Gathering at a Garden

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My husband has been working tirelessly to get a community garden off the ground in our city.  He is a recent convert to gardening, but has been a huge proponent of initiatives to develop community as long as I can remember.  His passion and vision are contagious, and he has been rewarded for his efforts with grants and a lot of community support.

A few weeks ago, when it felt like winter would never end, he was talking about his anticipation to get out and work in the garden.  His comments were met with hesitation and overall lack of enthusiasm on my part.  I was all for the garden IN THEORY, but have never been the outdoorsy type and have killed basically every living thing I have ever planted in the ground.  Then my husband said something that made me laugh.

“There’s something inherent in all of us that wants to get our hands in the soil and work the land.  God put it there.”

I know, I know.  I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did.  I wasn’t buying it, not for a moment.  Yet, in an effort to show my support for my husband and the IDEA of a community garden, I volunteered to go out and help on a beautiful spring day.

It seems like I have been saying this a lot on my blog lately…. but…. my husband was right.

I loved being out there.  I spent about four hours digging trenches, preparing to lay cement blocks for raised beds.  The whole family was there, along with some lovely people who are helping in the endeavor.  Isabel ran around, picking up rocks and running through the open fields.  Ava worked and worked HARD.  As we dug the trenches, she pulled up the heavy sod.  For hours.  That child has some drive in her. (Where did she get THAT?)  Jimmie and his dad laid out the garden plots.  We found worms, got some sun, and made some serious headway.

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Jimmie and his dad, laying out the lines for the beds.
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 Ava, carrying a heavy clump of sod.  This girl loves to be outside and works hard.
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 Isabel and Ava, working with David.  Those girls love their Pa-Pa.
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I enjoyed it so much that I tagged along again last weekend.  This time, we evened out the trenches to lay the cement blocks.  I measured, added soil where needed, dug out more where needed, tamped, carried 35 pound cement blocks and got a substantial sunburn.  I still don’t regret it, even after days of sore muscles and sunburn.

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I loved meeting Audrey.  She is a master gardener and did a fantastic job getting the blocks level!
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Our friends Matt and Thomas, working on gluing the blocks with Jimmie.  It was funny seeing them in this context. 
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We met some really friendly and hard-working people out there!  I hope to see more of them this spring and summer.IMG_2822
My brother Michael, tamping the ground to make it level.

There’s just something about being outside.  I have neglected God’s creation for too long, preferring instead the luxuries of climate controlled houses and ever-present technological “connectedness.”  I trade a nice, long walk through trails for TV time.  Instead of eating meals outdoors in wide, open spaces, we huddle around our kitchen table.  In place of spending time on our front porch in the evenings, meeting neighbors, we hole up in our individual rooms, doing our own thing.  Instead of appreciating the beauty of God’s creation, I surround myself with the not-so-impressive creation of man.

I’ve had enough.  Something is awakening inside me.  Even as I read scripture, I am noticing just how much of ALL THE AMAZING THINGS happened outside.  I see Jesus calling his disciples while they are fishing.  I see a pretty special sermon happening on a hill.  I read some of the most powerful moments of prayer in the life of Jesus taking place in a desert or in a garden.  I see miracles happening while on the sea.

So while I may never be a master gardener or have the green thumb of my mother, I am making an effort this season to not only get outside with my girls more, but to spent a substantial amount of time at the community garden… tilling soil, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting….. making connections with people in my community….. and getting in touch with my Creator and his creation.

How do you make the most of the outdoors?  What are your favorite outdoor activities?  Do you garden?  Do you feel more connected to God when you are outside?  Tell me your stories!

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Gathering In Close

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When I was 19 and in college, I started working at a preschool at a church in Indianapolis.  I have worked there off and on ever since.  My boss and co-workers are great.  They have been flexible with the birth of both of my girls and our travel to Cuba, hiring me whenever I need a job and they have an opening, and letting my sub when they don’t have an opening and I need some extra money.  They have graciously let me take both of my girls to their preschool program for free while I work.  It’s a job made in heaven for this mom.

