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10 March 2018


Daylight fades to evening dusk and lights create shadows in unexpected places. Dust covers nearly every surface, and so too do bright papers with letters. We play a seeking game, searching out letters in a mixed up pile, another step in learning to decipher the code. Upstairs, bigger kids begin to construct light circuits and another group sits around the table, ready to create images of light and dark. 

Eight students registered for my class, and tonight only one shows up. He's a bright one, and the two hours pass in a blink. We unscramble letters. We read tag-team style; he takes the letters and I take the text,
"I'll meet you at the top of the coconut tree."
We sing and jump and wiggle and write. Watching a kid learn, making the connections, that can be a thrilling process.

We're trying a new thing at the community center, registration-only classes one afternoon a week. In these couple of hours, we hope to go deeper with these kids, deeper in knowledge, deeper in time together, deeper in relationships. We know that there is opportunity for so much more than where we currently are. It's a learning process, on every side. For kids in this place, habits form slow. Days and hours don't mean as much in a place where calendars and watches rarely show themselves. We never know who will attend when the afternoon arrives. On this cool and rainy day, attendance was down. But the weather is only a guess as to why. We consider that all too many other reasons could be behind the absences.

And so, I'm ever aware that every time we have together with these kids is important. I'm ever aware that we have no time to waste, not in teaching, not in learning, not in our speech, not in our actions, not in how we love. Our prayer is always to show and speak of our Lord's goodness, that we would be His witnesses in this place. 

"Skit skat skoodle doot flip flop flee."

(Quotes from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault)

07 March 2018


The good news is that finally, finally, I won a round of loterĂ­a. The bad news is that we were playing at the good-bye party for my buddy and office mate so I found my excitement a bit tempered.
And then my husband accidentally gave away my prize.
Alas. Some days are like that.

Does anyone else remember days as good news, bad news? I often wonder, am I the only one who perpetually wrestles with life's opposites? The only one who sees the sides and can't exactly be completely for one or the other? Does anyone else contend with those inner arguments while living very much in the out-there-right-now?

And then I found this essay, and realized, maybe others think on these sorts of ideas, too. Maybe I'm not the only one quite sure she doesn't have all the answers. Loree Ferguson Wilbert writes:
My desires must be for something higher, God himself and his kingdom.  
This is why I glad to not be a registered anything or pledge allegiance to anything on this earth. My allegiance is to God, to his order of things, and my optimism is rooted in the coming kingdom, not in the fruition of all my "disordered loves." The world is in disarray: children slaughtered in schools by people with guns made for slaughtering, mental gymnastics abound by barely clad women talking about objectification, wars and rumors of wars, and everyone thinks they're the real optimist, the ones with the real solutions. But God's kingdom gives us permission to grieve at what is while hoping for what is to come at the same time—to be true eternal optimists.  
It might be on the picket lines that our points are made, but it's at the tables where progress is made. It's there where we can be honest about what is terribly, terribly wrong, but also true about what is beautifully, achingly good. 

Tonight at the table we didn't make much progress. But we ate really well and we laughed a lot and we were together, minus a couple, for the last time for a while. And all of that was indeed "achingly good." I want to keep erring on the side of "true eternal optimist."

06 March 2018


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. 
- John Muir, The Yosemite (1912)

(an afternoon spent walking through Bentsen State Park)

04 March 2018


"Thank you. Thank you all for your friendship and for your kindness to us."

A group of us took three of our neighborhood guys out for tacos the other night, to celebrate a birthday. Now all three are teenagers. And have no doubt, they eat like teen boys! When we left, we asked one of the boys how many tacos he ate.
"Cuatro. Y cinco mas."
Nine tacos!
He reported the other two also had nine each, but there was some dispute about that.
Let's just say, the boys out ate the rest of us.

Afterward, we continue on to bible study. We arrived with time to spare, so before starting, they played Sorry. They had not played before, but it must have been something of a hit, because when the study ended and the adults sat around talking, they got up and started a new game. (and completely unrelated, I recently learned my Enneagram number and now I understand why I've never enjoyed Sorry...)

These guys were barely reading a year ago, and now they will take their turn in reading out loud during the study. A couple of them were drawing while we talked, but kept track where we were along the way. At one point, our pastor, my teammate and friend, who each week spends multiple hours with these guys, asked them a question. The first boy answered super honestly, so much so we laughed at his response, because it was SO honest. The next guy answered differently, but I think, honestly also. The last, I'm pretty sure he was just trying to look good, but he did make us laugh, too. But these are the moments that we long for and that we pray for, real life and conversation beyond the surface of everyday comings and goings.

