Memories

The best memories from my childhood took place at my grandparents house. I’m pretty sure it was almost impossible for me to go there and not be having a good time. My mother’s parents were always such a big part of my life.

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My Grandpa has been gone for over six years now, and last week I found out my Grama doesn’t have much longer. She’s had a good, long 86 years, and mentally she is still there, but her heart is very weak, and her body is simply wearing out.

The realization that the next few days are likely the last days I will spend with my Grama on this earth, has been hard. She means so much to me, and I cannot imagine what it will be like to come back to the U.S. to visit, and not see her here. Truthfully, it makes me tear up to even think about it. She’s my last living grandparent, and the only grandparent to have ever known my kids. With her gone, it would be like a chapter of my life was over.

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If you saw her in recent years, you might see my Grama as just another frail woman sitting in a wheel chair in her nursing home, but that’s not what I see.

Here are just a few of the things I see when I go to visit my Grama…

I see catching lightning bugs with my cousins in the summer. Sleep-overs and thick shakes. Skip-bo games, and those dreaded 12’s on top of the pile. Sunday dinners with the family, and Grama is not in her seat because she is re-filling the gravy, AGAIN! I see myself dressed in my Grama’s old clothes, and trying to beat my cousin to the best clip-on earrings in Grama’s jewelry box. I taste that spaghetti that made the Italian in me cringe, but the Dutch in me smile. Those days when I’d pretend to be sick cause I knew my mom had to work, and that meant I’d end up at Grama’s getting the cheesiest grilled cheese for lunch. Begging my mom to let me ride my bike “all the way” (around the corner) to my grandparents, because I knew my Grama would have a glass of her iced tea, and Vienna finger cookies waiting for me. Crumb cake, cinnamon bread, and those amazing chocolate almond bars she knows I love so much. Those early mornings when my mom would bring us to my grandparents before school, and we’d have chocolate milk from a glass pitcher, and Cheerios with limitless spoonful’s of sugar on them. Hazy, hot and humid, Long Island Augusts that were spent cooling off in that air-conditioned house. Playing office in a closet and writing on the basement walls. Trips to Orient Point where I’d almost pray for a thunderstorm, because it meant sitting up and listening to my Grama and her sister tell old stories about growing up in New Jersey. I could go on and on…

Time has changed many things, but one thing that hasn’t changed is how much my Grama loves her family. When I first moved to El Salvador it was hard on everyone, including my Grama, but even from her nursing home she has been a big supporter of my family and our mission work. She would always tell me, (and still says) that she prays for me all the time, and her prayers have meant so much to me over the past few years. She has also helped us do a fundraiser at her home, and last year she had people donate money to our mission in her honor instead of giving her gifts at her birthday party. (Both of which you can read more about in previous posts on this blog.)

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My Grama grew up in a time when society still considered being a stay at home mom an important job, and my Grama sure took pride in her work. She would do anything for her family, and was more than happy to tell others how wonderful her kids and grandkids were. I am so thankful that my boys have been able to spend so much time with my Grama over the past years and know first hand why she is so special to me.

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They say my Grama’s heart is very weak, and I can’t help but think that it’s because she has spent so much of her life giving her heart away.

The Nike Sneakers

In July 2011, a girl went to a “Savers” used clothing store and bought a pair of used Nike sneakers. She was going on a mission trip to El Salvador in just a few weeks, and knew with all the painting and construction she’d be doing, that they would probably get very dirty. She didn’t want to spend a lot of money on shoes that would get ruined in one week, so this pair seemed perfect. During her mission trip, the shoes got concrete on the bottom from the house she helped build for a needy family, and purple paint on the toes that had dripped while painting a house for a widow. When the trip was over,  she asked if she could keep the sneakers at my house, because she knew she’d be back next summer for another mission trip. I didn’t mind, and I put them on a shelf in our storage room.

As promised, she returned the following summer, and we dug out her shoes. They still had the paint on them, but were really in good shape other than that. She wore them during the week as we handed out food and clothes to people in several different communities. By the end of the week, they were very muddy, but once again she asked if she could leave them behind, this time adding that we could clean them up, and hand them out if we found a good owner for them!

This summer about a week before returning to El Salvador once again, she messaged me to see if her sneakers were still here. They were, so shortly after arriving, she got them out of storage, and put them on. She wore them this summer as we lead VBS, played games with kids and handed out grooming items to some people in need. Before heading back to the States, she wiped off the sneakers, and said that she knew she would be back, but that she also knew someone here would need the shoes more than her, so we should try to give them away. After all, she had gotten her money’s worth, and the shoes had already been a part of years of mission work!