Currently I work two days a week.  I leave with Isabel about 7:15, before Ava wakes up for school.  Jimmie gets Ava on the bus, then I am home by the time she gets off the bus at 3:45.  It has been a pretty good system for us.

Recently, though, Ava has been complaining about me going to work.  Many nights throughout the past eight months we have dealt with supposed stomach-aches, tears, and guilt-trips.  Our typical conversation has gone something like this:

Ava:  Are you working tomorrow?

Me:  Yes, Ava, I work every Monday and Thursday.  You know that.

Ava:  I don’t WANT you to go to work tomorrow!

Me:  Ava, you know Daddy will be here with you in the morning.  I already laid out your clothes.  He will get you on the bus.  It will all be fine.

Ava:  But I don’t WANT Daddy to get me on the bus.  I want YOU to get me on the bus.

So the conversation goes.  This has been a little unusual for Ava, considering she has always been a Daddy’s girl and most days would choose her dad in a flash!  I have tried to comfort her, reminding her that many kids don’t have the luxury of having parents home to get them on OR off the bus.  I have talked to her about what a blessing my job is to our family and how good it is for Isabel to go to school, just like she was able to go to that preschool.  I have prayed with her, hugged her extra tight.  I have tried waking her up before I leave for work, just to say goodbye.  I have tried sending her morning texts before I clock in at work.  I have even talked to her on the phone before she gets on the bus.  None of it worked.  The complaining had been getting worse and worse.

Fast forward to this past Monday.  She begged me to wake her up before I left for work.  When I did, she opened her eyes, looked at me, and started sobbing.  I eased her back to sleep.  That night at the dinner table, we had a discussion.  It went something like this:

Me:  Ava, we really need to talk about how you react to me going to work.  I feel like you are trying to make me feel really guilty and I don’t understand why.

Ava:  (tearing up)  I just want you home in the morning.

Me:  Ava, Daddy is always here with you.  We never leave you alone.  I just don’t understand.

Jimmie:  (thank God for Jimmie)  Ava, does it bother you that Mommy isn’t close to your school during the day?

Ava cried, nodding her head.  Thanks to Jimmie’s probing question, the reality of what she was feeling hit me hard.  I work 35 minutes away.  Jimmie works 45 minutes away.  Ava has been worried all this time that if something happened at school, Mom and Dad wouldn’t be close.

We went on to have a conversation about what would happen in an emergency.  We eased her fears by letting her know we both always have our cellphones and that our neighbor and friend Tasha is almost always home during the day.  She relaxed and didn’t say anything about me going to work on Thursday.

As I have thought this week about Ava’s internal struggle, I have had great empathy for her feelings.  I have recognized a similar longing inside of me.  It has been a prayer, a stirring in my soul for as long as I can remember.  I have cried it out.  I have worried about it, whispered it as a prayer in the middle of the night.  It has been the plea of my heart and will continue to be as long as I live.  It is the cry of a vulnerable child to a loving parent.

God, just let me know that you are close.

Lord, no matter what path you have placed me upon, let me feel your presence near. 

Be close enough that I may hear your still, small voice.

Be present in my life, that I may see your beauty in the many moments of my day.

When I cry, send comfort.

When I am broken, mend the pieces of my life.

When I find myself in the mire, lift me out with your ever-present hand.

When I call upon your name, come to my rescue as only you can.

Jesus, just let me know that you are near.

“It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)

Have any of you had any similar experiences with your children?  Can you relate to my prayers?  Do you feel God near?  Do you worry when you don’t feel him close or can you rest in knowing he is there whether you feel him or not?  I would love your feedback!

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What I Gather About…. Here

 

Five Minute Friday

Today’s 5 Minute Friday prompt is HERE.  To participate, check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s page here.  How we do it?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and write… no over-thinking or editing.  This is what I gather about here.

