Travel Mishaps in Ecuador

Ever wonder what it would be like for your car to break down in a foreign country?

Leave it to the Wallaces.  Brian and I each have a long family history of travel mishaps. When that kind of luck was bound together in holy matrimony in 2002, a new level of travel ridiculousness was born.

On Saturday morning, our plan was to head out of our gloriously relaxing beach vacation spot promptly at 9am alongside Brian’s sister, Jenny.  We would have a 6 ½ hour drive up the mountain back to Quito, Ecuador, our home city.  Granted, 3 out of the 6 passengers were experiencing the “Ecuadorian cleanse” (pronounced die-uh-ree-uh), but we had a few tricks up our sleeves to help them make the trip home.

Problem #1) The Car was Dead. We gave jump-starting the car a valiant effort. It would start and then putter out. By the time we gave up, the car wouldn’t even give us false hope. Understand that our car knowledge is about as deep as one can grasp by watching MacGyver in childhood on TV.

Problem #2) The Language Barrier. Yes, we did go to language school to learn Spanish. Yes, we do speak Spanish often for our jobs. But, place us on the coast with the coastal accent and our Spanish comprehension rate plummets by at least 30%. Oh yeah, add to that Spanish car vocabulary and bring that bad boy down another 15%.

Problem #3) Poverty Breeds Opportunism. Now, I want to be sure to state that I have had AMAZING people come aid me in this country out of the pure kindness of their hearts. However, I have also learned the very hard way that there are lots of “helpers” that want to help themselves to your pocket book and sometimes far worse. “Thank you” is best said with cash. A car loaded down from the luggage rack through every nook and cranny inside of it, along with 3 adults and 3 children with signs on their foreheads that read, “Rich Americans Stranded! Take advantage of us!” was not helpful.

Combine Problems 1, 2 &3 and we were now at the complete mercy of whomever was willing to help us at whatever price was asked.   I was a STRESSBALL trying to have an easy breezy, yet sharp-as-a-tack face on. So, yeah, we were pretty much up a creek and we had the honor of deciding which way to start swimming with lots of conflicting suggestions from hotel staff regarding who would or would not permanently damage our diesel, automatic car.  Remember, of course, we only partially understood our options.

We first chose Door #3, which was to pay a taxi to bring the mechanic from a village only 8 minutes away to come at least let us know what we were dealing with.

Problem #4) “Yes, I’ll call you as soon as I get close” could mean several things.  One of those options is “I don’t really feel like it today,” which one only figures out when the person doesn’t show up.  I swear to you, this is a cultural norm.  On to Door #2…

The lovely plan behind Door #2 was presented by The Stranger who showed up randomly and was all of a sudden under our car. He offered to pull us on a tether behind his tourism van to a bigger city a few hours away where “he knew an excellent mechanic” for the low, low cost of $100. After confirming that the staff knew this mysterious stranger; we snapped a pic of his license plate, tethered the car, threw my family in the van, broke 5 employees backs as they re-positioned our car, and OFF WE WENT!!! (2 hours and 15 minutes off schedule).

Problem #5) Complications. The road was curvy.  The tether was short. Brian had no automatic steering or brakes. Our car is super heavy. It started to rain. The going was very VERY slow. It was extremely dangerous driving for Brian as he was pulled by the van.

Problem #6) A Potential Serial Killer. An hour into pulling our car, The Stranger told me that we weren’t going to go to the next big city. In fact, he would just take us to his house and the mechanic could meet us there. I then overheard the mechanic couldn’t come, but some other guy would most assuredly meet us there. This was after I watched a local lean out of the bus with a big grin and make the money symbol with his hand to our driver while passing us.  Um…I watched my fair share of horror movies growing up and I like to think I learned SOMETHING!!!! No way in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks were we going to go to this guy’s house.  A quick phone call to my husband in the other car and we concocted a plan to abort the current mission without somehow offending The Stranger and causing us to be killed right then and there. I could write an entire movie from the script going through my head during the next 30 minutes!

My husband handled this delicate situation amazingly with his fancy broken Spanish! Smooooooooth. He explained that we would pay the big bucks and spring for a flatbed tow truck because “this wasn’t really working out and the city would be better for our family if the car had big problems”. Of course, The Stranger had to arrange it so I was still suspicious and now writing on Facebook in order for there to be a trace of my last whereabouts. And I was also feeling the need for my FB tribe to be praying for us. We pulled over next to 3 rabid dogs and waited.

