging week here in Candelaria, working with the youth in our sponsorship program. In checking in with several of our thirteen year old girls, I learned that, for various reasons, there were several that were not making it to school.

One girl has been off at her grandmother’s house for the past week, and no one knows when she plans on returning.

Another let me know that she had missed a week of school because she didn’t have any notebooks to bring with her – although she lives right next to the church, where we give out notebooks to all the children in our program.

A third has missed two weeks of school because she didn’t have the right shoes to wear, when just this past month she was given funds to purchase new shoes.

It can be hard to be down here and hear these stories coming from our students’ mouths, especially the young girls who don’t fully grasp the opportunity they are being given to step out of the hand-to-mouth existence they have grown up in. Being a woman in rural Nicaragua is not easy. At thirteen, each of these girls is going to be making a very real decision in the very near future about whether they want to continue studying and receive their diplomas, or are going to get caught up dating and starting families before they are ready to support them.

It is not uncommon here for young girls to become pregnant and turn their lives over to the care of their new families at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old. Once there’s a baby to care for, clothes to wash by hand, dinner to cook over the open flame, there’s not much free time left at the end of the day to continue studying or working. These girls are left fully dependent on their husbands or boyfriends to provide for them, which they are not always able to do. There is a strong culture of domestic violence down here, as well, that young women lacking resources are hard pressed to escape.

Knowing all this, how do you communicate the importance of completing their education to girls who don’t have any interest in going to school?

In between a series of these difficult conversations, I found myself speaking with a mother in another one of our communities. She has four children in our sponsorship program, aged 11 to 16, who consistently bring home high grades and are active members in every extra opportunity offered to them – from soccer teams to English classes. She told me how blessed they were as a family to have their four youngest children sponsored, freeing up the little capital they did have to support their oldest daughter in her university studies. This daughter is in her final year of her Accounting and Finance major, and has managed to make it to 25 keeping her mind on her studies and the future she is creating for herself without getting distracted by the temptations of her peers leading her off track.

This girl comes from the same neighborhood as some of these other teenagers, and to hear about how she is standing strong and creating for herself what her parents weren’t able to is inspiring. She was too old to take part in our sponsorship program when it started here, but to have her as an example to her younger siblings, especially the youngest girl, is invaluable.

This story alone was enough to rekindle my motivation for what we are doing down here. For every child here that doesn’t understand the value of their education, there is one that does – and as they rise up from their communities and come back to pour into their home towns, more and more children will be able to understand that, for them especially, school is an opportunity at a future that would otherwise be out of their grasp.

In talking with this mother I was given hope that, in the times that we as outsiders can not effectively speak to the mindset of some of our students, a mother, sister, friend, or neighbor may yet step in and remind these girls what it is they are going to school for, what a difference investing now can make in their own futures.

Back to the Drawing Board

My initial time commitment to New Song is coming to an end, and people keep asking me if I’m actually leaving Nicaragua, and if so, when? My response is simple. I feel this is where I’m supposed to be. I feel my time here is not yet up. But it is up to God, and His plans. So if you want me to extend my stay, add me to your prayer list and see what He makes possible.

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The past 6 months have been incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. It has been a growing experience that has stretched me in many ways, and confirmed much of what I previously believed. There were days I came home smiling ear to ear, and days where I needed to shut the door and drown my sorrows in ice cream and Netflix marathons. At the end of it all, this is my world. This is where I am making connections to last a lifetime.

I originally signed up to come to Chichigalpa for only three months, and after submitting my application, those wiser than I advised that I would barely be beginning if I didn’t consider staying longer. And they were right! Around April I started thinking about what it would mean to head home in just a few more months, and it seemed impossibly sad to think I would be closing this chapter so soon.

Even now I realize that, with the school year not ending until December, leaving in August seems too abrupt. I would be missing graduation. I would be leaving all the children I work with in the middle of their school year. I would never get to see the end result of all the hours of tutoring we’ve invested together. And so, with the idea of making it to graduation, it has been put on my heart to stay through December.

I’ve been filled this past week with a sense of peace, as I walk through the turmoil of my days. Our pastor was speaking this last week about resting in the Lord, finding rest in His word, in His promise, and in His plans for our lives.

In that, I am resting in His peace. I am investing my own savings for the month of August as I raise support to stay through the end of the year. If the funds come in, I will stay on, and if not, I trust the Lord will bring me in a new direction.

Want to know more about what I’ve been doing? Check out the About page.

If you would like to take part in the work we’re doing here in Nicaragua, please visit the Donate page to see how you can help.

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

“When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightnings for the rain, and he brings out the wind from his storehouses.”

Jeremiah 10:13

I may have been a little presumptuous before when I said the rainy season was starting here….but with three days in a row of legitimate thunderstorms pouring down on us, I will boldly proclaim it once more: Rainy Season 2014 has begun!

One of the saddest things for me about being in Central America has got to be missing out on that beautiful spring weather that comes through NC this time of year.

