The Birth of a Story

I sure spend a lot of time clinging to my safety nets, for one who talks so often about living God’s great adventure. Although, I do eventually drop them, and take that next step, and then the next, though my hands might be clammy and my legs may quiver every step of the way.

This was me, when our family joined our former church for a week-long mission trip to El Salvador back in 2011. My biggest angst? I hated flying. I’ve gotten much better, but back then, every trip felt like torture. While the other passengers slept or read books or chatted with one another, I’d obsess. On every plane crash I’d ever heard of, on every bump or dip as we soared through the sky, on how high our plane flew and how long it’d take us to spiral to our deaths.

Ah, the joys of the writer’s brain.

If only I’d been more diligent to “fix” my thoughts on truth, as Philippians 4:8-9 puts it. But I wasn’t. Instead, I fixed my thoughts on potential catastrophes and what-ifs, and instead of experiencing the peace that “surpasses understanding,” I worked myself into a near panic.

And let me tell you, fear is exhausting and self-defeating!

It didn’t help that our descent into the country was horrendous! Flying over the mountains and through a storm, it felt like someone had strapped us onto a roller coaster and were tossing and shaking us about.

That first night in the hotel, tired, and pushed out of my comfort zone in numerous ways, one thought dominated: “I want to go home.”

By the end of the week, with my heart full and broken simultaneously, another even stronger thought took hold: “I never want to leave.”

Saying goodbye and stepping back on that plane, with my pockets stuffed with letters from sweet orphan girls, was so incredibly hard. Our family returned to the states convinced God wanted us to go back, so we began making plans. My husband would take an early retirement, we’d sell our home, and we’d rent an apartment in El Salvador so we could help the orphan girls we’d fallen in love with learn English (a quick ticket out of poverty in that country).

But then I got sick. For a while, really sick. And suddenly, our plans were flipped upside down and inside out. Our hearts still ached for those precious girls. We still deeply loved El Salvador, its people, and their culture. I could’t believe God would stir then break our hearts for nothing, but I had no idea what He was up to.

He’s since shown us there’s a lot of ways one can become involved in His mission to heal, save, and restore. Some are called to go; others to support those who go. Some are called to adopt; others to support those who do. Some are called to raise awareness or work for life-transforming organizations behind the scenes.

The ways one can help, can be a part of life change, are as endless as God’s love for each and every orphan crying out to Him each day.

I write. That’s what I do. And so, that’s what I did–not about my adventure though an experience or two from our trip might have found its way into the story. But instead, I wrote about Brooke’s, a woman I can relate to in many ways. A painful event in her past has caused her to form a near-impenetrable safety net, one that has caused her to strive and grasp and fight for control.

But God has so much more planned for her.

Here’s the back cover text:

A news anchor intern has it all planned out, and love isn’t on the agenda.

Brooke Endress is on the cusp of her lifelong dream when her younger sister persuades her to chaperone a mission trip to El Salvador. Packing enough hand sanitizer and bug spray to single-handedly wipe out malaria, she embarks on what she hopes will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But Brooke is blindsided by the desperation for hope and love she sees in the orphans’ eyes. And no less by the connection she feels with her handsome translator. As newfound passion blooms, Brooke wrestles with its implications for her career dreams.

Ubaldo Chavez, teacher and translator, knows the struggle that comes with generational poverty. But he found the way out – education – and is determined to help his students rise above.

When he agrees to translate for a mission team from the United States he expects to encounter a bunch of “missional tourists” full of empty promises. Yet an American news anchor defies his expectations, and he finds himself falling in love. But what does he have to offer someone with everything?

Can you relate to any of what I shared? When has God pushed you out of your comfort zone, and what was the result? When have you been convinced His plan was X, but He later showed you it was Y, and how’d you process that?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Sharing the Journey

As you probably know, our family was leveled by our recent trip to El Salvador–in a good way. We’ve known about orphans, and have felt compassion for them, but there’s something about living among them. Holding a hurting child in your arms makes it personal–puts a name and a face to the statistics. On our last night in El Salvador, my husband and I made a commitment to one another and to God–a commitment to not forget. A commitment to do what we can to create positive change. We refuse to allow the downward spiral of apathy strangle out the love God instilled in our hearts for these hurting children.