Problem #7) “Really close” means something different in Ecuador. The expected 30 minute to 1 hour wait was actually 3 hours of waiting with 3 small children on the side of the road in the rain in the middle of Nowhere, Ecuador with The Stranger. Noel learned what “dogs mating” means. I decided to talk to The Stranger about my love for Jesus and His promise for justice in a broken and hardened world. Two-fold agenda there: Share the life-altering and powerful love of God annnnnnnnd inspire him not to hurt us.

The tow truck driver finally arrived, he embraced The Stranger, and the next leg of the journey began. The Stranger agreed to continue shuttling my family to the next big city while the tow truck followed unnervingly far behind us. So far behind us we couldn’t even see our car very often. We drove by The Stranger’s house and honked as we passed by. Close call.  The Stranger put on some Jesus music for me. I think he caught on…

Problem #8) Mechanics Don’t Work on Saturdays. At this point, we were on target to pull in the city (and by “city”, I mean small, tourist town), at 5pm on a Saturday (8 hours off schedule). I gave us a 5% chance of even being seen, let alone having the correct parts for the car. We were hastily sketching out Plans B, C, and D. In all likelihood, Brian would need to stay with the car through Monday while his sister, the kids, and I took a bus back to Quito the next day. Let me tell you how fun that prospect is sometime. (Hint:  overcrowded, no air-conditioning, no bathroom, professional thieves).

And this, my friends, was when miracles began to unfold.

Miracle #1) The Mechanic Stayed Open for Us. We were taken to a diesel mechanic who found out quickly that the problem was the big, bad, scary word we were hoping to avoid, our alternator. Ugh. I considered how painful it would be to saw off my left arm for whatever price would be quoted on top of paying for the honor or staying open for Americans on a Saturday night. At this point we also said “Adios!” to the tow truck and $250 bucks for his services.

Suddenly, The Stranger drove off with just us women and kids! Noting my calm demeanor through the entire day when it came to The Stranger, you can imagine how the script picked up right where it left off in my head as we shot off at full speed. I quickly called my husband who was discussing All The Car Things in the shop and he told me we were headed to another place around the corner that specialized in electrical car repairs. He would meet us there. Oh, well, thanks for the heads up, Brian. I was already planning how to sacrifice myself while Jenny fled with the children!

Miracle #2) The Second Mechanic Stayed Open for Us. And better yet, he could have the car fixed in 2 hours (read that as 3 ½). We had him talk to our mechanic in Quito just to try to provide some accountability with pricing, if you catch my drift. It was now 6pm and we were hungry. With hunger came the acceptance that we should just start throwing money at people. Just WHATEVER MAN. End the pain! Fix the car and just take our wallet! (9 hours behind schedule and did I mention I had a baby?)

We took The Stranger to dinner while the electrical mechanic worked on rebuilding our alternator. With food providing nutrients to my brain came the realization that The Stranger was really a nice guy. He worked hard to find a solution for us when pulling the car with the tether wasn’t working out. He stuck by us to be sure the car would get fixed without a complaint. He hooked us up with people that really knew what they were doing. I liked John. I finally learned his name! We sent him home with an extra meal for his wife who was waiting on him. And I was sure to say lots of kind things about him after he left to make up for labeling him as a serial killer.

And the mechanic? Oh. My. Word. His sweet family stayed outside in the shop with us and talked to us, held Clay, and made us feel utterly welcome as their hard-working man slaved for over 3 hours at a rapid-fire rate trying to get us repaired in the same day. My husband almost choked on the final charge. I could see his mental wheels spinning to be sure he was translating correctly. We were hoping for somewhere around $450. Nope… $85. My sis-in-law couldn’t even believe it. We gave him $100 out of sheer relief! (The Throw-Money-At-People philosophy was still in effect).

At 9:30pm we decided the last thing we wanted to do was find a hotel, unpack the entire car, and start all over the next day. We chose to drive the 5 1/2 hours home. We could be in bed by 3:00am ish.

Miracle #3) Our Kids were Outstanding. I have to give these 3 a shout-out. We were 12 ½ hours into travel and they had been saints. They were quiet, played nicely together during the waiting stretches, obeyed us beautifully, and the baby handed out plenty of smiles. If you know my kids, you know this was indeed a miracle and a direct answer to prayer.

Problem #9) Rain, Fog, and Winding Roads. Hmmmmm….didn’t see that one coming. We were moving as slow as molasses. At times, the road was not even visible, which was unsettling with the winding roads. We had highly intelligent discussions over how much money the country of Ecuador must have had to spend on the sheer number of curve arrows needed to mark every single turn on the mountain. But, God bless those signs along with the tiny road reflectors on the sides of the road. They were our saving grace!