At the end of the evening, we drove the boys home, just like always. Sometimes that drive has been chaos. But not tonight. Tonight, they joke around and we half listen. Then we heard them call our names.
"Thank you. Thank you all for your friendship and for your kindness to us."
We're not in it for thanks, for certain, but it's pretty sweet when we hear it.
De nada.

01 March 2018


Ironically, the best time to go to the dump might not be when it's sunny, though a spring day is better than the summer. On this afternoon we climbed into the van to accompany our Doctors without Border friends. These faithful offer medical and psychology services at the Isaiah 55 community center once day a week. And so, the day before their clinic, they visit the dump, to tell people about their services. Because of our presence in the neighborhood, because of the ministry to the cart workers, we are known to many in the community, some familiar and trusted faces. One guy looked at me and said, "Don't you live on the street leading to the dump?" "Yes, I do," I nodded. Location, location, location.

Every sense comes into play when you spend time at the dump. In a large area, the ground is scarred black with smoke drifting upwards and across. Sometimes there are controlled burns at the dump. Sometimes the dump spontaneously burns. Even across the charred piles, garbage collectors scavenge for items to be recycled or reused. Plastics remain and endure and persist; who would have guessed that missionary work would propel me towards environmentalism? Plastic sacks wave from trees and posts and other garbage. My teammate comments that they wave like Tibetan prayer flags, and I consider petitions for all the people I can see from that spot.

It can be quiet at the dump, only the wind blowing through to create distraction. Large flocks of birds hover and swoop overhead and depart in mass when spooked. The clip clop of horse and donkey hooves, the irregular rhythm of wheels rolling over uneven ground, warns of a trash cart on the way. Trash cart workers talk quietly among themselves. Their kids play around the cart, around the pickup, around the garbage on the ground. A rooster crows in the background. The high up hum of a small plane patrol causes me to look overhead.

Obviously, the smells at the dump can be strong. Rotting food and decaying trash and disposed diapers lay on the ground. The soil lays dank and dark and especially earthy in the spring after consecutive weeks of winter rains. We walk past a pig pen and the foul odor almost stops in our tracks. The rancid, acrid fumes of the hazy smoke drifting by permeates our noses and our clothes, enough that we seem to hold onto it for hours afterward. Time at the dump gives new meaning to "leaves a bad taste in your mouth."

The ground isn't always solid at the dump. Though dirt paths crisscross the piles of garbage, you might walk through layers on uneven layers of decomposing trash. You try to miss walking through animal waste. We have come to talk to people and we stop often along the way. I reach out my hand to shake that of a man sifting through trash. He shakes his head and turns his hand and tells me that I shouldn't touch him, embarrassed by the grime. I do anyway, and pat his shoulder, besides.

There are workers at the dump, but there are also houses, of sort. Families and individuals have created shelters of pallets or of canvas and cardboard and discarded wood. We can see them standing, leaning, around the perimeter of the landscape, and hidden by squatters in the scrubby oaks just to the south. We consider what it would be like to live IN this place. The health risks are many, burning plastics and environmental allergens fill the air. We continue to cough hours after leaving. The stark landscape must weigh heavy on these souls. The spiritual darkness seems almost tangible, as well. And yet, as we recognize faces and exchange smiles and greetings, hope shows up too. Little kids giggle and hide and peek at us again. We return waves and "Buenas tardes" as we walk through the dump and back down the road home.

I consider that few things show the decay of this world more clearly than a stroll through the dump. And yet, our hope, even among the brokenness and rot and stank of this world, comes from the promise from Christ on the throne, "Behold! I am making all things new... Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." And with that Good News, we'll keep seeking after our neighbors, even at the dump.

28 February 2018


Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:1, 3-4

It doesn't come naturally, I don't think, to see beauty in unexpected places, to notice the splendor of creation in the midst of dust and grime. 

And yet, I find myself seeking it, striving to find it. 
Opening up my senses to the loveliness begging to be noticed. 

The iridescent changing hues of the rooster feathers, as he turns and crows his way across the street. 
The flash of red and yellow on the wing on the blackbird.
The yellow belly of the kiskadee hiding in the tree.

The crack of blue azure peeking through the cloud cover after day after day of grey gloom.
The bright rays of sunshine hitting the sidewalk dirt.
The wind causing the leaves to dance, the branches to sway, the dust to swirl. 

The emerald green new growth of nopal, sprouting from grungy, spiked pads.
The coral buds of bougainvillea, reaching out to the sunshine after a month hidden in the shadows.
The delicate white blossoms of the orange tree in bloom, its sweet perfume floating across the yard enough to make me stop and turn and follow its scent.  

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:9


The folks in the photo did some pretty wondrous things over the weekend. They woke up early and prayed earnestly; they served our community with a whole-heart and without a single complaint. They played with kids and listened to the stories of strangers and of friends, both. They asked questions. They used their gifts to serve Jesus in this place.