And in the meantime, God’s opened our eyes to the millions of other children living on the streets right now. Initially, we decided to keep our journey to ourselves…out of self-preservation, I’m sure, in case we fail. But as we’re trying to navigate our way toward what we believe God is calling us to do, finding little by way of direction, we realized…what if someone else wants to follow in our footsteps? Maybe the reason it’s so hard to find information is because everyone’s like us–afraid to tell others what God’s doing for fear they’ll fail, or hit a dead-end, or fizzle out.

So we decided to be candid about our journey. We’re not saying we’re going to do anything great. In fact, our goals and dreams may come to naught. But…perhaps in watching our journey you will be encouraged to press forward, even when every door appears to be closed or when common sense tells you to seek the predictable and secure.

Because here’s the thing–we were never intended to live in a vacuum. We need each other.

And, if we’re following whole-heartedly after God, there’s nothing to fear. Even failure becomes a glorious stepping stone, because if we “fail,” but do so following God, then we know our failure was God-ordained. Meaning, there was something we needed to learn, or a weakness that needed to be strengthened, or a sin that needed to be sliced out, through that failure.

So join us as we, along with a few members from our church, seek God’s guidance on how to deal with the enormous problem of global orphans.

Our journey began in a 500 foot El Salvadoran hotel room. It was our first mission trip. You may remember, I’m terrified of flying. Terrified. Prior to this trip, I hadn’t been on a plane in about 10 years. We’ve traveled all over the united states, by van. (I always joke that my husband’s an enabler, giving in to a twenty hour car ride rather than forcing his neurotic wife on a plane.)

The plane ride was rough, and at one point, the plane actually dropped. So it’s pitch black, we’re flying through a storm, and my stomach’s knotted to the point of nausea, then we drop. It felt like one of those roller coaster rides when your stomach leaps into your throat. I thought for sure we’d die. Yep, my imagination flew. I white-knuckled my seat’s armrests the rest of the flight. Then, we landed with quite a blam! (Not a crash bam, but a very rough landing, as if the ground caught our pilot by surprise.)  As I followed my husband and daughter down the aisle I wondered how I’d ever make it back home because I never, ever wanted to get on another plane. Told my husband that very thing. “I’m never doing this again! Once we get home, I’m never flying ever again!”

He laughed.

Then we got to the hotel room. We were exhausted. We’d left our house at 8:30 that morning and pulled into our hotel about 11, maybe 12. The hotel was not quite what we expected, and once again, I told my husband I was never coming back. Honestly, I wondered how I’d ever make it through the week. I’m sure God laughed, knowing the three-sixty He was about to bring me to.

Because by day three, Steve and I realized we HAD to come back.

Funny how God flips our hearts taking a selfish couple from, “I can’t do this,” to “Show me what you’d have me do. Lord, please love through me. I want to STAY!” in less than three days.

But that’s how God works. If you give Him access to your heart, He’ll rock your world. And hopefully, the world around you.

Long-term Missions

Hopefully you’re not tired of hearing about El Salvador, because I plan to write about the El Salvadoran people often. In doing so, I hope and pray not to forget the deep love God gave our family for these people and I want to encourage you to get involved. If not in the orphanage in San Miguel, then somewhere. And I pray that you would not only get involved, but that you would stay involved. That you would commit to the long-term.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we do missions, and I’m not talking about missionaries. I’m talking about those annual trips churches take. Often, we pop into a country, build a building and work with a local church, then pop out, never to return. The next year, we go somewhere else. And this makes us feel good, right? We got to experience numerous cultures and we feel all spiritual for stepping out of our comfort zones.