We were really regretting not staying in a hotel  as we stared at the current choices before us: plummeting to our death, hitting another car head-on in the fog, or pulling over to stay in a hotel in Scary Rural, Ecuador to have all of our luggage and, potentially, the entire car/people in it hijacked. We pressed on.

Until…

Problem #10) No Gas. We were so slow, we blew through our gas and Scary Rural, Ecuador isn’t into the nightshift at the gas pumps. We were only 45 minutes outside our final destination of Quito, Brian was amped up on caffeine, the fog had cleared, and yet the red “E” light was on. We needed gas. Could it get worse? We knew of an outdoors ministry in the area and decided that parking outside its gates was our safest option (we clearly made that up) until the gas stations opened with the daylight. Then the phones said the last “goodbye” to their charges.  You can imagine just how much sleep we got. Annnnnd, the baby reached his limit and started wailing.

Miracle #4) The Giggles are a Gift from God. I don’t know what happened at 5am, but this situation suddenly became hysterical. I mean, we got the giggles so badly trying to decide which part of the trip sucked the worst. I stuck with The Stranger trying to take us to his house to kill us, but Brian and Jenny insisted it could not possibly get worse than trying to have all 6 of us sleep in the car outside the gates of an outdoor ministry, wrapped in whatever was laying around the car to stay warm, huddled together with the echo of a crying baby reverberating in our ears. They had a point…

We made it, though! The gas station opened by 5:30am and we were in our beds by 6:30am. Only 21 ½ hours of travel. We survived!

And…what a story!

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The Arrival of Wallace #5 (2 versions included)!

Clay

You are safe dear friend who does not like gory birth stories.  This is the edited version praising God for his intervention in our son’s birth, nothing more.  The girlfriends’ version you may want to avoid follows it…

Sometimes God swoops in and saves the day. Sometimes God does not, and we are forced to submit to a plan we don’t understand. I have experienced both. Today, I praise God for scenario #1.

Early December

I had a Facebook conversation with my cousin about the birth of her baby girl 3 weeks before her due date. She had an emergency C-section after a friend convinced her to go to the hospital when she felt something just wasn’t right. I pondered this scenario quite a bit because I tend to blow off my worry. My pride would generally keep me from wanting to call my doctor or go to the hospital without a concrete reason. I never want to be THAT parent. You know, the over-paranoid one. I specifically prayed that I would have the wisdom to be humble and ask for help if I ever felt something was wrong with my pregnancy.

December 19th, 6 days prior to my due date

I took a nap and slept REALLY well. In fact, I woke up realizing I hadn’t felt the baby move and that is why I slept so soundly. I paid close attention for an hour and a half and could not feel the movement I normally did. Very slight sensations, but nothing significant. I pushed the baby all around. I walked the stairs. I drank Coke. I had a spicy dinner. Nothing. I told Brian and he was on the same “let’s not overreact” wavelength as me. Probably fine, yet the doc will surely tell us to go in if we call. It would be time and money. Buuuuuuuuut, do what I thought was best. Dialing was really hard. As predicted, I was told to go to the ER.

8:00pm

We piled the kids in the car and went to the emergency room. After filling out my paperwork, I went back into a room and put on a fetal heart monitor. Right away they found the heartbeat. I tried to convince myself I did the right thing, but here I was at the ER for no reason. I was THAT parent. The doc suggested we go ahead and induce me since I was already in very early labor and already there. Plus, why not be cautious with the lack of movement, even though all looked perfectly fine.

11:15 (ish)pm

The doc broke my water, and out flowed meconium. I watched the medical staff look at each other. They then explained the meconium was a sign that the baby had been in distress. Coupled with the lack of movement earlier, and a serious risk for the baby’s lungs, they felt the baby needed to come out ASAP. The Pitocin was cranked up and…

December 20th, 1:50am

A perfectly healthy baby boy was born. The doctor told me he was really glad we had come in as this scenario could have been much different in a few days.

Only God could prepare me to go against my nature if there was a problem. Only God could have known the puzzle pieces already in motion. Only God could have been sure our child was born 5 days early, right when he needed to be.

Thank you, God, for Clayton Stephen Wallace. I can’t wait to see the plans you have for him.

Clay’s Birth:  The Girlfriends’ Version

WARNING: This is about LABOR and BIRTHING a baby. Know thyself. If “oversharing” isn’t your thing, blow past this. But, for those of you that were wondering…

No, I was not worried about having a child in a country outside of the United States. I live in the most modern city in Ecuador. I picked the fanciest private hospital. I had a personal recommendation for my OB, who had training in the States and even spoke English. The hospital tour showed a professional and extremely sterile environment. And, to top it off, my good friend just had a baby in May and I could bank on her experience.