Last week, our friend and volunteer, Esther, had been telling me about some very needy people she knew of in her town, and in another area a few hours away. We had some food, clothes and stuffed animals that I was able to give her. In addition, we also gave her 40 pairs of shoes. Included in all the shoes, was a pair of Nike sneakers with purple paint on the toes. (The blue and white pair on the top!)photo[1]A few days after taking all the shoes, Esther, met a man in her town who was selling lemons. He asked her is she would like to buy some. Seeing the condition the man was in, she knew she would do more than buy some lemons to help him. Esther, invited him to her house, and was able to give him food, and a pair of shoes. He had come from a town that is fairly far away, and he now has a pair of Nike sneakers to wear as he heads to and from his home each day. 1000957_615003291877882_1887377549_n[1]Years ago, someone in NY donated a pair of sneakers to a Savers store. Someone else bought them and brought them to El Salvador. A house was painted. A home was built. People were clothed, fed, and taught about Jesus. Now a man has shoes to wear as he works to provide for his family.

God can use the smallest things to make a huge difference. Never feel like you don’t have enough to give, or that your small donation doesn’t mean very much. Sometimes those little things end up being the biggest blessings!

By Fifteen Years Old…

I love watching my kids play. Sure, I could do without all the hitting, biting, and fighting over the same toy, but the things they do together when they are getting along are usually pretty creative. In the past I have shared stories about my little boys pretending to hand out food to the needy, and pretending to lead VBS, they really like being a part of the mission work we do. Just a few days ago I over-heard them playing that they were going to build a new house for someone who had nowhere to live. It’s those moments, that I am so grateful for the opportunity that God has given us, not only help those in need, but also for our children to see first-hand the importance of showing God’s love to a country that has so many who hurting, and in need of a Savior.

Sadly, there are also times that I find my kids playing things that I wish they didn’t know about at 2 and 3 years old. A couple of weeks ago I found my older son with his arms behind his back, and my younger one was tying a bandana around his wrists. I asked them what this game was, and I was told that the younger one was “being the bad guy, who ties up people”. I was confused, so I asked some more questions, and was told, “you know the bad guys who have the really big guns, and their trucks have red and blue lights”. A cop? I was shocked that he thought those were the “bad guys”! When I asked why he thought they were bad, he said because he always “sees the other guys trying to move and get away, and the police take them and put their hands like that even though they don’t like it”. I tried to explain that the police were the good guys, and the other guys did some thing wrong, which is why they have to put their hands like that. I think it finally clicked for them when I said that grown-ups don’t have naughty chairs, when they do something bad, they have to go with the police. After our talk I asked where they saw the police taking the guys like that, and my 3-year-old said “on the show Papi watched after dinner”. The news.

Generally, we do not watch the news until after the boys are in bed. There are too many graphic pictures of dead bodies laying in the street, or videos of “bad guys” being taken to jail. It’s not really something I want my kids to see or be aware of at their young ages.

A few weeks ago I heard a few things on the news that really stuck with me, mostly because they bothered me so much.

One was that there are roughly 20,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 in gangs in El Salvador. In a country that is only about the size of Massachusetts, that is a large amount of youth. No wonder why we are constantly seeing pictures of gang members being taken by the police, and the bloody bodies of their victims. It’s a huge problem in this country, and the reason why our homicide rate per capita is among the highest in the world.

I also heard another pretty shocking statistic. In the poorest communities of El Salvador, 1 in 5 girls will have a baby by the time she is 15. We have seen this first-hand in some of the areas where we work. There have been times that we have handed young girls a toy, only to have them turn around and say, “no, I need food for my family”. It’s shocking to me to think of these girls who are so young being mothers, but it happens very often here. In fact, 30% of all babies are born to girls between the ages 10-18. TEN YEARS OLD and a mother! Just think about that!IMG_0083

Facts like these are the reason why so many of the activities that Hope and a Future Missions offers are geared toward kids. Programs like soccer camp and VBS are usually filled with kids between the ages of 2-14, but the majority of the kids are usually about 9-13 years old. This is such a critical age for these kids, because based on the statistics, by 15 years old many of them will find themselves becoming parents, or a member of a gang. I truly believe that is why God has placed it on our hearts to reach out to these kids, and show them that there are better options for their future. To teach them that they can be a part of God’s family, instead of the MS-13 family. That Jesus loves them even when it feels like no one else does, and that He cares for each one of them.996847_485510474850422_2144464520_n[1]

My kids may see things on TV that I wish they didn’t, but for many of these kids, they face things like violence and gangs on a daily basis. It’s not just something they saw on the news, it’s their families on the news and in those situations. It is our prayer that we might be able to bring hope to these kids and their families. We pray that we will be able to teach them about Christ, and show them the love of Jesus in all that we do in their communities. Even if one life is changed, and one heart is opened to Christ, it is well worth it.

