Archive | January 2012

I’ve Got Connections!

It’s been ten days now since the Naranjos returned to Ecuador, and slowly but surely life is returning to “normal.”  That is good in some ways, not so great in others.  Our house suddenly looks a lot bigger, the table is smaller, and the bathroom is almost always empty.  It is also very, very quiet around here now.  I now have lots and lots of closet and drawer space—even more than I had before since I had brought in extra dressers and even a large wardrobe to accommodate their family of eight.  I would gladly trade that extra space for the clutter of toys and crafts and little shoes left here and there.  The grocery bill last week was one third what it has been, and I’m cooking for only one or two instead of a whole gang, but I miss the “Thank you, Grandma! Yummy!” comments every one of those kids would give me before, during and after every meal.  I appreciated their grateful spirits and of course was glad they liked Grandma’s cooking.

Bob was in Atlanta for several days this week and suddenly for the first time in a long time it was just Robbie and me on our own.  I discovered I was nervous at night, which surprised me since I’ve rarely ever been nervous before about being home alone.  I hung a cluster of jingle bells on the front door in my living room, and put the chain on the kitchen door in case someone tried to break in.   I would have a few seconds of forewarning then—just enough, perhaps, to call 911.  Secretly, I wanted to stack furniture up in front of the doors, but that would have been going overboard, I suppose.  I’ll get over it, I am sure.  It’s just that I’ve gotten used to having people around and now being alone seemed—strange.

The hardest thing during this transition has been the lack of “connection” I’ve had with them.  The day they traveled they managed to call or Skype along the way so that we knew things were progressing well.  Then for the next couple days I was able to call them on their local Cuenca number.  It was more expensive to call that way, but I felt that if I limited the length of my calls I could still check in with them every day.  Once they had their internet set up again, we would resume calling via Vonage—which meant unlimited calling for practically nothing.  The problem was, their internet company couldn’t get them hooked up for a week or so, and calling the local number lasted only two days.  Suddenly every time I tried to call, the line was mysteriously busy.

Frustration.  I missed talking to Laurie and the girls.  I missed seeing the funny faces of the little ones on Skype.  I missed having the peace of mind that I could just pick up the phone or click on Skype and talk to them anytime for as long as I wanted.  Being separated from them by thousands of miles and three or four years is made more bearable with today’s technology in communications.  That easy connection with them enables me to feel that they are right here with me, sharing our days and new events; seeing their growth and changes; connecting in every way except for the kisses and hugs.  It is what keeps our hearts connected. Without it, I felt even more alone.

At last!  Their internet is finally up again!  I was tickled to talk to Sara, Gabi and Melissa Friday night and surprised to hear that they were feeling just as lost without that connection as I was.  I thought with all the excitement of being home again and seeing their Ecuadorian family and friends that they wouldn’t be missing us at all—at least not yet—but they were and they seemed just as excited to be reconnected as I was!  Katie and Matthew were already asleep in bed that night, so the next day I Skyped with them.  They shared a chair in front of the computer and were so wriggly that they were almost a constant blur, but I could see their big grins and giggles.  My heart grinned right along with them!  And our baby Mandy pointed her little finger at the screen and waved “Hi!” at Grandma and Grandpa.  Just talking to Laurie gave me a feeling of peace and contentment—we are connected again.

As wonderful as modern technology is, I am sure as time goes on we will be amazed over and over again at the new and even greater strides we will make in communications in the future.  What will we take for granted next?  I can already play games interactively with my grandchildren on Skype.  Will we someday be able to play as little holographic figures sitting down at a table together à la Star Wars?  Recent advancements in 3D imaging and scanning technologies are making that a real possibility.  Current methods of high speed scanning make it possible to get a 3D scan of your face in a fraction of a second.  In the future, projecting yourself or a room full of people to another location may be commonplace.  Hmm…I’m not sure how I feel about that.  It’s bad enough getting caught on Skype in my pajamas, no make-up and hair uncombed.  Talking with video has its drawbacks.

Yes, modern communications and whatever marvels the future holds in that field are awe-inspiring, yet they are miniscule—not even a blip on the radar—to the communication we can personally have with the God of the universe!  It was a wonder when we could finally go wireless and be connected wherever we go.  It’s been that way from the beginning with God.  We are excited by evermore beautiful, clear pictures and sound as technology improves.  When our relationship with Him is right and we are listening, we can clearly hear that still, small voice and see His hand at work.  And we never have to ask of Him, “Can you hear me now?”   The Lord hears when we call out to Him.  He hears our pleas for forgiveness, our cries for help, the desires of our hearts even when we do not speak them aloud.

