We are into our final week at El Refugio in Calacali, Ecuador.  We completed our last work project today.  All that remains is 3 days of free time and reflection.  For the older kids that means trying to finish some school projects. For Tara, it means going up on the mountain for some quiet time, going into town to get pristinos (basically donuts) at Margarita’s, and creating more memories with the kids.  For me, it means an attempt of the summit at Cayambe.

Cayambe is the third largest mountain in Ecuador at just under 19,000.  My body may not be ready for this but my mind and my heart are.  I will be going with Esteban, a friend of El Refugio, who has been to the summit a number of times before.  We are catching a bus in Calacali tomorrow at 7:00 am, getting us to the general area, then hiring a truck to get us to the base camp, called ‘The Refuge’.  We will get acclimated for the afternoon, eat dinner, then crash at 5 pm.  At 10 pm we’ll begin our ascent.  If all goes well we will be at the top before sunrise.  I anticipate it being a very spiritual experience.

Our final 3 days will certainly prove to be a big part of the significance of this trip.  I pray God will continue to direct us, speak to us and show us what he wants for us in the coming years.  I am so thankful for this sabbatical.

Trabajo Duro

All week I have been cutting firewood with some of the kids while Tara and the other kids have been helping Pedro dig some water diversion trenches. Each day they refused to complain but I could see them wince when they did certain things and they slept like babies.

I learned a term earlier in the week as some of the Ecuadorians referred to Tara and the kids. They said Trabajo duro.  I knew that it meant ‘hard work’, but didn’t know what it really meant until I took a break from cutting firewood and joined them today.  Wow, my wife and kids are studs for not complaining.  I so badly wanted to complain today but didn’t dare do it, since it was my first day at it, and their fourth.

Pedro started by using the machete to create a path through the thick underbrush. After a 30′ long trail was cleared the digging started. We cut a trench 16″ wide, 24″ deep and 30′ long, cutting through roots and rocks and more. This was the 6th of about 12 trenches they need dug.  We’ll keep going I guess. 

Pedro is the guy I referred to in an earlier blog who couldn’t even understand my bad Spanish, but speaks hoe really well.  That dude inspires me to work hard. Trabajo duro is some Spanish I’ll never forget.   Well done Tara and kids. You get the blue ribbon (along with Pedro) for that one. 

Good People

You wouldn’t think that on the equator one could constantly be cold.  This is the rainy season here in the mountains north of Quito, Ecuador.  About noon every day the clouds start coming up the valley to cool things down from 60+ degrees to about 50 degrees…and the rain falls.  Yesterday I came in the house soaked and cold from working in a Eucalyptus tree.  Today I was soaked and cold from hiking with Lewis.  I can’t complain though when in Minnesota it has been below zero quite a bit.

The Ecuadorian people we work with have been amazing.  Holger (pronounced ‘ol-hair’) is the lead worker who is in charge of the maintenance and construction at El Refugio.  Each morning we meet at the shop at 7:30 to talk about how our family can best help.  Over the last week plus we have started to figure out how to communicate.

Aurelio is our neighbor and one of the skilled laborers here.  His smile each day warms me so much that I cheer his name when I see him.  He must think I am crazy.  He and I recently moved an armoire up a narrow, outside, stone stair case.  We were maxed out and had several near mishaps.  The groans and howls through the process were the same in English and Spanish.  Just like I would with my own brother we laughed hysterically and high-fived when we finally got it.

Enrique and Jorge are the other two skilled laborers.  They are hard working men who have been putting clay tiles on a roof for nearly the entire time we have been here.  Their hand shakes and daily greetings are encouraging to us.

I have learned there are different levels of not knowing English.  While Holger doesn’t know English, he can pick up a few things in English, and I can do the same in Spanish.  Aurelio, Enrique and Jorge are at another level where they can at least understand my poor Spanish, but none of my English.

Pedro is the final laborer I have not mentioned.  He cannot even understand my bad Spanish.  We are at a complete stand-still with communication…until we pick up tools.  Lewis says he speaks Hoe.  He is the hardest working 60+ year old man I know.  Tara and the kids have been helping him dig water diversion trenches along a steep road where the water would otherwise go straight down the hill.  Pedro is the best machete slasher, pick-axe swinger and shovel digger on the planet as far as I am concerned.

I’d be remiss to not mention the other Ecuadorian staff of Daniel, Israel, Jessica, Wilmar and Pablo, as well as the others,  Jim, Garrett, Ryan, Andreas, and Grace.  We have been blessed by all of these people.  They all challenge us in different ways.  I am so thankful for them all.

Weekend Adventures

From Micalyn: 

This weekend was the first break from our busy work-school-sleep schedule. My siblings and I have been begging to sleep in all week, but, alas, on Saturday, we were awoken by the painful words, “get up, it’s time to go.” Pablo, a very patient non-English speaking taxi driver, arrived to pick us up on time, unlike the Ecuadorian custom to be 59 minutes late. 