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When I think about our here, I think about the there that got us here.  Those months spent in the tropical sun, fighting with mosquitoes and fire ants.  Figuring out how to stay cool and keep our girl safe.

I think about meetings making decisions that were way too big for us to make and the threat of being followed.  That there, in Cuba, is what I think about.

I think about the late nights with no TV or entertainment, when we were forced to talk well into the night, find our joy in simply being in each other’s company.  I think about how we were forced to grow spiritually together, in order to be able to help those we were sent to help.  I think about the heat, the challenges of living without conveniences, the long walks on dusty roads, the table games for entertainment.  I think of meeting person after person who didn’t speak our language, either verbally or culturally.

That there is what got us here.  That was the preparation for this rocky road we have walked, hand in hand.  The there, getting to know you and lean on you and learn you is what got me here.  And here we are, with wide spaces in front of us.  We are here because of the there and for that I will always be grateful.

Maybe one day our here will be in the tropical sun again.  For now, my heart is at rest, here with you by my side.  I have learned, because of the there, that my here is wherever you are.

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A Gathering of Cuba Photos

The months I spent living in Cuba were some of the best of my life.  Someday I hope to share more about our life in Cuba.  Today, though, I want to share some photos of the time I spent in Cuba in November of 2012.  In all of my trips to Cuba, I had never stayed with our close friends.  Pastor Lorenzo, his wife Zulema and their four children are like family to me and I really wanted the opportunity to spend some time with them, experiencing their everyday lives.  So, our family stayed in Havana for a week for the national convention and various business.  Jimmie left with the girls, and I stayed four extra days just to be able to spend time in their home.  These are the photos from the time I spent there.  I hope you enjoy these insights into Cuban life and take time to read the captions!

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This was taken a couple of days before Jimmie took the girls home.  Jimmie is with Dani, our pastor friend who also serves as a translator when we need one.  He has a machete and a coconut in his hand.  He had just cut it down from the tree behind them and used the machete to chop off the shell.  IMG_1288

I can’t remember the name of this man.  He is a neighbor of Lorenzo and Zulema and attends their church.  He uses their property to house his goats.  One of the goats belongs to Zulema as well.  Every morning he showed up at about 7 a.m. to take care of the goats and help Lorenzo with his work around the house.  At some point during the day, he left with four goats in hand to take them on a walk through the busy streets of their barrio.  It was quite a sight!

I love this photo for so many reasons.  He looks so Cuban to me.  Goats are hilarious creatures to me in general.  There are underwear hanging from the clothesline for all to see.  My towel that I used all week is hanging to dry on the right.  They also have YHVH = Jesus painted on their rusty pen for the animals.  As we always say, “Estámos en Cuba!”

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Meet Zulema.  I love this photo of her.  She has her broom made from dried-out, fallen limbs.  Each morning after the kids left for school, she brushed the leaves and debris off of her “patio.”  Her patio is the dirt you see behind her. IMG_1291

These are two beautiful and special children, Abdias and Sarai.  A generous pastor from North Carolina gave a laptop to Pastor Lorenzo.  The kids love playing games on it and spend a lot of their free time doing just that.   IMG_1292

Zulema is at work in her kitchen here.  The water is frequently shut off, so you never really know if water will come out of that faucet when you turn it on.  The bucket behind her stores water for such occasions.  Here she is rinsing rice before cooking it. IMG_1295

One of the reasons I love Cuba is because it is so GREEN!  The tropical climate makes for beautiful foliage and gorgeous flowers.  Here you see some plants Zulema planted to beautify their patio.  The bench on the left is very sad.  They utilize everything, though, and won’t throw it away.  Also notice the rocker in the background.   Over half of the plastic is gone on the seat of the chair.  Let me just tell you, it is not a comfortable seat! IMG_1300