It is called prayer, and the only thing that can interfere with that communication with Him is our own lack of interest, our laziness, and our failure to realize the importance and the privilege that prayer is.  There is no equipment to worry about, no service company necessary, and no fees to pay.  Communication with us is so important to the Lord, in fact, that He tells us to:

“Pray without ceasing…” (I Thessalonians 5:17)

“Seek His face continually…” (Psalm 105:4)

“…continue steadfastly in prayer” (Romans12:12)

“…come boldly unto the throne of grace…” (Hebrews 4:16)

“[…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving] let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Pray continually, steadfastly, without ceasing, boldly, about everything.

I love being connected with my children and grandchildren.  I eagerly look forward to their phone calls, and treasure the times we can Skype (even if I am in my pajamas!)  May we be just as eager, just as committed to the communication with our Heavenly Father that is available to us anytime, anywhere.  What a privilege and gift it is to us!

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Puny Giants

“Puny giants?”  What is that? It is an oxymoron, so Laurie taught her children Thursday morning on the way to the airport.  The giants were the obstacles and trials they might face throughout the day as they made the journey back to Ecuador to begin their new ministry in the city of Cuenca.  They were puny because nothing is too great for God.

Check-in with their 33 pieces of luggage and carry-ons loomed before them with the possibilities of being over-weight and having to pay extra charges.  Security, with the daunting potential of having to open every bag while keeping track of everything in them as well as the little ones taking off and putting on again their shoes, weighed heavily on them.  Being held up somewhere and missing flights; trekking through miles of airport corridors with every one of them heavily-laden with stuffed-to-the-max carry-ons and personal items; the baby crying non-stop (she is notoriously not a good traveler); luggage being lost or broken into—all these were giants in the minds of the already exhausted family.  And then the thought of most likely having to open every piece of luggage for customs in Guayaquil at midnight seemed like the greatest giant of all.  Their experiences in the past had them expecting the worst.

We rejoiced as one by one the Lord knocked down the puny giants they faced.  Hundreds of people were praying them home.  I received dozens of calls and messages that day wondering how it was going.  And at each checkpoint they were able to call home and tell us what had happened.

  •  They were the only ones at check-in and three very nice American Airlines people had helped them check in.  Several of their bags were overweight by two pounds, but they waived the $150 per bag they could have charged, as well as another $210 in second bag fees they had fully expected to pay.  Praise the Lord!
  •  Their flight had been delayed due to weather and they were going to miss their flight in Miami, but the check-in people already had them booked on the next flight out to Guayaquil—a mere two hours behind their original flight.  That was fine with them. They could relax for a bit and have breakfast while they waited.  Praise the Lord!
  •  Security personnel could not have been nicer.  They waved them through with only a glance at their two computers, and even furnished them a couple carts that had already been paid for, for all their carry-ons, etc.  Praise Him once again!
  •  The baby did well with only a few fussy moments, and actually slept almost the entire way between Miami and Guayaquil.  A big “Praise the Lord!” for that one!
  •  Customs in Guayaquil was, in Fernando’s words, “a breeze!”  All their bags made it and the customs people just waved them right through without opening a thing!  Praise the Lord!

By the time they reached their hotel in Guayaquil they were tired but happy.  Laurie told me it was the easiest trip they’d ever made, despite having six children now and all that baggage!  The potentially dangerous trip by bus through the mountains the next morning from Guayaquil to Cuenca was also, in their words, “easy and beautiful!”  Thank you, Lord, for answered prayer!  What a wonderful lesson to teach their children!

I Samuel 17 gives us the account of young David, the shepherd boy who faced the Philistine giant, Goliath.  “And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying…”for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”…David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee… Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.  This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.  And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hands.  And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him.” (vs. 28, 37, 45-47, 49-50).

Goliath, in all his strength and size and might, thought he could defy the living God for he did not realize that before it even began, the battle was the Lord’s.  He may have frightened the entire army of Israel, but in God’s eyes, and the eyes of a young boy who trusted in Him, he was puny. 

There are times when we fear what lies ahead.  Whether it is obstacles and trials that we know are before us, or simply the unknown that we fear; whether it is a spiritual battle we are facing, or a conflict in a relationship, job situation, health issue—or whatever, we sometimes are so worried and fearful that we are defeated before we’ve even begun to fight.  David knew from past experience that God was with him.  So do we.  David trusted that although Goliath was huge, and strong and fierce, his God was far greater.  We know that, as well.  David could go forth into battle knowing that the battle was the Lord’s.  We ought to face every battle, conflict, trial and obstacle in our lives believing that the battle is His and He is far greater, far stronger and far more powerful than any puny giant we will ever face.  The victory will always be His—and ours when we trust in Him.