What I WAS worried about was if I could safely get an epidural because, let me be honest, experiencing the birth of a child without medication was on my list of goals right next to climbing Mt. Everest in a blizzard with a blindfold. Luckily, this very important conversation came up in my first OB appointment and I was assured that epidurals were given to nearly every patient at this hospital. Whew! With my track record of 2 great deliveries, my worries were cast aside.

Sidenote: When I say “great deliveries”, I mean it. Noel was born in 4 hours, with the bliss of an epidural and me actually saying the words “this is so fun!” as she was being born. I have witnesses.

December 18th, I had my 39 week appointment and was thrilled out of my mind to hear that I was already 4cm and 80-90% effaced. In fact, the doc thought my baby would be born EARLY, probably by the end of the weekend. Considering no Wallace child had ever left my womb until very late and with the help of the drug Pitocin, I could not have been happier. Then came the thrill, and later, the disappointment of 13 hours of contractions at home that just plain s-t-o-p-p-e-d. Hmph!

The following day, December 19th, I took a break from telepathically causing my body to go into labor again by laying down for a nap. I hadn’t slept that good in ages. The baby was super still. In fact, he wasn’t moving. Not when I shoved him all around my belly, not when I went up and down the stairs, not when I drank a Coke, not when I had a spicy dinner. Learning a valuable lesson from my cousin a month prior, I prayed for wisdom, swallowed my pride, and called my doctor.

Although a healthy baby heartbeat was found immediately in the ER, my doctor felt that the best plan of action would probably be to go ahead and induce labor since I was already in early labor and well…why not be extra safe? You can imagine I hesitated about ½ a second before gleefully agreeing! Remove the child, por favor!!!!

Our time started at 9:15pm with a nice slow Pitocin drip that would gradually be increased over time. Seeing as my OB would not be coming until the very end, another associate doctor on call would be in charge of my delivery. That meant speaking in Spanish–small concession, but worth it for an early delivery! No problem. I was sure to confirm the epidural situation and clarify that this WOULD BE HAPPENING, probably pretty quickly. I mean, why suffer?

I wasn’t progressing much, which was kinda disappointing after my stellar appointment the day before. Clearly, I was much too perky and happy because the doctor came and said these exact words, “I am going to check you. And it is going to hurt.” Mind you, it is always kinda painful when they check you, so I only had about 2 seconds to ponder what she meant before I found myself practically leaping off the table, yelling at the top of the lungs, nearly spurring my husband to shove the doctor away from me. What the WHAT!!!!????? This doctor completely lost my nomination for the Gentleness Award when she used what I like to call, “The Sledgehammer Twist Technique”, otherwise known as stripping the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus to spur on contractions. I’m not going to lie, I had a few tears seep out of my eyes afterwards at the surprise pain and violation of the whole ordeal. Nonetheless, I was now at 5cm.

I spent the next hour or so with increasingly painful contractions, of which I confirmed with the doc once again that an epidural would be in my future, an anesthesiologist was present, etc. I received a “yes” and a “just let me know when it hurts as we’ll need about 10 minutes to prep the room” response, in which I thought I may need to move past my subtle communication into more direct statements.

Later, I was checked internally again and was disappointingly still at a 5. Mercy. As is normal when trying to get the process going, the doc decided to break my water, and this is where it turned serious. Meconium (first baby poop) was mixed in my amniotic fluid, which is a sign that the baby had been in distress the last few days. With the lack of movement earlier, this sign of distress, and now a risk for lung problems, we had an emergency on our hands. The baby needed to come out as quickly as possible. I’m guessing with my history of short births, they decided to bypass a C-section, and instead the plan was explained to me. The doc was going to skip gradual increases and instead pump up the Pitocin to the max and I was to walk the hallway. Again, I asked if that epidural would be coming and I was told “yes”, but they didn’t want to give it too early and slow down contractions. I probably just needed to progress 1-2 cm. Considering the pain I was experiencing, surely that was only moments away. Plus, I could do anything that was needed for my child, right?