Our adventure for the day: Mindo, the first ecotourism city in Ecuador. We were immediately interested by the words, “chocolate factory”. The day started at the butterfly conservation garden, and I was amazed at the variety and multitude of butterflies that swarmed around us, a beautiful example of the creativity of our Creator. Then, we braved the uncertainty of death while ziplining across a 400m ravine, and riding a cable car to waterfall hiking trails. This is where Andrean and mom decided to go on the shorter hike to a smaller waterfall, while my Dad, Esther, Jenna, Lewis, and I decided to go on the “45 minute” hike to the 50ft waterfall. We decided that it would not take us 45 minutes. “They probably thought we were lazy Americans,” Jenna said. Of course, we didn’t bring water with us (because we were with Jay Maier). About 45 minutes down the trail, we realized we were climbing up much more than we were going down. By this time, the pain of dehydration had become noticable, but even though we kept saying, “this can’t be the right way” or “we should turn back”, we never stopped walking. About 20 minutes later, the reward of an exuauhsting and demoralizing hike came into view. It was an amazing(ish) waterfall.  We were thirsty, tired, and tried for time, but Esther said it best, “the hike was worth the hike.” We learned to watch the trees and listen to the rain while walking, and we truly appreciated God’s creation. At the end of the day, we didn’t have time for a tour of the chocolate factory, but we got the best ice cream and brownies in all of Ecuador. 

Today (Sunday) was a very special day for me. Six months ago, I had no idea that coming back to Ecuador was a possibility. In fact, until thanksgiving, I didn’t know it was a possibility. (We are a very spontaneous family) I knew that I wanted to come back, I just didn’t know it would be so soon. God was definitely preparing me to come back to El Refugio, but the part I was most excited about was visiting the church I worked with last summer: Dios es Amor. Today, we woke up early (again) to Pablo bringing the taxi van to our front door. He drove us all the way into Quito, and I began to recognize familiar landmarks. I saw the angel on the hill that watches over the massive city, and the hostel that we stayed in last summer, and the huge basilica that stands as the tallest building in Quito. Finally, we arrived at the most familiar site, Dios es Amor. The people at the church welcomed me and my family so graciously and lovingly. They introduced me as, “the girl who painted the church with her face.” It seemed fitting as I was covered in paint most of the time. I remembered the names of many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and I met many new ones. We joined in with their church service, and worshiped with them in their own language. It was a difficult experience because we do not know Spanish, but I love the energy with which they worship Jesus. It reminds me of Autumn Ridge. Dios es Amor will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m glad I was able to see them again today. I’m looking forward to many more adventures in the next two weeks. 

Be Here Now

I was instructed to keep the tractor in low and keep the RPMs under 2000. It wasn’t my tractor so I complied. But it was a mile to the destination and at that pace, it took forever to get there.

If you know me you know I don’t typically go slow at anything.  The completion of the task is the goal and I strive to achieve it, whether it is business growth, a 10-hour drive to make, a room to paint, or anything else. 

I see the flip side daily with my wife. She is a person who likes the journey more than the destination.  She’s not in a hurry typically.  I am learning from her how to “be here now”.

How can I change?  It seems so hard after 46 years of being hard-wired this way. But I must.  Every moment I am looking ahead and pushing the accelerator to get there, I am missing what God is showing me here and now.  I am also missing the God-given joy of a family that I am crazy about. I mean I am heart-thumpin’, head-over-heels, pinch-myself-to-know-it’s-real crazy about these six people who I live with and I still miss the point.

God, thank you for your patience with me.   Help me to be here now.

Foreign Language

I spent time today with a man who didn’t know any English.  I knew very little of his language.  We worked hard to find ways to communicate, but most of the time silence was more comfortable, and certainly easier.  But it was okay and was less awkward than trying to talk.

Prayer is sometimes that way for me.  During those times, it feels as if I have forgotten God’s language.  I close my eyes and I try to start sentences but the words seem senseless, empty and void.  Then I try out some Christian language.  You probably know the kind (and if you don’t, you are lucky).  But I still find no connection.  I say words of prayer for other people and even myself; but still no real connection with God.

It can take 10 minutes or more, if it even happens at all, before I realize once again that the unconditional lover of my soul is simply wanting to be with me.  I rest in the silence of his presence.  I think about his goodness, his compassion, his love in spite of my mistakes, the gifts he has given to me (wife and children and other relationships, job, home, etc.), and I recount the story of his pursuit of me (Jesus).  I realize I am laid bare with nothing to hide, yet I am not ashamed because I feel nothing but a father’s love.  None of this required words.  Then, and only then, can I speak his language.  The right words are there.  I speak fluently, and listen intensely.  The conversation could go on and on.

This is what I long for more than anything; to live in the presence of my Creator, conversing with him.  Nothing is more fulfilling.  Yet I struggle with it most days.

God, please break through to me daily.  I need you.

Mountain View

My oldest led the way up the steep, partially wooded trail toward 11,000 feet today. I struggled to fill my lungs with air as I followed her. One of the goals of this hike was a view.  So we paused at an opening to get one. What seemed high and hard half an hour before was now only a faint trail far below us. We still had more to go but we could see how far we had come and it seemed possible given the perspective. 

