28 October 2008

Dance Revelation

I dance to the tune of Your revelation.” Psalm 119:70 (The Message)

Yesterday, my friend Courtney and I enjoyed an afternoon together. She is part of a rare breed who doesn’t find it unusual that I attribute stories to virtually everything in the stores where we shop (“oh look, that chair looks like it lived in a corner in a sweet old grandma’s house” or “this smell is our wedding ceremony” or “that ring is very Guido-glass feeling, as if it should live on the pinky of an artsy Mafia man.”) She understands my desire to purchase things that aren’t perfect, out of a concern that they will be sent to some real “land of misfit toys.” And she lets me dance.

I’m not sure when I first felt the rhythm, first had that need to move. I can remember always moving. I close my eyes and see my mom and me in the family room, dancing together to the tunes of Herb Alpert or Herman’s Hermits. One of the most precious moments tucked away in my mind is of my dad and me on the dance floor at a Christmas dinner. I had on red velvet and he was in a dark suit. We danced to big band music on the parquet dance floor as the restaurant revolved around us. And I was a princess, with buck teeth and glasses and stick-thin legs.

Dance is a natural response to me. A response of joy, of pain, of happiness, of sorrow, of freedom. It is quite spontaneous. It happens without much thought, without any planning. It just comes, starting ever-so-gently as a response to the revelation. That revelation could be song or spoken word, a gentle breeze or a powerful thunderstorm – or the beauty in complete and utter silence. All have a rhythm and a rhyme. All have harmony and dissonance. All are dear to me. Because the Lord uses all to reveal Himself to me.

I dance to the tune of Your revelation.

On March 15, 2000, I danced as the tears streamed down my face. Only 20 minutes earlier, I had gotten the call from my mother-in-law that my mom was drawing near death. Doctors said it would be a few hours. I rushed to get things together to drive to the hospital to spend those last moments with her. But the second phone call came. “She opened her eyes, looked up and smiled, and…” And I danced. Because at that moment, in an instant, she was changed. She was healed. She was perfect. No more cancer, no more pain, no more struggle. And as the tears fell, I could hear so clearly:

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and( this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory?O death, where is your sting?" – 1 Corinthians 15:53-55 ESV

The God who created the universe reveals Himself through it, through the good times and the bad. Through death and through Christmas dances. Through shopping and friends. And His revelation lets me dance.

22 October 2008


The following is an exerpt from an email conversation I had with a wonderful person who has been an encouragement as I wage war with the voices that whisper "inadequate" and "unwanted."

I do know what my Father says about who I am in Him. But in the thick of battle, that precious Voice can certainly be drowned out by the noise.

James 1 has become so fresh to me in all this - the entire chapter. I've read it before in pieces, but never in the whole. And the words resonate beautifully. I'm using the Philips translation here - another one of my favorites for studying the New Testament:

James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, sends greetings to the twelve dispersed tribes.When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God - who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty - and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God's help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn. The brother who is poor may be glad because God has called him to the true riches. The rich may be glad that God has shown him his spiritual poverty. For the rich man, as such, will wither away as surely as summer flowers. One day the sunrise brings a scorching wind; the grass withers at once and so do all the flowers - all that lovely sight is destroyed. Just as surely will the rich man and all his extravagant ways fall into the blight of decay. The man who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy man. For once his testing is complete he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to all who love him. A man must not say when he is tempted, "God is tempting me." For God has no dealings with evil, and does not himself tempt anyone. No, a man's temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive. His own desire takes hold of him, and that produces sin. And sin in the long run means death - make no mistake about that, brothers of mine! But every good endowment that we possess and every complete gift that we have received must come from above, from the Father of all lights, with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency. By his own wish he made us his own sons through the Word of truth that we might be, so to speak, the first specimens of his new creation.In view of what he has made us then, dear brothers, let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue, and slow to lose his temper. For man's temper is never the means of achieving God's true goodness.Have done, then, with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. Don't I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves. The man who simply hears and does nothing about it is like a man catching the reflection of his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, it is true, but he goes on with whatever he was doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person he saw in the mirror. But the man who looks into the perfect mirror of God's law, the law of liberty (or freedom), and makes a habit of so doing, is not the man who sees and forgets. He puts that law into practice and he wins true happiness. If anyone appears to be "religious" but cannot control his tongue, he deceives himself and we may be sure that his religion is useless. Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

I want to fully understand what it means to embrace trials and temptations as "friends," to lean in so fully to the Lord that I have complete confidence and boldness to ask anything, knowing He will answer. I want to don’t want my tongue to wag with meaningless words that are not backed up by actions. I want to rejoice in my spiritual poverty, and want to fully understand the riches bestowed on those who seem forgotten or cast aside. One thing I am thankful of in the midst of all this is that I serve a Lord who isn't finished with me yet - and who delights in refining and perfecting me.