But before they did any of those things, they came.
And that means the world to us.

We know that we live in a place that might not be considered a super desirable destination. Right now it's muddy and dusty and pretty damp. Of course, in the summer, it's just downright hot. We don't have a lot of obvious natural beauty here- you really have to pay attention and search it out all around you. Our town is somewhat infamous for political strife and drug violence. We're THAT place.

Nonetheless, these people have committed to relationship with us and the ministry we serve with here in Reynosa. We respect them and love them for that. We've known many of these folks for a while now. One of these guys once had to call and tell me that they didn't have money to support our family and ministry work right then, but they would keep praying for us and keep following us. I so respected that he made that call! The next year, the church was able to add us as part of their missions giving and have been faithful supporters ever since.

One of those guys took my family out to lunch, all 7 of us, when we were in the middle of a long support-raising road trip. He listened to our call and he asked questions of my kids, back when they were littles. Now, 9 years later, we figured out that on most Sundays, his son and mine eat lunch together after worship in their college town. One of those guys sent me a note when he joined the church missions committee, asking about my family. He got an earful in return, as it was right after our grandson had died and our family was especially needy for prayer. He's been a prayer warrior for us since. One of those couples have hosted me and my girls in their home when we needed a place to stay for a weekend soccer tournament. One of those ladies gave me a firm hug the very first weekend I left my son at the university and told me that he would be fine. These folks are family.

Many of these guys have served with us multiple times, almost too many to count. They have helped to finish a church and to build a house with us. They have taught Vacation Bible School lessons, and participated in puppet shows, and dressed up as Bible characters. They have taught English to kids. They have made all kinds of crafts. They have taught about nutrition and taken blood pressure rates and blood sugar measurements. And so much more.

In truth, we've spent more time with these people in the past years than with much of our biological family. When they come to serve, they serve our community well. They are the salt and light that Jesus exhorts us to in his Sermon on the Mount. And equally, they encourage us. There are other groups like them, folks who check in with us often, who come year after year. Each year, we have opportunity to meet new people, and have a chance to grow family a little bit more. It's a sweet balm, to share this place and a small portion of our lives with others. We often wish that our friends and family could see our 'hood, taste a little of our everyday lives, meet our neighbors, share a piece of our burden for where the Lord has sent us.

We know, not everyone is called to come. But maybe some are. We welcome you.

26 February 2018


Around 65 people came through our doors on Friday, and then another bunch on Saturday, numbering more than one hundred in all by the end of the two days. Men, women, teens, children, babes in arms, they arrived and waited to be seen by our volunteer medical providers. They came with coughs and colds, with dangerously high blood sugar counts, with high blood pressure, or just with a desire to see a doc when they usually don't. They sometimes complained of aches and pains, or of stresses and anxieties. We saw kids with scabies and kids with lice. That'll make you itch a bit, just thinking about it.

Only one day before, my pastor friend reminded me that his constant prayer for us is that we would have opportunity to know our neighbors, that we would have opportunity to tell them and to show them Jesus. Thanks, brother! We saw that prayer answered this weekend. We met one man who told us that, not long ago, he had been left for dead in a hospital morgue. He considers his survival story a new lease on life, a new opportunity to live his life differently and with specific purpose. He wanted a bible to take home with him. We didn't have any handy and so we gave him one of mine. (Anyone want to send a case of Spanish bibles for us to share?) We met the mom of one of our outreach kids, who we learned also happens to be the grandma of one of our outreach kids. She expressed eagerness for the girls to learn more, to come to our tutoring. We have a list of many people who are interested in learning more, in participating in Bible study, and in joining us for prayer.

As is often the case, we finish the day tired and humbled. Many of our neighbors have plenty of reason to be anxious and stressed. One elderly woman visited one day and returned the next for a new prescription; her pills had been stolen in the night, most likely by a family member. (They would be sorely disappointed; it was only ibuprofen and vitamins that they got away with...) One woman told us how her young adult son has been missing for over a month and she fears he is dead. Another couple came from their home on the edges of the nearby dump, grateful for the opportunity to receive medical attention once again. Our volunteers talk about nutrition and basic care, but how does someone without much means eat better than the standard beans and tortilla diet? How does a family sanitize their clothing and linens without hot water or a dryer?

And although our providers served our community with first-class medical care, they also finished each appointment with the question, "Can we pray for you?" We know that the physical needs are great, but the spiritual needs are no less. We know that all of us have need of a doctor to address our health needs, but that Jesus is the only one with the mercy and might to heal us for eternity. Hosting a medical clinic gives us opportunity to tell about both, and we're grateful for those that come to us and allow us to share generously with our neighbors.