Honoring Our Fathers

If you walk down the streets of my town, one thing you are sure to see are moms. They are everywhere…making pupusas on the side of the road, selling breads from a basket on their head or sitting with a wheelbarrow full of fruits to sell. You know these ladies are moms, because they are surrounded by kids. They are feeding their newborns while they sell that fruit, and keeping an eye on their toddlers while they flip those pupusas. I recently saw a lady selling tamales, while her daughter, who was about a year old, sat in a small cardboard box behind her. These moms work hard. Watching them work while trying to care for their kids can make you wonder, where are all the dads?

Unfortunately, it is not that uncommon here, for a mom to have a half a dozen kids, with no father in the picture. Their reasons for leaving can vary. Some men decide that the things they want are more important than the needs of their families. They leave, and never give it another thought. For other fathers, the needs of their families are so great that they have to leave the country in order to provide for them. The only way that these dads can make sure that their families have food on the table, is to forfeit being at the table with them.

A man’s reasons for leaving their families can be selfish, or selfless, but either way, their children are effected by it. The absence of fathers, and the break-down of families is very evident in El Salvador. It can been seen in young boys who look to gang members to be their role models, or in young girls who run away with men, hoping to find a father figure. It’s sad really, that the impact of not having a father can be so devastating.

In the United States, society is still in denial about the importance of fathers.

I know that there are situations where a mother is single, and it cannot be helped. Many of these moms are strong, loving parents. Likewise, there are some great single dads out there, and I’m in no way trying to put them down.

I am talking about people pretending that whatever boyfriend a mom has this week is a good enough role model for her kids, or suggesting that having two moms is equal to a child having a mom and a dad. This is not the way families were designed to be, yet society would like us to believe that they are “just as good”. Sadly in doing this, it’s like saying that fathers are no longer necessary, or important.

God’s word has a very different view on the role of fathers. In the fifth commandment we are reminded to honor our fathers, and there are still fathers out there who are worthy not only of honor, but respect.

Growing up I was blessed with a hard-working, Godly, father. All my life he has worked to provide for his family, and teach his children about the Lord. My children have also been blessed with a loving, Christian father. There is nothing that my dad wouldn’t do for me, and nothing that my husband wouldn’t do for our sons. They are two men that truly deserve to be honored.

In my opinion, if society would start reminding people how important and irreplaceable fathers are, more men may want to live lives that are honorable. I know no one could ever replace my father or my husband. This Father’s day, I want them to know that they are respected, and honored, and I want to thank them for living in a way that is worthy of respect and honor!

Training My Spanglish Children

A few days ago, I saw my two and three-year old sons playing a little game. My older boy, Chito, was picking up all the toys that were on the floor, and putting them into a bag. At first I thought he was attempting to clean up, but I quickly realized he was just getting ready to play something he had in mind, with the toys. Once everything was in the bag, he threw it over his shoulder, and walked over to his little brother, Marquez, who was pretending to cry. Chito opened the bag, took out a toy, and gave it to Marquez, who immediately stopped “crying” and then gave Chito and hug, and yelled, “Gracias” as Chito walked away with the rest of the toys. For about ten minutes I watched them take turns being the one with the toys, and the one who was sad.

I was laughing, thinking, “Santa? Boys, its June!” Then I asked, “Are you boys pretending it’s Navidad?” Chito said, “NOOO Mami” and went on to explain what the game really was.

My kids speak 100% Spanglish, which can be hard to follow if you don’t speak both English, and Spanish, so here is the English version of what he told me:

“We are playing that there are sad kids crying, because they don’t have any toys, and we are taking turns being like Mami and Papi, and bringing toys to them. Then they are happy and give us a hug and say thanks!”

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That’s when I stopped laughing and tried to hold back my tears. My two little boys haven’t even started school yet, but they have learned things that a lot of adults still don’t know. They have seen more poverty in their two and three years than most Americans will see in their lifetimes. They understand that there are people who are hurting, and need our help.

My kids have watched us, and been a part of our mission work since they were infants. They get excited to see pictures of kids wearing their old clothes, or to play with the kids in the needy communities where we work. My boys know a little bit about what we do here, but they still don’t understand that they are not like most kids here.