Slow Me Down

In this new season of my life, I am finding meaning in small things. Thanks to a friend who reminded me last night that "busy" - just like idleness - is the enemy of the divine. This song has taken on a new meaning for me, and I thought I would post the lyrics. Written and performed by Emmy Rossum. Thank God for His patience and kindness and love as He works His perfect purpose in our lives.

Rushing and racing and running in circles
Moving so fast I'm forgetting my purpose
Blur of the traffic is sending me spinning
Getting nowhere
My head and my heart are colliding chaotic
Pace of the world I just wish I could stop it
Try to appear like I've got it together
I'm falling apart
Save me
Somebody take my hand and lead me
Slow me down

Don't let love pass me by
Just show me how
Cause I'm ready to fall
Slow me down
Don't let me live a lie
Before my life flies by
I need you to slow me down

Sometimes I fear that I might disappear
In the blur of fast forward I falter again
Forgetting to breathe
I need to sleep
I'm getting nowhere
All that I've missed I see in the reflection
Pass me while I wasn't paying attention
Tired of rushing, racing and running
I'm falling apart
Tell me
Oh won't you take my hand and lead me
Slow me down

Don't let love pass me by
Just show me how
Cause I'm ready to fall
Slow me down
Don't let me live a lie
Before my life flies by
I need you to slow me down
Just show me
I need you to slow me down
Slow me down
Slow me down

The noise of the world is getting me caught up
Chasing the clock and I wish I could stop it
Just need to breathe
Somebody please
Slow me down

06 October 2008

The first. Ever.

Friday, 3 October 2008

It was another early morning, as we drug our suitcases back over the muddy trails to the waiting buses and trucks. Breakfast was at McDonalds (and though I'm not a big partaker of the restaurant in the states, it was GOOD to have the same great hotcakes and sausage in Guatemala). We then boarded the vans for another first - a visit to a school in a remote mountain village near the Honduran border. One of Buckner's in-country staff has befriended a pastor who visits the school each week to minister to the kids and teach. We are the first North American visitors to the school.

The climb up the mountain was unlike anything I had experienced on a trip - it was rugged and treacherous and steep, and at one point our van began sliding back down the water-covered rocks and dirt.

We finally reached the remote village of Petante, Camotan, where the two-room school was nestled in trees and brush. The village is extremely poor and primitive, and the curiosity of both the children and adults was clear. I can't imagine what the children must have thought when we emerged from the vans - all pale and tall and odd-looking. They were shy, but it didn't take long for the smiles to emerge. They warmed up when the guys pulled out their guitars and began to sing. They listened intently as Lolly and Jean told the story of creation. And when we began distributing new shoes to them, the joy was evident.

Many mothers with small children and babies came to the school when they heard of our visit - and the blue bag of baby shoes Carmen had been carrying with her all week was put to good use. The bag was opened, and there were enough shoes for each baby - all in the right sizes!

While we were at the school, rain began to fall. "No Lord, not yet," I said out loud. "Just a bit longer, OK?" Jenny walked up, and after hearing my concern about rain-soaked mountain roads, said "absolutely - pray!" God was so kind - the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. What a delightful gift!

We trekked back down the steep mountain, and started our journey west to Guatemala City. Our final stop was to be the Buckner Baby Home. But as we drove toward the darkening skies, we received a call that mudslides were making many of the roads impassable - our trip was likely to be difficult and long. And our visit to the home would be cancelled. Fortunately, the road we were on was not impacted by the slides (though we could see on the mountains the red-brown streaks that looked like someone had gouged the land away). Our trip took more than 5 hours. But as in all things, we were blessed with a special surprise at the end of the journey - the decision was made to visit the home after all. Seeing the children who live at the home again was good medicine. Cristal (a little girl with a severe digestive disorder who did not want to be touched or held when she was first found) laughed and talked and hugged each of us. Juan Pablo (a boy who was burned severely when a relative poured hot grease on him) greeted us with smiles. Milagro (a baby with a heart condition who was found in a dumpster) snuggled with Stacey and fell asleep in her arms. Jose (a sweet deaf boy who is new to the home) held my hand and grinned when I signed "I love you" to him. Steven, Dana, and Giles became human jungle gyms for the rowdy boys. The children at the Buckner home are thriving, growing healthy, and are happy. If only little Jose and Edmund from Zacapa could be there...