Lorenzo has quite a bit of land.  He has had some help getting the tools and seed necessary to farm a little.  When I was there, they were just getting started.  He had some help from two men from his church.  I love this photo.  Cuban farmers work.  I don’t know of a more exhausting job than farming in the tropical sun.  I admire them so much.  They hope to grow enough food to share with hungry church members and some to sell, as well. IMG_1309

Here Lorenzo is showing me how he cuts off the bottom portion under the banana bunch so that all of the water and nutrients go to the developing bunch.  I had never really seen a banana tree and found this fascinating. IMG_1312

Lorenzo is explaining his plans for their land. IMG_1313

The goat-herder helps on the farm.  Here he is spraying pesticides of some sort.  I’m going to pretend they are organic.  One day he invited me to his apartment.  We arrived and he had some kind of drink for me.  It tasted like a dreamscicle.  It basically was, made with goat’s milk.   IMG_1316

Beautiful!  There are so many varieties of bananas in Cuba, I absolutely cannot keep track.  One thing I do know?  You cook the green ones, you eat the small yellow ones.  You haven’t truly tasted a banana until you’ve tasted one of those yellow beauties in the back. IMG_1321

This is a portion of the inside of their house.  I took this photo mainly to show the electrical situation going on in their home.  Yikes!  Thankfully Lorenzo knows what he is doing with electricity.  I did purchase some electrical boxes and light switches for them during my stay.  IMG_1329

Tomatoes with vinegar, oil and salt.  Enough said. IMG_1340

I’m not sure I could love these people any more.  Even though they have so little, they bless me so tremendously.  They offer their love freely and without expectation.  They welcome me as one of their own family members.  My only sadness is that they are so far away. IMG_1343

Zulema, the beauty that she is, standing outside of their home. IMG_1344

Lorenzo, locking up the house. IMG_1345

If you’d like to read more about what I learned from my time in Cuba, please check out my post Cuba Gathers.  I hope these photos give you a glimpse into the everyday life of some of Cuba’s finest people.  What do you think after looking at these photos?  Would you want to stay somewhere like this?  Have you ever visited a place drastically different from your home?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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Gathering Delight

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Bedtime. Let me set the scene for you.  Dinner is over.  Hopefully dishes are done.  There may or may not have been arguments about a certain 9-year-old practicing violin.  There may or may not have been screaming about a certain 3-year-old not wanting to get out of the bath.  Homework is done, sometimes after much complaining.  Mom is tired.  Dad just wants to sit down.  After bathroom trips, teeth-brushing, picking out clothes for the next day, another bathroom trip, and searching for the perfect stuffed animal or book for the night, we tuck them in, say prayers or play our thank-you-God game, and lights are out.  Okay, okay.  There may or may not be a threat about what will happen if either of those girls gets up.

Currently Isabel is in a stage where she is testing my bedtime limits.  She shares a room with Ava, so many nights she keeps Ava up for an hour or more.  She sings, talks, gets up, hits Ava, tickles Ava, climbs into bed with Ava.  Now that she is potty-trained, she comes in our room, having to go potty.  Again.  She slams the closet door, plays with her toys.  She makes messes, then opens and closes her bedroom door just to see if we are outside.  She.  Tests.  My.  Patience.

Ava knows that Mom has enough drama at bedtime and is usually pretty good about staying in her bed.  She knows getting out of bed means grounding from her Kindle.

I hope I have set the stage adequately for the happenings of Thursday night past.  This particular night we tried to get the girls in bed early because Ava had ISTEP testing the next morning.  I had told Ava that the next day I would not be home when she got off the bus and she would walk to Tasha’s house.  She was nervous about it, but we talked it though.  Tasha’s house is only a block or two away and Ava walks and rides her bike there from time to time.

About 30 minutes later, Ava was in our room.  I didn’t look up.  I didn’t want to lose my temper or get into a discussion.  It had been settled.  Ava would go to Tasha’s.  Jimmie walked her back in her room and was in there for a long time.  When he came back in our room, the discussion went something like this.