The transition seasons have always been my favorites, and spring especially brings with it such a refreshing spirit, a renewed energy as everything awakes out of hibernation and flowers burst triumphantly forth, having beaten back the cold hand of winter. I just love it all. And….we get none of that here at the equator. Our seasons? Well, there’s two of them. Wet and dry.

There is, however, still a shift in the air as the season starts to change. The heat gets a little more oppressive, humidity sets in, and the air just feels heavier somehow. You see the clouds forming in the skies, feel those pre-storm breezes, and think “Surely today, surely now the rain will bring it’s cooling touch.”

And when the skies let loose? When that rain comes down and soaks the earth? When the thunder rumbles through the entire town, and lightning hits uncomfortably close?

Well, it’s not quite spring time, but it’s a pretty good feeling nonetheless…

 

(Also…I love Cadence!)

Filling the Gaps

 

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

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Homes here are filled with gaps and holes and open spaces that need to be filled in. Many are made of tin, amazing houses that are put up in a day, a little wooden frame and sheets of tin carefully saved up for, nails bought to assemble a little shelter that would be little more than a chicken house in the States. The joints aren’t flush, and the roofs rust over. Whole families live here, whole neighborhoods are made of these tin sheets, whole communities preserve their privacy behind solitary sheets of metal.

This week, I’m reminded of the hidden pain that so many of us carry with us, that we try to close off from the world by putting up our own walls of protection, however thin they might be. I’m reminded of the gaps and holes and open spaces that we try to fill and hide by our own volition, when really we often just need someone to be willing to come up beside us.

A good friend of mine here has been struggling with alcoholism for awhile. In the time I’ve gotten to know him, he has been active in church, coming to services, leading Sunday School classes, teaching music lessons. I had heard of his struggles, but saw no trace of it in him. Last week, he fell off the radar. I arrived to Sunday School and began hearing stories about him walking around town drunk. Everyone wanted to know what was going to happen with him, what the stories we were hearing meant. Here, in this small town, word spreads fast.

What do we do when our shame, when our pain, when our personal battles becomes so very public?

My friend disappeared for several days. The pastors went looking at his house for him, but it took several days before he showed up again. When I stumbled upon him, he was standing in the shadows outside of church, as if trying to decide whether to go in or not. The indecision was written on his face, and as we walked up to him, he looked distraught and repeatedly apologized for having failed everyone, for having missed out on his responsibilities. He didn’t feel worthy of our acceptance, and I imagine was concerned about his standing in the church.

In this instance, and in several other conversations I’ve had this week, I’ve been reminded of the stronghold that the shame of our actions holds over us, when it is exactly these moments when we are told that we will be lifted up – these are the times when God can show himself strongest in our lives, when we stop relying on our own capabilities and see the grace that He has with us even when we feel we deserve it the least.

My friend came in to the service that night, and we joked with him as we walked home after. Since then, I’ve seen him hanging around with the church leaders again – my hope is that he will be able to see that his chinks and imperfections don’t shut him out from the church, but instead makes him just like the rest of us, needing to learn to let the Spirit come up and fill our weaknesses with the power of Christ.

Double Take

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

2 Corinthians 5:8-9 (ESV)

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About a month ago, one of the girls asked me if I ever found myself doing a double take about being here in Central America…I was surprised by the question, mostly because I realized I wasn’t experiencing that at all.

When I was down here last year, during my adventures throughout the region, I would get a deja-vu type feeling while walking down the road with a cacao fruit in my hand, or washing dishes looking out over a coffee field, or scaring away mean dogs along the gravel road as I walked home. Throughout the day, regardless of how mundane the moment might seem, I would step outside of myself and realize the sheer preposterousness of what my life had become and then chuckle to myself at the strange and amazing ways the story I’m living has transformed itself.

It bothered me a bit when she first asked me that question, because I wasn’t feeling that here. This adventure is no less exciting than the last one I was on, and I wanted that feeling of newness back, that surprise that I was navigating a new culture, that confidence that my grandchildren will stare wide-eyed as I tell about that time I pushed away from my desk in the States and jumped on a plane to who-knows-where.

There’s something about those double take moments that brings back the shiny newness of the first time you step out of the airport and into a new story. So what does it mean that, as I’ve moved from first to third world, as I’ve traded my business flats for Chacos, as I’ve mastered the Spanglish of my people, I’ve lost that feeling of incredulousness?

I think it’s actually another type of sweetness that I’ve been brought into. Being down here and in this culture, I’m no longer here for “an experience.” I’m no longer a “tourist” gathering colorful snapshots and crazy stories. I’m no longer “passing through,” gathering advice on the cheapest hostels and best gallo pinto.

I’m no longer looking for how to incorporate this into my life story. This is my life story, plain and simple. I’m comfortable and content here, in what has against all odds become my every day life.

How’s that for a double take? Nicaragua, I’m home.