Only it’s not about us. It’s about making an eternal kingdom impact, and as I mentioned in my previous blog, that takes time. It takes commitment. It takes relationship-building.

What if each church adopted one orphanage and stuck with that facility? What kind of change might be accomplished in five years? Ten? While in El Salvador, we taught the girls of the Remar El Salvador orphanage in San Miguel how to make bread and beads. They’ll sell the baked goods in the market, and the beads in the US. Although I still have some hurdles to cross to make this happen (and would appreciate your prayers) my long-term vision is to develop a web page for this orphanage where I can help sell the beaded items. My dream (and prayer) is that the bead-busines will grow to the point that I can then hand it over to the orphanage, teaching them how to run it.

And I don’t think this would be a difficult model to follow. We chose beads because one of our members has a relationship with a bead dealer and a couple of our members are gifted in this area. Perhaps your church has quilters, or knitters. It’s not difficult to teach these skills and help facilitate sales.

Because here’s the thing….building are great, but one day these girls are going to age out of the system. The building won’t be of value to them then. But if we can teach them a marketable skill, we increase their chance for success.

Over the next few months (and God willing, years) I’ll be sharing my vision with you and throwing out ways you can help. Pray about getting involved. It really doesn’t take much to make a world of difference in someone else’s life.

Here’s a slide show our pastor made of the trip. I’ll give you a low-down of how our trip went so you know what you’re seeing.

We started our week at a local church we partner with. Our reasoning is, by partnering with a local church who knows the area and already has established connections in that area, we can multiply our efforts. (While functioning as the body.) Our youth pastor preached, a few of our members gave testimonies, and our youth band played. Then I led a conference for children’s Sunday school workers. This was exciting! I was able to talk with them in-depth about child-development and ways to engage. That night, our senior pastor preached and his sermon aired on local television stations.

On Monday-Wednesday we worked at the Remar orphanage in San Miguel. While there, we performed maintenance stuff, brought new sheets and made the girls’ beds, spent some one-on-one time with the girls’ and taught VBS.

On Wednesday night we helped a local church launch their three night crusade. Thursday-Friday, we spoke in the public schools and held crusades in the public park. Somewhere in there we hit the beach and market, but my days are jumbled at this point.

During the crusade, I watched the people in the city. The first night, curious heads poked out of doorways and the local policemen watched from their stations. But very little people outside of our group came. The second night, some students from the local schools gathered on the outskirts, but they didn’t stay. By the third night, a few of the locals started to meander over and one man in particular rode his bicycle over, stayed, and accepted Christ.

As I thought of all this, I was reminded of a story our pastor shared. Our church picks up students from local apartments every Wednesday. The bus is normally packed, but that wasn’t always the case. Our pastor tells of a time when he’d park outside the mailboxes at this complex every Sunday morning waiting for someone to show, only to drive away in an empty van. But he kept going again, and again, and again. And now, we have a bus-load of kids that come–a bus-load of lives being changed. But it didn’t happen over night.

I believe this holds true with missions as well. Our church plans to go back to El Salvador in January and I believe our results will be multiplied as those who watched us the during our recent crusades gain the courage to come near. I believe we’ll be able to expand our teaching to the orphanage and build stronger relationships with the girls. The longer we commit to this orphanage and city, the greater the chance of lasting change.

Many of you are probably feeling overwhelmed right now. My talk of El Salvadoran orphans tugs on your heart, but so did my talk of foster children. Then there’s all the other very important ministries in our world. The tendency is to dabble in a bit of everything, following where our “heart leads”. I challenge you to look at your service and giving differently. Find a ministry or organization to commit to and stick with them for the long-haul. And think in terms of how you can help facilitate long-term change, not momentary self-gratification. Because again, it’s not about us, is it?