Jimmie:  Ava is sobbing.  She wants to see you.  She is nervous about tomorrow.

Rachael:  She has walked to her house before.  She goes to Kristi’s house, that is even farther.  She is being dramatic.

Jimmie:  She said she had a dream that someone kidnapped her by the park.  She is scared.

Rachael: (still relatively unmoved) Jimmie, she is just looking for reasons not to go to sleep.  This isn’t a big deal at all.

Jimmie:  RACHAEL, YOUR DAUGHTER IS IN HER BEDROOM.  SOBBING.  TERRIFIED.  SHE WANTS TO TALK TO HER MOM.

I believe that often when Jimmie raises his voice, it is the Holy Spirit speaking through him.

I walk into the room.  My baby is looking up at me, tears streaming down her face.  She reaches up, wraps her arms around me and holds on for dear life.  She is scared.  I finally come to my senses.  I speak soothing words.  I make other arrangements.  We make up.  I hold her, hug her.  I speak of Jesus as our protector.  I speak of fear and how it has no place in us when we know Jesus.  I pray over her.  I stroke her hair and watch her in wonder as she sleeps easily, comforted by my words and her Jesus.  I am so overwhelmed with love for this child, I think I may burst.

I hear the voice, somewhere deep inside, speaking truth I have avoided.  This is your child.  Take delight in her.  She is wondrous.  She is not an inconvenience, she is a delight.  Find joy in her.  Speak gently.  Show her grace.  Be a soft place to fall.  I delight in you, my child.  Now delight in her.  Your child.

I don’t know when it happened.  I always have moments of delight in Ava.  She is so smart and confident.  She is caring and strong.  She leads, she loves.  She has PASSION.  My head knows this, but for a while now I have been so consumed with myself, my problems  and my struggles that my heart wasn’t in it.  It may have been that way for a week.  Maybe a month.  I pray it wasn’t longer than that.  I was so grateful that God woke me up Thursday past.  It is easy for me to take delight in the 3-year-old who hugs mama all the time, says the cutest things, cuddles and kisses.  I thank Jesus that He reminded me that I must wonder at Ava.  She is a glorious gift.  If I look, I can see Jesus in her.  I can see the beauty of creation.  I can see His love in the way she loves.  I am delighting in her again.

He delights in me, after all.  The Bible tells me so.  Even when I fall terribly short as a mom.  Even though I am willful and resistant to His prompting.  Even if I get up when I’m supposed to stay put.  Even though I make messes.  Even if I pretend I need something when He has given me everything I need to rest.  Even when I talk when He wants me to be quiet and still.  Even if I slam doors He has opened so I can see the light.  Even if I annoy and hinder my brothers and sisters on this journey with me.  Even if I’m afraid when there is nothing to fear.  Even if I cry even though He has assured me everything will be okay.  In spite of myself, He delights in me after all.

Do you delight in your children?  Do you ever consider that God takes delight in you?  What obstacles keep you from delighting in your children?  I would love to hear that I’m not alone in this struggle!  This wasn’t a mom-moment I am proud of, but I thank God for the lesson that followed.

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What I Gather About Women of Valor

Sarah Bessey is hosting a synchroblog in honor of International Women’s Day this Friday, March 8th.  Read here for her post on Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives.

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I love the idea of celebrating the women who have helped give me spiritual life along the way.  May I always pay respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:7).  There are countless women who have poured themselves into me, supported me, encouraged me.  These women have been my friends, my family, my mentors, my inspiration.  They have taught me by example, spoken words of life, prophesied, transmitted spiritual wisdom and giftings.  They have defended me, stood in the gap for me, cried out to God on my behalf.  They have rejoiced in my joy, wept with me in my grief.  They have given spiritual life time and time again.  For that I honor them now.