It is day 2 of this 20-day pause on our life trail.  Tara and I are trying to gain perspective from the view behind us (which could take a few days or more) and seek God’s guidance on the next part of our course toward the summit.  A few family members are expressing their annoyance that they have been “dragged along” on this quest. I guess I can understand but I pray it proves beneficial for them. 

On the walls inside the main building where we are is this artwork.  What a life-challenge. 

  1. Life from the Source: Our Creator, God, is the sole source of fulfilling life.
  2. Life-giving rhythms: Daily habits of time with Him is essential.
  3. Life together: Christian fellowship is essential. 
  4. Missional life: Life has purpose beyond ourselves and we should seek to live it that way.  
  5. Life that bears fruit: The result of practicing the above items will be fruit.

God, walk with us daily. Guide us.  Give us perspective at this mountain view.

Putting Flesh on the Bones

23 years ago today I married the love of my life. We started out 1994 chasing dreams and a direction that were fleshed out in the months of engagement leading up to that day.  We couldn’t wait to start.  There is a new sense of anticipation as we begin 2017.  But nothing is fleshed out yet, only a substantially unfinished skeleton missing critical pieces.  We have some work to do; listening, praying, and planning. We are cautiously excited. 

We felt a similar swelling of purpose and excitement as we sought him 4 years ago. But we didn’t find what we expected then. In many ways it was better because it stretched and shaped us in ways we needed, but certainly wouldn’t have chosen.

So we embark today on a new quest to seek God’s direction, trying to add the remaining bones and flesh to the partial skeleton we have started to see.  Like 4 years ago, we can’t see what it looks like. Our children, now 9-16, are not fully on board with it.  Tara and I pray they get it, seeing beyond the temporary sacrifice and discomfort to the refining that could take place and the clear purpose that could result.

I know I am asking for a lot; to see the path ahead more clearly; to see flesh on the bones. It could be we won’t get that.  I’ll ask anyway, and if we don’t get it, I hope we get the faith to trust Him more. 

More to come. 

Alternate Beginnings

When we were on the river, there was never a junction where I had to choose right or left.  We let the current take us and we simply navigated the snags or steered slightly enough to stay in the strongest current and out of the eddies.  Our destination was always down stream.  We could not get lost.  We could not make a wrong turn.

Occasionally we would see the convergence of another stream or river.  We knew that if we wanted to be on that river, we would have needed a different starting point.  But even if we had started at the diffferent spot, we would have ended up right where we were, so there was no point in going back up that river, because the destination was still down stream.

We are coming up on 3 years from the time of diagnosis of Tara’s cancer.  For over 2 years now she has been in remission.  We are so thankful for being here right now.  If we were given the path of no cancer, we would still be here right now.  I would still be working.  Tara would still be managing our home and involved with the kids and crazy with their activities.  The kids would still be in school, sports and church and doing their things.  So, given that either way we would be here right now, I am so thankful for the alternate beginning that led us down the route that got us here.  We have such a different perspective.

This past weekend Tara and I participated in the Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat in Orlando.  IoH is an organization whose purpose is to inspire hope in young families facing the loss of a parent.  Two years ago we also went, but as a family being served.  It was an amazing experience and so helpful for our family.  This time we went as volunteers and the experience was equally as impactful.  I was humbled to see men and women with more courage than I serving their sick spouse and helping their children cope.  Tara and I were priveledged to be able to help them, a little anyway.

If you feel inspired, check out the IoH website.  Give if you can.  People with alternate beginnings from you would really benefit from your help.

Hopefully it will be quite some time that I am writing again.  As long as Tara is healthy, blogging will be minimal.  Thank you for your prayers over the years.  

Two Years Ago Today

…..Tara laid in the hospital bed with tubes out of her chest and abdomen recovering from a surgery that proved to save her life. At the time, we were new to the game of survival and had ‘naive hope’; that is the hope someone has when they really don’t know what is coming. It actually may have only been optimism rather than hope, I don’t know for sure.

Since that time, we passed from that naive hope or optimism, through fear, past solemn reality, beyond mere survival, to brokenness and desperation, to sustenance, back to optimism (not naive this time) and right back to plain old life, which is where we are now. It sure seems like it should be different on this side of all that, but that path of least resistance sure is living up to its name.

Tara had a great appointment the other day. Chest X-ray, abdominal CT scan and blood work all say that cancer is still at bay; a full 18 months since chemotherapy.

We are thankful for life without the acute battle right now. But the chronic battles almost seem more difficult; the every-day-life stuff that everyone deals with. Tara is feeling well and has been for a long time. It is easy to say “Thank you, God, for keeping Tara alive.” That seems so trite in light of all the goodness He showed us. I should be saying “Thank you, God, for your goodness and for all that you taught us through this.” But for now, I’m stuck on the first, and I’ll ponder the latter a bit more.