Unfortunately, medicinally-caused contractions on the max level without a gradual progression are not pleasant. What I experienced in the next what-felt-like-1000 minutes was pain I never knew existed. I started coping by thankfully praying for the child I was about to birth. That lasted about 3 contractions. I then tried using breathing techniques I learned 8 ½ years prior when you attend all classes as 1st time parents.  Worthless!  I still used them in desperation. I wondered how in the world people actually chose to have natural childbirth. I pondered why Eve ate that blasted apple! I looked forelornly at my husband who was the absolute perfect partner during this whole ordeal answering all sorts of my questions and conspiracy theory remarks with insightful answers like “MMhmmm” and “ok”.

I quickly learned nothing I tried was going to alleviate the feeling of a small nuclear bomb exploding and ripping every individual cell apart in my body over and over and over again. My entire body convulsed uncontrollably with the pain. My husband feared I wouldn’t even be able to continue safely standing, let alone walking. I could only whimper and rotate between wide-eyed shaking of my head in disbelief, to squeezing my eyes shut as I floated in and out of rational thinking. At one point, I absolutely knew I wasn’t going to make it much longer and that the PITOCIN. MUST.STOP. My husband could surely turn it off with his medical background! Then my mind would snap back to a different delusion and focus on my only saving grace, convincing this dang doctor to give me the frickin’ epidural!. I would walk by the nurse’s station and inquire once again about getting the epidural. Culturally in Ecuador, people try not to say “no”. So my pleas for the epidural were met with lots of “yes’s”, but no action. That did not bode well with me.   Buuuuuuut, I was in too much pain to start an argument and did my best to keep saying “epidural” with a Spanish accent.

As I was near collapse and my husband insisted I go lay down, the doc checked me again, and I …was…still…at…a…5. I could only hope they would spare me and either give me a C-section or kill me, whatever was necessary to keep the next contraction from coming.

Instead (angels singing) they wheeled me into a room for my much-awaited epidural. WhohOoooOO! At this point, the anesthesiologist tortured me by washing his hands for 100 minutes, then slowly marked his spot, etc., clearly a part of this whole conspiracy. I seriously had thoughts such as, “Just jam the needle in there! You only have 15 seconds! Hurry, do it before another contraction comes!”  But nooooooooo, tortoise pace is the only pace in the epidural room–something about not paralyzing people or whatever. Eventually, that sweet needle pierced my back and I’m not sure I have ever been more grateful than I was in that moment.

BUT…

Before giving me the full dosage of medicine, my doctor checked me again because WHY NOT PROLONG THE RELIEF. Somehow I was magically at an 8 and this prompted a mini-conference with the nurses and doctors. I thought, “Oh.My.Word. They are not going to give it to me!!!!!! (insert sheer panic)” but thank God, the Creator of the universe that I was wrong. They gave me an itty bitty dosage that provided at least some relief as I shot from a 8 to a 10 in the 2 minutes it took them to wheel me back to the delivery room. I spent the next 5 minutes enjoying every single second of relief I was offered as I focused on the delivery of my son. It is best if my husband not divide the amount of money we paid for the epidural with the amount of minutes I enjoyed it. IT WAS WORTH IT! Priceless, I tell you, PRICELESS!

My OB arrived and told me to start pushing as he looked over a chart. I questioned if they were ready because they didn’t really appear to be in the “catch” position. I don’t think they believed me when I said there would be about 3 pushes before this kid came out. They quickly realized I knew what I was talking about and told me to “whoa!,…wait!” while they broke down the room and prepared the team to check over the baby.

A few moments later at 1:50am on December 20th…

Clayton Stephen Wallace was born. The staff expertly cleared his lungs and looked him over to announce we had a perfectly healthy little boy. We did it. How sweet it was to hold him and look into his precious face. Clay was finally here. Our 3rd and last child.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

What if…

Box cutters, knives, drugs, and alcohol.

The confiscation of these items piled up this year at the entrance to our Christmas party for the impoverished of Zambiza, Ecuador. Over 2000 people arrived with their tickets to celebrate Christmas, but for some, the harsh reality of their lives were difficult to leave behind at home.

Fight for your life or escape from it. A daily decision for those we serve.

Extreme Response staff, 45 volunteers from North America, and 400 Ecuadorian volunteers showed up bright and early Saturday December 5th to offer another choice…a new life bought through the price of a Savior. A life that may look similar on the outside, but whose inner-workings function completely differently. (And did we have fun rocking a party for these folks at the same time!)

I lay in bed exhausted last night with this one question rolling through my mind:

Is it really any different back home?

Longer work hours, the newest video game, another drink, a new credit card, a better education, a different family, another activity to participate in.

We have everything these people think they want, but still, we stuff our empty lives, hoping to fight for or escape a life we can’t ever seem to grasp. We’re left with the same choice: Continue on as before or dare to conceive that there COULD be another way.