To my mother, who has been my lifelong example of grace, wisdom and service.  No woman, no human being has taught me more.

To my grandmothers, one a fierce and fearless missionary, the other a gentle and enduring lover of Jesus.

To Chelsea, who brings joy and asks hard questions, the kind that make me run to my Savior for answers.

To the FAC spiritual giants, Judy Oliver, Jula Crider, Jamie Ball, Amy Beck, Sherri Palmer, Maria Kleiman, Billie Riley.  Mindy Whipple, I see Jesus in her eyes.  Shelly, a mentor despite her youth.  And Linda, who has believed in me, spoken encouragement and stood by my side in the most trying of times.  Who would I be without the influence of these women of valor?

I honor my friends along the way.  We learned together, made mistakes together, grew together.  And I will never forget.  Leah, Tania, Jodie, Mindy (quite a road we have walked!), Shanda, Whitney, Heather, Pashen, Haley, Erica… so many more.

The worship leaders I have never met…. they make me want to lock myself in a room alone with Jesus.  Darlene Zschech, Brook Fraser, Crystal Lewis, Ginny Owens, Kari Jobe, Kim Walker…so many more. I thank them.

The bloggers who get me on my knees and into scripture, searching for truth, searching for Jesus.  Sarah BesseyKathy EscobarJen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Jennie Allen.

To those women of the faith who I admire mostly from afar.  Vickie Oliver, her ministry changed me, set a fire inside me.  Her words were like salve on an open wound of grief.  Dorothy Roca, Kim Sciscoe, Deborah Tisdale (who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself), Faythe Gill, Judith St.Clair.  God bless them for their lives spent for Him.

Women of Gathering… Tasha, the Proverbs friend who loves at all times… turned sister in times of adversity (17:17).  Sara, whose faith astounds me and is my motherly role-model.  Heidi, whose prophetic voice calls me to the deep places.  Chellee, Andrea, Nichole, Beth, Norma, Marty.  My co-laborers, my heart is full to be on this journey with these women of valor, my friends.

Estrella of Cuba, she died as a Christian should die, with joy and anticipation of the future.  Just as she lived.  Zulema of Cuba… no-one has loved me as fiercely.  She lives and breathes Jesus.

The ones to whom I am accountable… Tanya, a warrior.  Her strength makes me strong.  Her passion is infectious.  Lori, she sees me so clearly and speaks so honestly.  What would I do without her voice, the scriptures she speaks in the moment they are needed most.

So, in celebration of International Women’s Day, I honor these women.  I pray that God reward them for their investment into me and into His kingdom.  My only hope is I am able to do the same for someone else and that women of this caliber come along to help birth my girls in the Spirit.

Finally, for two things I ask your forgiveness.  First, forgive me if I forgot your name.  I know there are people I left out and rest assured, I thank God for you and the oversight wasn’t intentional in the least.  Second, please forgive me for all of the incomplete sentences in this post :)  I was in a flow and sentence structure didn’t seem to matter.

How about you?  Who are your spiritual midwives?  Who deserves to be honored in your life as a woman of valor?  I would love to hear about it and feel free to link up with Sarah’s synchroblog as well!

 

Cuba Gathers

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I learned the hard way just how much Cuba gathers.  During our time in Cuba, I didn’t experience the traditional culture shock.  I embraced the new and different food with open heart and mouth.  I adored the simplistic lifestyle.  Lack of technology was the breath of fresh air I desperately needed after years of technology overload.  The absence of my native language was exhilarating.  It fueled my desire to perfect Spanish and was a beautiful cadence in my ears.

The gathering of Cubans was the biggest culture shock for me.  Cuban life revolves around gathering, but their idea of gathering is above and beyond anything I had ever witnessed.  Need some examples?  I have plenty.

Hundreds of people gathering in groups on any given street, chatting and laughing.

Neighbors gathering on the front porch of someone’s house, sipping cafe.

Church members gathering nearly every night for some type of activity.