They don’t know that most people don’t have a house like we do, or that some kids don’t have a tv to watch. When they complain about their dinner, we are quick to remind them of all the kids who are hungry, but it’s hard for them to really know what that means at this point. My kids are just starting to understand that most people do not speak Spanish and English, but they still constantly mix the two when they talk to people. They know that they are “Salvadoreños” and “Americans”, but they have no idea how important that is.

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Right now my boys are “Spaniglish” in every sense of the word. Not just in the way they talk or the foods they eat, but in the way they think. They love everything about both of their cultures. One day they will grow up though, and their eyes will be opened to see the flaws in both of their countries. They will see the huge difference between the country where they were born, and they country where they live. It will become clear to them, why they are so blessed to be dual citizens. Right now they just know that they love to visit family in America and they love to live in El Salvador, but one day they will understand that most people can not come and go like they can.

I pray that when that day comes, they won’t forget all the things that they have seen. Years from now, I hope that the idea of helping sad kids is still something that they long to do. When it finally hits them just how blessed they are, I pray that they will remember those who are not, and do what they can to help them.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

On one hand, I wish my kids didn’t have to see such poverty, and hurt at such a young age. On the other hand, I’m glad that they know that there are children who have no toys, so they will appreciate their’s a little more. They are in “training”, and I’m thankful that they already understand that it is important to help them others, because that is what Jesus has called us to do.

Sunny Days and Rainy Nights

I am mom to two very active little boys. At 2 and 3 years old, they are always playing and running around. The older they get, it seems the less time they want to spend cuddling with me in the hammock, or giving me hugs for no reason. Every once in a while they might come over and need me to kiss an “ouchie”, or want to drink a sippy cup by me, but once they spot a toy to play with, or a tv show they want to see, they are off!

Where we live, May is the start of our rainy season. For about six months straight it rains almost every night. Hard rain on our tin roof, mixed with thunder and lightning, is a guarantee that we’ll have some little visitors in our bed!

The other night as it was thundering, my 3-year-old told me that he needed to come in my bed, because he was scared. He laid down real close to me, and I put my arm around him. A few minutes later he whispered, “I’m not scared anymore, because mami has me!” A little later, I thought he was sleeping, and I moved my arm. He quickly grabbed it and put it around him again. He need to know I was there next to him as he fell asleep.

Isn’t it funny how during the day he is too busy doing his own thing to let me hold him, but all it takes is some loud rain at night, and he wants to be close to me. He wants to feel my arms around him, and know that he is safe, and that I will take care of him.

As I was laying there next to my son, I couldn’t help thinking that sometimes I act the same way in my relationship with God. When things are going well, and everything is “sunny”, it’s easy to feel like I don’t need to spend as much time with God. Sure, I’ll stop by and say a prayer, or maybe ask or thank Him for something specific going on in my life, but I don’t always focus on Him. Then those “rain clouds” move in, and I realize just how much I need Him. Suddenly, I need to feel His arms around me. I need to be reminded that He is near.

It’s sad that sometimes, it takes those tough times, for me to remember that God is there. Just like when I ask my boys to come and sit with me, or want them to take a break from playing, God is there wanting to spend time with us. He’s there, in the good and  bad times, but sadly, sometimes I let every day life get in my way of spending time with Him. 

Next time that I’m watching my boys play, and thinking about how much I want to be close to them, and spend time with them, maybe it will remind me that God wants the same things from me. He wants me to spend time with in His word, and talking to Him, and I need to be as close to Him on good days as I am on days when I am worried, or afraid.   

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Greater Things Are Still To Be Done In This City

There is something about hearing a hymn or worship song that I know in English, being sung in Spanish that gets me every time. If you have never been in a church service that was in a different language, it’s a feeling that is hard to explain, but each time it hits me like a ton of bricks, that there are Christians, all over the world! Sometimes on sunday mornings I can’t help thinking about my church in the U.S.singing in English, the same song we are singing here in Spanish, and churches meeting underground praising God with the same song in their languages. It’s really neat to think about, and it’s a sure way to make you feel really small. For me it’s a reminder that I am one of millions of Christians in this world, but some how God still cares for me, and knows my name, and loves me! It’s an amazing thing to think about!

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Last sunday, I had that moment while we were singing, “God of this City”:

“Grandes cosas vienen ya,
Grandes cosas Dios hará en este pueblo”

It seemed to be a really fitting song, because in the days before, I had just finished planning a bunch of things, and finalizing 2 of our 3 mission trips that will be taking place this summer. There are so many exciting things that we will be blessed to be a part of over this summer, and we are confident that:

“Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city”

We are looking forward to seeing what God has planned for us, and what doors He will open for us this summer!