Dear Juan

Juan
Dear Juan,

I find myself praying for you in the mornings before the sun rises.  I whisper your name and pray for blessing, encouragement and provision.  Mostly, though, I pray for God to put a new song in your heart.  I remember those early mornings when your face was the first thing we saw at our door….. face beaming in the already hot, tropical sunlight.  You were aglow, knowing you were loved because God had given you a new song in the early morning hours.  And so I pray for new songs, whispered by the breath of God, come alive with your gift of music.

You played for me, entertained us for hours with your gift.  I loved making beautiful harmonies with the melodies you sang out.  You filled our house away from home with music, life and laughter.

You became my teacher.  I couldn’t ever quite grasp the Cuban rhythms or phraseology of some of your songs… but you taught me of simplistic faith.  Stripped of luxuries, comforts, conveniences and companionship, you were a shining beacon of simple faith.  You showed me what it means to follow Jesus without baggage and with total abandon.

You became my friend.  You took such care of our family, always putting us first.  You asked for nothing in return.  I crave the meals you made for us….. your meals taste like Cuba to me.  Mostly, though, I miss the hours spent around the table, talking and praying, playing and laughing.  Those were holy moments.

You became my brother.  You were the form of the body of Christ at her best…. laying aside all self-interest and loving me, your sister in Christ, as yourself and more.  I never doubted you would lay down your life for me, not even in the beginning.  I don’t know the exact moment we became family.  Maybe it was my life-altering moment on the roof?   But I feel that you are my brother with every fiber of my being.  My brother.  My brother.  My brother.  What more fitting a label than that?

I miss you.  We all do.  Our family talks of you often.  We wonder what you’re doing, who you’re with, whether you have food and money for transportation.  But I know down to my core that wherever you are…. whatever miles you are walking on long dusty roads to serve…… I know that you are not alone.  I know your Savior walks with you, and I know he is giving you songs.

I only wish I were there to hear you sing them.

Your sister in Christ,

Rachael

IMG_1357
Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Prayer Methods

Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad,

I have seen the photos so many times…  you as a little boy, living in a foreign land I couldn’t even fathom.  The stories of your childhood delighted and enchanted me, although you were never the source of the magnificent stories.  They usually came from Grandma or Mom, glimpses into a life that seemed impossibly far from the life I shared with you. You were quiet about your undeniably challenging childhood.  But those stories I heard made you superhuman to me…. special, special, special.  I wanted to be like you.  I wanted people to tell stories about my life in a faraway land, full of challenges and adventure.

Cuba2 Cuba3

_________________________________

It was a typical day for us in Cuba…. October 29th, 2012.  You had been gone for 15 years and we had been traveling to Cuba for the past five.  Our little family was bouncing along the Cuban roads in a church van filled with various Cuban pastors and friends.  One of them?  Your friend, Armando Roca.  He has become a friend to us, Dad.  He has been our guide, translator, cultural adviser and endless source of entertainment.  I had asked Bro. Roca several times to take us to the house where you lived in Cuba.  He always assured me it was so close, yet he always postponed it for another day.

This day was different.

Sometimes I wish I had a little warning for the big moments of my life, just so I could prepare myself emotionally and mentally.  I had no time to prepare for turning the corner and seeing this house.

Cubahouse
The funny thing, Dad, is that this house was within walking distance of the house where we always stay in Havana.  I had probably walked and driven by it multiple times.  But this was the moment that God chose to introduce me to my past.

Do you recognize it?  In spite of the weathered exterior, the unsightly fence, damaged roof and the overall neglect…. surely you recognize your childhood home.

I can’t describe the depth of my desire to sit down and talk with you about your life here… the very same town where we do much of our work in Cuba.  I know bits and pieces… how you went to an English school, played on the grounds of the famous Tropicana, the way you could hear the music late into the night.  I know about the humidity and the hard work of planting a church, the language that was as natural to you as English.

But Dad, I long to know what it was like for you.  Did you love Cuba the way I love Cuba?  Did it feel like home the way it feels like home to me?  Did you realize you were right in the middle of history and a brewing revolution?  Did you leave behind people you love the way I have left behind those I love?  Did you walk along the Malecon, breath taken away by the magnificent beauty of the ocean beating against the sea wall?

I had mere minutes at your house.  Some day I will go back, introduce myself to the owners and stay to soak it all in.  On October 29th, 2012, I had brief, hurried moments.  You can tell by the photos how rushed we were, what a whirlwind it all was.  But our photo, taken just steps away from your photo, is a prized possession.