Then a much more threatening thought came to my mind:

Is it really any different for me?

A bigger car, a beach vacation, an American education for my kids, a 401K, a best friend.

I fight to secure a life that isn’t mine to guarantee. I try to escape pain that I could humbly walk through instead. What I can choose for myself must surely be better…right? Is it? Could there be another way?

What if there really is a spiritual world that we can’t see at work? That a God could possibly exist who set life in motion. That this God desires to live intimately with us on Earth and for eternity. That this same God gave us every tool to know Him, to walk through this life with hope and joy, and to be a living testimony to His power and love. A God who gives purpose to even our deepest wounds.

I’m not talking some abstract concept. I’m talking about a God in the nitty gritty of your life.  A God who is there when your wife is a shrew, and your kids are ungrateful, screaming leeches.  Who is there when your bank account is hitting rock bottom, and your husband no longer chooses you, and your oldest just received a heart-wrenching diagnosis.  A God right there when your depression has knocked you flat, injustice prevails again, and you feel like your head will explode with stress. What if? What if we stopped fighting and escaping, but instead chose something new.

Although I am regularly tempted to fill my life with my pre-conceived notions of what will make it better, I have seen God show up in impossible and impactful ways in my life. I cannot help but testify beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has profoundly changed my life. I have been thrown to my knees in awe of a living God time and time again. I have been reminded over and over that THIS.IS.REALITY.  Don’t let go!

Whether you are daring to ask for the first time “Is it possible?” or longing to remember the gift you once received, let’s make this Christmas season an excuse to dare to be different. Let’s open our Bibles and weigh what is inside. Let’s ask to be permeated with a truth we can’t deny.  Let’s live the life we’ve always wanted.

The Yuck of the Muck

Sit down.  Your bubble is about to be burst.

We humans have a habit of hanging super-high expectations on people who have experienced the life-saving power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I mean, for those of us that know how powerful this experience is, it could appear like a reasonable expectation. 

If you have ever worked behind the scenes at an Christian organization, you know the truth.  If you have ever interacted closely with other Christians, you can’t be fooled.  If you are my close friend, you’ve seen the ugly.  In fact, you probably just need to walk down to the closest mirror to get a sneak peak at someone not doing it all perfectly.  Or well.  Or even doing it close to right.

Recently, I’ve been wading through some of these reality waters.    I’ve felt the tension of transitioning as our organization goes through the steps of change, growth, and re-focus.  I’ve walked alongside friends who have been hurt badly by other Jesus-loving people.  I’ve witnessed the painful aftermath of how disappointment and disillusionment can change those who experience it…forever.  Quite honestly, I have received and given some harsh blows of my own during some personal trials the last few months.

Love God, love others.  How hard can that be if you profess to be a so-called Christian?  Let me just tell you.  I can have a day filled with awesome awareness of the Holy Spirit, kissing the cheeks of little suffering babies, and then 30 minutes later my pride and ability to put my foot in my mouth are working in perfect harmony. I can sink into self-preservation mode and lash out around me. I can let hurt fester and decide being right is more important that DOING right.  I can fly off track and convince myself this is exactly where I should be.  What is this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience?  Am I a fake?

NO WAY!  I’m just a human who has heart-weeds that grow quickly when I don’t continually have my eyes on my Maker and HIS goals, HIS heart, and HIS power.  I seem to have a knack for defaulting constantly to my goals, my desires, and my abilities.  And well, (cough, cough) my default doesn’t usually turn out so hot.

It is a constant process of surrender for me.  Surrender to a God whose ways are not my ways and whose understandings are not my understandings.  Surrender to recognize a deep need for help and then seek out God to continue to rewire me.  Surrender to acknowledge I will be in this transformation stage until I breathe my last breath.

Surrendering is painful and it is beautiful.  It leaves rich opportunities for forgiveness, grace, love, and the awe-inspiring work of the Holy Spirit to fill in my gaps.  To me, that equates to phenomenal FREEDOM!

For those of you Christians who are in the yuck of the muck right now:  How loving of our God to allow you to go through this process! How generous that He has provided you an entire book of Scriptures and Letters to guide you and teach you His ways!  How amazing that he offers you the gift of the Holy Spirit to actually dwell in you and teach you, rebuke you, counsel you, and point you to Truth!  YOU ARE NEVER LEFT ALONE TO FIGURE THIS OUT! Lavish in the freedom to need God, seek him, and allow Him to change you.  His love never fails.  Not ever.  Not even when you do.  Rest in these Truths.