Kids gathering on the streets or in an open field, playing futbol.

The friendly gathering at the bus stops.

The routine gathering of people just stopping by for a visit.

On our first three-month stay as appointed missionaries to Cuba, I was on gathering overload.  Did they really want me to be in 90 degree conference center ALL DAY for a conference?  Was it REALLY okay for pastors and leaders to stop by our home WHENEVER THEY WANTED?  Was it necessary to sit around and chat for an hour after Bible study on a weeknight and not get home until 11?  I’m sad to say that my heart was closed up to this type of gathering.  I wanted gathering to take place on my terms, in a way I understood, in a way I could maintain my comfort level.

Of course, this is major missionary fail.  My grandfather, a career missionary, gave me one piece of advice.

Don’t try to change them, Rachael.

I thought he was talking about the way they did church.  Turns out, I was resisting the way Cubans gather…. selflessly, whole-heartedly, without hesitation, lovingly, joyfully…

I can’t pinpoint when I started to open myself up to this Cuban lifestyle of gathering.  Perhaps it was watching our pastor friend Juan come by to check on us EVERY DAY.  He cooked for us.  He showed us where to buy our food at the best prices.  He was our bodyguard, even when we didn’t need one.  He sat in our home, filling it with the sound of guitar and voice, singing for us the songs God had given him in the middle of the night.

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Perhaps it was the literal interpretation of greeting each other with a holy kiss, those moments when young and old, male and female kissed my cheek simply wanting to display their love for their sister in Christ.

Perhaps it was the day I went into a home where no-one should live, let alone two beautiful children, obviously hungry.  Perhaps it was the moment that little girl brought me bread.  Perhaps it was the way she gobbled it up after I had taken an obligatory bite and then passed it on to her.

Perhaps it was the four days I spent in the home of my sister in Christ with her husband and four children.  Perhaps it was seeing how they open their home EVERY DAY to anyone and everyone who needs prayer, support, food…. in spite of their obvious need for food for themselves.  Perhaps it was the way they gathered together for a church service inside their ever-so-mosest home… and yet I felt the presence of God sweep over us in a way I had never quite experienced.

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I still struggle to carry this practice of gathering into my life here in Indiana.  It is hard when neighbors pull into their garages, not to be seen again until morning.  It is hard when my schedule and my needs seem to always become the priority.  It is hard when I close my heart, not wanting to be exposed and raw, especially after the rejection I have felt from doing just that.  It is hard when our culture tells us “church” happens on Sunday or Bible study night.  Lots of circumstances, ideals and selfish desires make this lifestyle of gathering hard.  Yet I have determined after my time in Cuba that it is worth fighting for.  The beauty of this lifestyle of community pulls at my heart and I can’t help but remember that Jesus gathered.  He gathered with thousands, with 12, with one at times.  He opened himself up to ridicule and judgement, even death, in order to show forth his extravagant love and gather us to Him.  Cuba gathers.  Jesus gathered and still gathers.  Therefore, Rachael gathers… or at least is learning to gather.

What gatherings are the most meaningful to you?  Where in your life do you experience community?  Do you struggle opening your home to others?  Do you long for this lifestyle of community or resist it?  I would love to get a conversation started!

I Gather a Prayer for Claire

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My dear friend Tasha recently gave birth to a perfect baby girl.  When I say perfect, I’m not exaggerating.  We joke that the Mexican blood in her gives her the most gorgeous complexion that my pasty babies never had a chance of achieving.  I was blessed to be at the hospital during the majority of Tasha’s labor and during the delivery.  She didn’t seem thrilled with my suggestion of being IN the delivery room (how dare she?), so I excitedly waited… and waited…. and waited in the waiting room.  I passed much of the time with Tasha’s Mexican grandmother, who also happens to be a spiritual inspiration.  We passed the time talking in both English and Spanish, discussing everything from her family to Cuba to God and the church.  Mostly, though, she prayed.  I could hear her nearly constant prayers for Tasha, her whispers of “Jesus” throughout the labor and delivery.  It was beautiful to witness.  I felt like I was on holy ground in that waiting room.