Cuba cubafamily

House 3511.  In a city we both call home.

Love,

sig

 

Read Dear Dad, Letter 1 HERE!

A Gathering of Books: June 2013

RachaelReads
If you have known me long, you know how passionate I am about reading.  I go through reading spurts, but without fail, summer is my reading peak.  This summer is no exception.  We don’t have cable and rarely turn on the television.  I love to read late into the night, at the pool or during any free moments that open up.  I thought I would share with you what I have been reading this month and offer my take!
IMG_0815
IMG_0823
The first book I finished up in June was Follow Me by David Platt. I have read Radical by David Platt and his follow-up, Radical Together. Both challenged me immensely. Follow Me flows in the same vein of the Radical books. The emphasis is on our mission as followers of Christ. As we see when Jesus first calls his first disciples, becoming fishers of men is the emphasis. David Platt opens our eyes and challenges us to step into our mission to share the gospel wherever we are.

For a reason I can’t exactly pinpoint, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Radical books. Perhaps it was because of the commonalities to his previous books. If you haven’t read David Platt before, I would recommend starting with Radical or Radical Together (my favorite), then if you like those, move onto Follow Me. Radical is also a fantastic book to do as a small group series, perhaps the most life-impacting study I have done as a small group.  His video teaching sessions are a must if you decide to do this study.

IMG_0819
The next book I finished in June was Telex from Cuba.  With the extensive time I have spent in Cuba, I am fascinated with Cuban history and Cuban life.  This is historical fiction.  It is a fictional account based on life in eastern Cuba and in Havana during the revolution of the 1950’s.  I enjoyed this so much.  I can’t quite tell you what it is like reading about events that were happening at exactly the time my father was living in Havana as a teenager.  I feel connected to him in ways I never appreciated before.  But even if you aren’t a lover of Cuban history, I think you will find this novel enjoyable.

IMG_0822
I recently discovered Jonathan Martin on Rachel Held Evan’s blog post, Ask a Pentecostal.  I started listening to his sermons (which you can find here) and have been transformed by his storytelling and down-to-Earth approach to the Kingdom.  So, when I saw that he had a new book coming out, I ordered  Prototype immediately.  The book reminds me of his preaching.  He is a fantastic story-teller, and the book made me feel like I was sitting down having a conversation with a friend.  It got me thinking about how God perceives me in a way I have honestly never considered in my entire church-going life.  I gobbled the book up quickly and have been digesting it ever since.  (My boy on a bike moment?  Girl on a school bus…. looking out at God’s creation, sensing His love for me in a way I can never adequately describe.  Read the book and you will understand what those last sentences were about.)  Do yourself a favor and READ THIS!

2-book-follett-art-gdrje8u5-1book-winter-of-the-world
This book has quite a story behind it.  I have been a fan of Ken Follett since I read one of my favorite novels of all time, Pillars of the Earth.  I loved the follow-up, World Without End, almost as much.  A few years ago, he came out with part one of a three-part historical fiction series.  It was called Fall of Giants.  I am normally not at all captivated by world history (I’m a bit shamed to admit) and was skeptical about Fall of Giants taking place during World War I.  I read it anyway, and loved it almost as much as Pillars of the Earth.  I patiently waited for part two to come out (years later) and for over six months have waited for it to come out in paperback.  To my delight, I saw the book at my local library.  However, it was a 14 day rental and the book is over 900 pages.  I set a goal and started reading…..

I finished it in less than a week.  Basically, I read late into the night every night and spent a couple of days curled up in my bedroom with the book.  It did not disappoint.  Ken Follett writes epic, sweeping novels with believable, lovable characters.  I found myself intensely interested in World War II history, which is a miracle in of itself.  I highly recommend Ken Follett.  But I would start with Pillars of the Earth.

IMG_0818
I haven’t actually finished Havana Nocturne.  I started it a few nights ago, and decided to include it in my June reading list.  I don’t typically read non-fiction unless it is a Christian author.  This book has been in my bookcase for a couple of years now, though, and with my piqued interest in Cuban history, I thought it was a perfect choice for my next read.

Bible Study:

I try to never read anything at the expense of Bible study.  In my Bible in One Year app, I have been working my way through I and II Samuel, John and Acts, and continue to read through Psalms and Proverbs.  I was a little sad to finish the gospels, which are always life-altering, but Acts is a good reward.  I love reading about the early church.

Our small groups in Gathering are also doing a Bible study based entirely on the book of Malachi.