(In the following slide show, you’ll notice we took the girls to a water park. This is an amazing story. Our pastor really wanted to do this, but was worried about how much it might cost and didn’t know if we had the funds. Yet, we went….and God went before us. While there, Elaina, the orphanage “mother” talked with the water park owner, explaining who we were and what we were doing. He let us in for free. Because of his generosity, thirty girls got to be kids for one afternoon.)

Forging Past Phobias

Why is it whenever I write a blog post on something, a life-situation slaps me in the face, forcing me to choose between eating my words or living them out? God must have a sense of humor. It’s almost like He’s sitting up in heaven saying, “So you’re going to tell others about obedience, huh? About staying on track even when the climb hits a thirty degree slope? Let’s see how well you handle this one.”

Okay, so maybe God’s not quite so sarcastic. Perhaps challenging would be a better word. Or maybe He’s just trying to hold me accountable. There’s nothing like sending your “ought-to’s” across cyberspace to keep you on the straight and narrow. (I’m sure it won’t be long before that fit I threw in the Apple Store comes back to haunt me.) And lately, God is reminding me of all the lofty things I said about obedience.

Our church is going on a mission trip to El Salvador. I know, I know, most of you have probably been on a zillion mission trips. And I’m sure you had the time of your life. I’m a bit too reclusive-obsessive-compulsive-neurotic for those kinds of things. Give me a computer tucked in a far away bedroom and I’m good to go. Send me on a plane, to another country, to experience who-knows-what, eat who-knows-what, and sleep who-knows-where? Kinda gets my stomach churning.

For starters, I hate to fly. Like makes-me-wanna-vomit hate it. I haven’t flown in over seven years. So how did we get to Florida, Utah, South Carolina, and Washington D.C.? We drove. All nineteen or twenty-four, or whatever hours. And I’m sure my husband’s willingness to drive with me verges on enabling. Although we both console ourselves with the fact that we are saving three plane tickets, a car rental, and whatever else they’d charge in suitcase handling. Oh, and we don’t have to tip the baggage guy. Nope, still enabling.

And then there’s the whole food thing. I’m a recovered bulimic/anorexic. Started shedding the pounds when I was twelve. Didn’t stop dancing with the scale until my twenties. And although God’s done some amazing things—hmm, is gaining thirty-five pounds amazing? Okay, yeah, it is. Better to have a tire around the middle than chains around my neck, which is what an eating disorder is—self-imposed bondage. And although I no longer count calories or weigh food (oh, my. I’m getting a bit too personal here.) I still avoid hot-dogs and fried chicken like the plague. Unfortunately, I don’t think El Salvador will have chicken salads with low-fat dressing. (Would it be selfish to pray for that?)

And then there’s the whole anal-retentive side of my personality. Yes, I carry hand sanitizer and a tide stick in my purse and I’m all over those nice little wipies at the grocery store. And I could go on, but I’d rather not have a bunch of mental health professionals knocking on my door. (Even though I know your intentions in calling them would be good. Done in love, right?)

Now I bet you’re wondering, if this little jaunt causes me such heartburn, why am I going? Why not just write a check and call it good? First and most important reason—because my husband wants to go. Now, that may sound a bit 1920’s to you all, but I strongly believe my husband is the spiritual leader in our home. Not that he hoards this over me. Quite the contrary. My husband is the most loving, supportive man I have ever met. He continually puts his needs on the back burner to shower my daughter and I with love. But I do believe God will guide and protect our family through him. So when God speaks to him, I’m listening. With both ears.

The second reason? Because I recognize my fears to be petty. Here I’m freaking out about not having sanitizer, while the people we’re going to love on worry about whether or not they’ll have a meal the next day, or weather their rickety house will cave in on them while they’re sleeping. And it’s easy to remove myself from these people, or to justify my lack of action—whether they live in Haiti, El Salvador, Ethiopia, where ever—but God sees them. His love for them, each one of them, drove Him to the cross.

So today I’m taking that first step. I’m going to start working towards my passport. And I’m determined to follow this obedience thing to the end. If only my decision would make it to my queasy stomach, I’d be good to go.