In the early morning hours, God led me to a scripture in Psalms.

The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. (Psalms 118:27)

That is how I felt during those early morning hours.  Even though I wasn’t in the room, I felt like God’s light was shining on us in that hospital.  I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the joyous miracle of life.  The occasion reminded me that joy truly does come in the morning, even after a long, dark night.  Claire was born.  She is perfect and I will always think of her as a light sent by God.

So, instead of showering her with blankets or clothes or bottles, I choose now to shower her with my love and with a prayer of blessing.  This prayer is for you, Claire.

Dear little Claire (or OB as I like to call you),

Your entrance into this world came like a blazing ray of light into what had been a dark time for some.  You truly are a gift of God.  You  bring light and life and joy to your family and everyone who surrounds you. This is my prayer for you.

May the light of God’s face shine upon you. (Psalms 4:6)

May the Lord alone light your lamp and light up any darkness that comes your way. (Psalms 18:28)

May the Lord be your light and salvation, coming to your rescue in every way. (Psalms 27:1)

May you ever walk before God in the light of life. (Psalms 56:13)

May his word be the lamp unto your feet and the light unto your path. (Psalms 119:105)

When you fall, may you quickly arise, having the Lord as your light. (Micah 7:8)

May you be a light to this world, a city set on a hill, hidden to none. (Matthew 5:14)

When others look at your light, may they always see the glory of your Father. (Matthew 5:16)

May you be wholly bright. (Luke 11:36)

May you help many others turn from darkness to light. (Acts 26:18)

May your light be a guide to the spiritually blind. (Romans 2:19)

May you never be unequally yoked with darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

May you walk in the light, having fellowship with believers, bring cleansed from all sin. (I John 1:7)

May you always love your brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom. (I John 2:10)

And finally, dear Claire, …May you be blameless and innocent, a child of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as a light in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ we may be proud that we did not run in vain or labor in vain… (Philippians 2:15-16)

Lots of love,

Rachael

 

 

Ava’s Gathering of Knots (Happy Love Day!)

I would love to say I’m that kind of mom who oozes creativity and the overflow blesses my kids with glorious craft-time, hand-made clothing, and delightful decorations for each and every holiday.  Alas, I am not that mom.  I go all out decorating for Christmas, mainly because it is the one and only time of year my poor children get to see something seasonal and new in our home.  Otherwise, you will never see a heart in February, eggs at Easter or fall wreaths on our door.  We don’t do crafts.  That’s what art class is for, right?  Even so, when I saw a pin on Pinterest, it led me to some adorable home-made valentines.  I couldn’t resist.  Ava had all kinds of friendship bracelet string left from Christmas gifts.  So we got busy.  This was our end result:

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My husband printed out the adorable little saying.  We cut around it with decorative scissors and glued them to a heart cut out of construction paper.  We then added holes with a hole punch and threaded the bracelets through.

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I must say, I ended up braiding a lot of the bracelets for Ava, mainly because we underestimated the amount of time the project would take and were running out of time.  She helped every step of the way, though.

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Ava added an initial bead to each bracelet and wrote each classmate’s name on the back.  All in all, it was a fun project and most importantly, gave me an opportunity to spend some time with my daughter doing the kind of thing she loves to do, even if I don’t!  Plus, Valentine’s Day is a holiday I can get behind.  What’s not to love about love?  Here is a link to the original post I saw from the blog Dandee: A Happily Crafted Life (don’t compare too much!):

http://www.dandee-designs.com/2010/02/friendship-bracelet-valentines.html

Have you ever attempted home-made valentines with your kids?  Did you give out valentines as a kid?  Do you still?  I would love to hear your feedback!  Happy Valentine’s Day!