IMG_0825
What a study.  Our previous church offered Blemished as a small group study several times, and I always heard rave reviews of it.  For whatever reason, I was never able to go through the study, so I jumped at the opportunity to do it now.  I am facilitating the study at our weekly small group, which pushes me to dig a little deeper than perhaps I would otherwise.  This study forces me to look at what I offer God, my priorities and most of all, my motives.  It is eye-opening and tough and making an impact on my spiritual life.

_______________________________________________________________

There you have it!  That’s what I have been reading in June.  Even though I have an iPad, I can’t seem to let go of holding an actual book.  Anyone else feel the same way?  What are you reading these days?  I would love any recommendations. Hopefully you will get another set of book reviews at the end of July!

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
A Gathering Under the Trees
A Gathering of Links XIV

You can also follow me HERE!

What I Gather About…. the View

Five Minute Friday

It’s that time again… time for Five Minute Friday. I am joining with lots of other bloggers who will write for five minutes about one word. Today’s word… VIEW. For more information, to participate, or to read lots of great writing, check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s site.

START

The view from the roof was always my favorite.  I loved sitting up there on our plastic chairs, seeing the Cuban countryside and the rooftops of my temporary neighbors.  I loved the sun shining down on my as I hung the clothes on the line to dry in the bright, hot sun.

That view meant the world to me.

Especially the day I spoke a new language.  Oh yes, I had been learning and practicing Spanish for years… but on that day, with a rooftop view, I had the conversation that would change my life.

I spoke with my Cuban brother, Pastor Juan.  I can’t remember what we spoke about.  All I remember is that after 15 minutes or so of conversation in Spanish, I realized not one English word had passed through my head.

It was the first conversation in Spanish that flowed… no interruptions to translate from English to Spanish.

I remember being astounded.

Looking out, over this land… this country that I loved, I lifted my face to the sky and praised God.  For I had all I desired in that moment.  I was in Cuba.  I was with my Cuban friend in our Cuban home.  And finally, after so many years of books and teachers and studying and class, I spoke the language of my heart freely and without hesitation.

In that moment, I was home.  And the view was spectacular.

STOP

IMG_1235

Gathering My Thoughts on Man in 8D

I have been absent from the blog world for over a week now and have MISSED IT!  I drove my niece to New Jersey and spent the week getting her settled in her new home.  You will hear more about my trip when I have more time, but for now, I want to share with you a letter to the man I sat next to on my flight home.  Do you ever have a simple interaction with someone and leave feeling you somehow had an interaction with Jesus?  That happened to me on the plane and I wanted to share my experience with you.

Dear Man in 8D,

I must admit that I smirked at your visor.  Who wears visors anymore, anyway?  It made me smile.  You were all distinguished looking, all business in your khakis, pressed dress shirt, well-groomed hair…. then… visor.

You make the customary small talk.  “Travels going well today?” or something of the sort.

I see you, 8D.

Maybe you are tired from your long business trip, but you help me with my bags, smile genuinely and ask where I am headed.

“You like Francis Chan?” you ask when you see his name on my book.

I see you, 8D, the way you perk up, the way the light turns on when you have an open door to talk about your faith.

8D, you travel the world.  You seem to have an important job and money, but I see Jesus in your eyes.

I see Jesus in your eyes when you tell me about the sunrise over Jerusalem.  How you only had a few hours, but you rented that car, watched the sun shine its light over the city that changed our destinies.  I see how moved you were at that holy place, that sacred moment.

You seem important, 8D, but you humbly tell me about serving on the board at an inner-city mission.

I see you, 8D.

I see you when we talk of Cuba and you tell me, ever so concerned, about your friend’s daughter.  How she struggles, how she is going to Barbados on a mission and I see your hope that she will return forever changed.

You ask what I do and you respond something about “important work.’  We both work at things.

We both know which of those things are the important ones, 8D.

You tell me about Tim Keller, an author who changed your life.  I see your hunger.  I see that you are a seeker.

As the plane descends, I look out in wonder at such beauty.

I see you., 8D.

You help me with my bag again and wish me safe travels.  I wish you safe travels, too, and I like to think we both mean it in a way that goes beyond our journeys today on this plane.

I see you, 8D.

I see you and I am reminded that you are my brother.  I am reminded that you and I are just two in a kingdom full of 8Ds or 8Fs.  I forget sometimes, but you remind me that people everywhere are going through their lives, doing their best to help others with their bags, lighten the loads of others…. follow Jesus.  Thank you for that reminder, 8D.  I needed it today.

Sincerely,

Woman in 8F