For those of you affected by us Christians: Please remember it is indeed a process.  People and organizations can start with the absolute God-filled correct intentions and then find themselves wading in the muck of the process.  Sometimes stuck in the muck.  Sometimes sinking in the muck.  Sometimes so far under the muck, you will be unsure if our little hand will ever pop back up and grab onto the One who can pull us out, clean us off, and set us back on the path.  During this time, there will be consequences.  We will leave scars.  And we are so sorry. Please forgive us.  We serve a God who can redeem all things, even our messes.  May he redeem the hurts we cause you.

Our hope is that instead of putting your expectations on us, you put your expectations on God.  May you open your Bible read about a God and his faithfulness to His people. May you discover how He longs to love them and be loved by them.  May you witness how when we completely rejected Him, He found a way to honor justice and yet save us from ourselves.  May you learn how He provides an unfathomable power to change even the most peculiar people into those who He can use to accomplish His goals on this Earth.  May you be awe-struck by the ONE who will never disappoint you or hurt you, but instead will love you to the very end.

(insert Star Wars theme song because it would just be awesome)

I Am Not Enough

You may have noticed a whole lotta silence on this blog over the past year. I want you to know I had high aspirations to share vivid accounts with you about life on the mission field. Instead, you received a few tidbits and then…silence.

I am not enough.

Last year I landed in a phase of life which required taking a huge, reality-step back. I have no desire to live in fifth gear, running around with my hair on fire, patting myself on the back for being productive, yet miserable. Been there. Done that. I was forced to analyze what I can possibly do in a day, stay sane, and yet still experience what I value most in life.

You’ve been there.

It’s kinda like when I went from working full-time to being a stay-at-home mom in 2007. Right before I transitioned, I could not imagine how to fill all the time I was about to have. Luckily I would be cooing with my baby for ¾ of my time, right? Helloooooooo reality. I never could have guessed how long it would take just to walk out the door between poop explosions, toddler fits, and lost shoes. Cooing turned to screaming. Figuring out my limitations pained my Type-A self. I lost what I desired most, a God-centered, joyful life. In time, I learned to embrace a house that was dusted every 4 months as long as the bathrooms were tolerable and the dog hair vacuumed up. I decided 2 errands a day was sufficient. Cuddling was better than clean dishes. I found my rhythm. I wasn’t enough for everything, but I was just right for the few I chose. I was able to experience what I held most dear.

Insert the life-adjustment to language school in Costa Rica in 2013. It took about 6 weeks to toss all expectations out the window and that hurt this over-achiever’s pride. It was survival mode the entire year and you can read many, many painful blogs about those days. I wasn’t enough for, well, anything. I survived and I felt pretty darn ok about that. I still experienced what I valued above all else.

This past year was suppose to be the year where I found my “normal” again, which of course would mean a seamless transition to working 30 hours a week, having kids in school, keeping communication fluid with supporters from the USA, managing a life in a foreign country, and prioritizing God as my reason for being. Did I mention I tend to be a bit idealistic? You can guess how that turned out.

What is this homework thing parents are trapped into experiencing every afternoon? Is it a conspiracy to daily have this many dirty dishes when we don’t own a dishwasher? How many steps can it possibly take to accomplish one errand in this country? OOOOH, is that newsletter 5 weeks late? I am too busy working for God to spend time with God, and, plus, I haven’t looked at Facebook yet. HONEY, WE’RE PREGNANT!

 I’m not enough.

I tell you what, I’ve been having to let some things go once again. My agenda and I have swapped strong words with each other. I’ve had to do some praying.

Here are a few choices I had to make this year:

It is perfectly acceptable to crawl into bed at 8pm and be asleep by 9pm.

Outdoor living spaces are dead to me. Be ugly.

I must hire help to get deep-cleaning done.

Cereal is a dinner option.

Christmas gifts for teachers were delivered sometime in February.

My camera captures only a few memories.

I am leading no groups, studies, or non-work related projects.

Time with Jesus is far more important than Facebook.

These choices were all made after an inner-struggle, but I am growing in acceptance of my limitations. I’m learning the value of boundaries. I am re-discovering a life with margin for rest, laughter, snuggles, and the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Joy is spilling over as a result of my time with God. What I hold most dear has made my priority list.

I am not enough. And that is perfect.

Remind me of this blog right after I have the baby, ok? I have a feeling I’ll be right smack dab back in the choosing and accepting phase.

Wrestling

Hunger. Physical Abuse. Oppression. Sexual Abuse. Entrapment. Injustice. Sickness. Fear.