Well, This Is It…

The final four days before the Naranjos leave us to return to their life and ministry in Ecuador.  From where I am sitting here in the living room I can count 13 large suitcases.  There are more in the bedrooms and downstairs—not to mention all the carry-ons and “personal” bags.  I believe altogether there is something like 31 suitcases, backpacks, computer bags, diaper bags, BIG purses, and so on, for this family of eight.  The house has been a series of little rabbit paths weaving through all this luggage, as well as the boxes and totes that will be stored in their van in our garage, for days.

People wonder why it takes so long for them to pack?  My sister was surprised when she found out it would take them a good two weeks to get it all done. Just the sheer volume is daunting, and there is a lot of sorting and strategizing that must be done before the actual packing can begin.  For instance, Laurie packs one (or more) suitcases for each person to see what they have and if there is something else (like socks or underwear) they are lacking that they must get before they go.  Then Fernando goes behind and rearranges everything so that there is a mixture of everyone’s things in all the bags. If a suitcase gets lost or stolen, then, one person isn’t missing everything they haveThe job is stressful—mentally, emotionally and physically.

They also have to distribute the weight evenly.  There are a lot of big, heavy home school books that must go, a lot of shoes and other weighty things that must be tucked in here and there in order that the bags not exceed fifty pounds.  Electronics, jewelry and other valuables (or things that might be perceived as valuable) are distributed throughout the carry-ons.  They have learned by hard experience when they have lost several sentimental pieces in the past through thievery.  Gifts for family members, as well as requested items they asked them to pick up for them, are enough to fill another whole suitcase or more.  And then there are the things that are sorted out to go at a later date.  Fernando will be coming back in May to speak at a conference with just a duffle bag, so that  he can go back with two more suitcases.  Some things may go down later with friends or family who go to visit them.

And why they are taking so much with them anyway?  They are packing for the next three or four years, for one thing.  Yes, they live in a big city with stores and even a few malls.  The closest thing that they have to a WalMart, though, is an Ace Hardware store, and the stores in the malls are horrifically expensive.  For instance, there is a Payless Shoe Source in their mall, but the same exact pair of shoes that would be $25 here at my local Payless, is $60 down there.  The cheaper, Ecuadorian-made things don’t last at all.  And to try to find something outside of a mall is an exercise in futility.  The hundreds of small shops in downtown Cuenca lie in a maze of nameless streets (well, they have names but there are no street signs) and you could walk for miles just trying to find a shop that sells picture frames, for instance.  (Laurie and I did just that, once.)

Laurie cannot get anything for herself down there.  She is head and shoulders taller than the Ecuadorian women so they do not sell  clothes, shoes, stockings, etc. in her sizes at all.  She is fair while the Ecuadorians are of darker complexions, so that she cannot buy cosmetics.  She knows whatever she gets here now will have to last her until she can get back to the States in a few years.

The Lord has blessed them in these last six months with an abundance of wonderful hand-me-downs for the kids, gifts and great buys at the clearance sales.  It is a hassle to pack it all up, but in the long run it will save them thousands of dollars, and so it is well worth it.  The logistics of getting them and all their stuff to the airport is another thing.  At this moment our youth pastor is planning to drive the family to O’Hare in the church van, while Bob will drive a rented utility van to haul all the luggage.  Two or three of Fernando’s family members will meet them at the other end with a rented bus to get them from Guayaquil to Cuenca (a three hour drive through the mountains.)

The packing has been interrupted constantly with last-minute shopping and errands, red-tape and bureaucracy, and a flurry of invitations to dinners and lunches and the like.  They are almost done now, and I have asked them to save the last couple nights for us.  The kids and I are jamming in games and jewelry-making, and I even got to bake cookies with Katie and Matthew yesterday.  Tuesday night we will have a special birthday dinner for Laurie, Mandy and Robbie, whose birthdays are all coming up in February.  In all that packing, they have saved room, I hope, for happy memories and all the love and encouragement we hold in our hearts for them.

I am soooooo thankful that when we take our final trip, there is no planning or sorting or packing to be done.  All we need is our ticket—trusting in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for our entrance into Heaven.  “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;  But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (I Peter 1:18, 19)

There is not a thing we will need to take for the eternity that awaits us—He will provide everything we need.  “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2, 3)

The trip will be easy, smooth and quick.  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:52)

And instead of parting with our loved ones, we will be reunited.  “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)

It is soooooo hard to say goodbye.  If it were not for the fact that I know they are doing God’s work in exactly the place He wants them, I could not do it.  As we get older we realize anew that this could be the last time we see some of our loved ones here on earth.  But we will be together again “if not here, then there—or even in the air!”