This year, these words have swirled around in my head and my heart, stretching my faith. I have struggled to understand the God whom I love. There won’t be any profound answers today, just a window into my internal wrestling match over the last 9 months here in Quito, Ecuador.

A dear friend once lent me a book titled Compassion, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison. The main premise is to have true compassion, you have to experience life alongside the hurting. That means not saving them, not changing their circumstances, but learning to love them and understand their reality, willing to feel some of the pain yourself. I disagreed with this book. In fact, I didn’t even finish it. Heck- I may even have the premise wrong!  I’m wondering if it’s time for a re-read.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not living in a shack next to our fellow recyclers, trying to survive on bread and Coke, wearing sockless shoes, and trying to blockade my door at night for protection. Actually, my life is quite comfortable. I have a spacious, safe home. I own a car. I eat 3 times a day, and even get ice cream sometimes. My kids attend an international school and are able to participate in extra-curricular activities. I go on vacation. If I need something, generally I can buy it if I budget well. And if I really get down and out, I can buy 4 airline tickets and be back in the United States within 24 hours. WE. ARE. FILTHY. RICH. I cannot and will not ever be able to fully understand life on the other side, the side of extreme poverty because I will always have options due to my background.

I cared about hurting people long before I moved to Ecuador. But something has shifted dramatically inside me. What has changed for me? Exposure. I am spending significant time in the world of the hurting here in Quito as a humanitarian aid worker/missionary. While stepping into their world every day, faces have now become names with personalities, hopes, and dream.

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People we serve have now become friends.

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There is no ability to be distracted from the suffering very long because tomorrow I will wake up and be back to witnessing their reality.

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And their reality is becoming crystal clear. IT IS HOPELESS. There is no hope for a better life for the majority of these people. Just a taste of their lives makes me depressed. When I try to imagine swapping lives, I want to die. I am not being dramatic. I would rather die. Escaping into my comfortable life at night sometimes feels like the only reprieve I have.

This sharpening of reality has led me to some very big questions for my God. Many of these people will live and die in these circumstances. Where is God’s mercy? Many women have walked into our center with black eyes and I send children home to sexual abuse daily. Where is his protection? We have witnessed obvious and blatant corruption and oppression of the poor.  Nobody will fight for them. Where is God’s justice? Where is His love? What could His love possibly look like in their lives?

I had tears wiped on my cheek hugging a women good-bye yesterday after a home visit. She lives in a falling down shack, illegally on city land on the edge of a precipice. They are soaked every time it rains due to the poor condition of their shack. The $3000 they had put towards other land was taken by the land owners, with no recourse to get it back. Due to corruption within the garbage transfer station, it is closed temporarily (permanently?), cutting off her access to earn money through recycling. There is no gas to cook anymore. There is no food for the 7 adults and 8 children that live in that shack.  She almost missed our visit because she was on the streets, digging through trash. I met her family. I met her kids. And I tried the best I could to forget them last night because their reality hurts me too badly. WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?

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These big questions have led me to some scary ones. The Bible says God loves EVERYONE and died for EVERYONE. In fact, it seems God has a special heart for the poor in the Bible. But, I don’t see it. He can’t possibly love them like he loves me, or they wouldn’t have to live like that.  So, I try to get spiritual and think, well, they have the greatest gift…Jesus’s sacrifice. That should be enough. But, this side of heaven, that doesn’t feel like enough. Where are his promises that the Bible claims we can have RIGHT NOW? Lord, am I devaluing your son…is his gift enough for them, is it enough for me?

Can you feel it? I am wrestling. I am wrestling with a God who is not afraid to let me wrestle. I am wrestling with a God who welcomes my hard questions. I am wrestling with a God who doesn’t have to explain himself to me. I am wrestling with a God who understands things I cannot fathom. I am wrestling with a God who has demonstrated profound and everlasting love for his creation countless times. I trust Him. I don’t understand Him. But I trust Him.

Last night, I went to a family worship service at our Family Resource Center. Over 40 adults and 30 kids were there.

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The night was filled with laughter. In God-style, I was shocked to hear that the majority of adults accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior while I was in the other room assisting with the children, stealing snuggles, and kissing cheeks while singing about God. There was joy. There was hope. They do exist even in the midst of suffering. I felt it. Lord, help me understand it.

Mark 9:24 “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Where’s Wallace?

If you are wondering what it is like to be an above-average tall American woman in Ecuador, please see how long it takes you to find me in this crowd.

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Yeah, like a foot taller than Every.  Single.  Person.

In case you need further confirmation…

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I am a giant.  That is all.