What a Year Will Bring Forth

It has been a flurry of activity around here this week—but not for me.  I have sat like a lump on a log watching the Naranjos scurry around, sorting, packing, running errands and such—too sick to help at all and feeling bad that I can’t even entertain the baby for Laurie.  It is my yearly case of New Year’s bronchitis.  I wish I could have skipped it this year so I could be of more help, but hopefully I will recover before they leave and their last memories of Grandma won’t be of me hacking my head off and looking pathetic!

They have their airline tickets to return to Ecuador on January 19th.   Only ten more days to play with my grandchildren, make jewelry with them and have the simple joy of being able to hug and kiss them good-night.   There is a bag of mixed emotions, I think, for all of us.  They are looking forward to seeing their friends and family in Ecuador again, being able to spread out in their large home rather than being cramped all together in this small house, and just having a feeling of “normalcy” again.  I know Fernando and Laurie are ready to step into the new ministry that lies ahead.

I will miss them all horribly, but “normalcy” around here looks rather attractive, too.  No line for the bathroom; simple meals for two to cook; having a space and closet to call my own; getting my house back in order; and our old familiar “rut.”  Surprisingly, I am not really looking forward to peace and quiet and a lack of “chaos.” I am sure in just a day or two after they leave the house will seem too peaceful, quiet and empty.

In the meantime, we are weaving our way around suitcases; piles of clothes, books and toys being sorted To Go, To Go Later, To Be Disposed Of, etc.; as well as the normal clutter of toys, excersaucer, overflowing furniture and all.  At least we got the Christmas tree down this week!

As they leave, they are looking forward to a new chapter in their ministry in Cuenca, Ecuador.  They will begin a new work, with a new mission board and more liberty to do the work that the Lord has called them to.  We are praying in this New Year that Satan will be impeded, and lives will be changed and a new lighthouse in the community built to God’s glory.

Our other daughter Julie and her husband David are looking forward to new challenges, as well, in 2012.  Their adoption of Oleg, a fourteen-year-old orphan in the Ukraine, had been going smoothly up until this week when suddenly they hit a couple snags.  Their dossier for the adoption containing massive amounts of their personal lives such as birth certificates, marriage certificate, Social Security numbers, etc, has gone missing somewhere between the United States and the Ukraine.  Losing all that personal data and facing the possibility that it might have fallen into criminal hands is bad enough, but it will also hold up the adoption.

Then this week David also found out that he is facing back surgery and knee surgery in the next month or two, and the physical therapy that will come afterwards.  That could hold up the adoption, as well, if he is not physically able to travel that distance.  Throw into the mix that they are supposed to sell their house and be transferred from Alabama to California in June and it has them trusting that somehow God will miraculously work out all the details and timing.  The worst thought for them is of Oleg waiting in that orphanage for them to come and get him.  But God knows, and He is working in Oleg’s life, too, for the best.  Who knows what will happen in 2012 with all this?  God knows.

As for our Robbie, I try not to wonder how he will do this coming year.  He has done well the last three years, but we are seeing signs of debilitation and it is obvious the last ten years have taken a toll on his body.  He, too, is in the Lord’s hands, and we will simply rest in that.

Bob is working hard with God’s help at his job, and although we saw a one-third cut in our income in the last few months, the Lord has quickly replaced it with the bonus of less traveling and work than what he had before.  Bob seeks to honor the Lord in his job.  I pray that the Lord will reward him with success in it in 2012.

I may be embarking on a new venture myself this year.  I have had an offer from a publisher to start publishing my work as e-books and in paperback.  We shall see how that works out.  After nearly a year of not working on any new books, I will be getting back to that, as well, the Lord willing, so it seems I will have plenty to do.

And as for health and protection for us all, we will trust Him to work out His plans for our lives according to His loving will for us.

Who knows what a year will bring forth?  There are abundant blessings—far more than we deserve—in store for us in 2012.  There may be storms and obstacles and trials, as well.  Whatever path He has laid out for us, we can rest in the knowledge that “He will never leave us or forsake us.”  (Hebrews 13:5)  We know that He will give us the strength to go through whatever challenges lie before us.  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)  “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Corinthians 12:9)  And He gives peace and comfort throughout it all as we trust in Him.  “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6, 7)