We said our goodbyes and drove to the Vista Real, where we ate dinner together and told of sweet moments we had encountered throughout the week. The rain poured down outside. We talked about the faces of the children, talked about the bus rides and the street vendors and the towns and the new friends we had met and the need for even more ministry to widows and orphans. We talked about both hopelessness and hope. And the tally was shared - 5 cities in 5 days, 703 miles, 739 pairs of shoes, 45 hours in buses and vans to visit 5 orphanages, 1 school, 1 babies home, and 1 widows home. There were four firsts - the first visit by Buckner to Ascension SOS in Xela and to the widows home in Antigua, and the first visit ever by North Americans to the school in Petante, Comotan. The final first was especially meaningful to me – it was the first trip to be hosted by a musical artist, Geoff Moore. His love and passion for the poor and needy is evident. His challenge to those of us called to serve is powerful. I’m thankful and humbled to call him my friend.

Tomorrow we depart - Mark, Giles, Kelly, Laura, Edie, Sheila, Lolly, Stacey, Courtney, Terry, Charles, Jonathan, Georgia, Jean, Dana, Carmen, Bonnie, Courtney, Katie, John, Steven, Ben, Jenny, and me. It's been an exhausting, exhilerating, heart-wrenching journey. This is good. Very good.

I'll close with more lyrics from my Guatemalan soundtrack. These are courtesy of Nichole Nordeman:

oh, great god, be small enough to hear me now
there were times when i was crying from the dark of daniel's den
and i have asked you once or twice if you would part the sea again
but tonight i do not need a fiery pillar in the sky
just wanna know you're gonna hold me if i start to cry
oh, great god, be small enough to hear me now
oh, great god, be close enough to feel you now
there have been moments when i could not face goliath on my own
and how could i forget we've marched around our share of jerichos
but i will not be setting out a fleece for you tonight
just wanna know that everything will be alright
oh great god, be close enough to feel you now
all praise and all honor be
to the god of ancient mysteries
whose every sign and wonder
turn the pages of our history
but tonight my heart is heavy and i cannot keep from whispering this prayer
"are you there?"

and i know you could leave writing on the wall thats just for me
or send wisdom while i'm sleeping, like in solomon's sweet dreams
but i don't need the strength of samson or a chariot in the end
just want to know that you still know how many hairs are on my head
oh great god, be small enough to hear me now

Carmen and I have dates in Heaven.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

When I picture Heaven, several images are conjured up in my mind. I see the brilliant blue waters of Petite St Vincent and the southern Caribbean, the crystalline snow and majestic mountains of the Rockies in the winter, and the fragrant flowers, lush greenery and towering volcanoes of Antigua, Guatemala.
Thursday morning, after breakfast, said our goodbyes to Geoff and Jeff (who were heading back to the states early so Geoff could attend the wedding of Emily Chapman – an angel on this earth), we headed to the widows' home in Antigua - a first for Buckner. It was near the mercado, and like Manchen, was in a non-descript walled facility that one could easily pass without noticing. The home was small, with rooms circling a center courtyard. The decorations were sparse, and some of the sleeping rooms were more like alcoves. Bedding was worn and frayed, and the smells reminded me more of a nursery.
The residents were simply beautiful there. Most had either walkers or wheelchairs, and all were excited to receive guests. They were brought to the courtyard to visit - even a woman who was bedfast. Yes, they simply wheeled her bed to the area. One woman, 102 years of age, spent time with the team sharing her stories and her love for the Lord. And several of us fell in love with a "younger man" (in his 70s) who used to be a builder and was an amazing artist. We provided him Crayons, markers and map pencils. He thanked us over and over again, kissed our faces, and gave Courtney one of his sketches.Steven, Giles and Dana played for the residents, and we all sang. The morning was sunny and bright, and the experience was simple and joy-filled. We worshiped in the flower-filled courtyard, surrounded by beautiful faces filled with character and stories. A volcano peeked through the clouds overheard.
We learned that the owner and founder of the home is a doctor with a passion for elder care. He has won several awards for his innovative practices, and the care provided his residents is excellent. Best of all, he is also a professional wrestler - his name is "The Specialist."
We left the home and boarded the bus again for the LONG journey west to Zacapa. While the roads improved greatly and the landscape looked similar, the difference in the temperature was stark – southeastern Guatemala is hot and arid. Arriving in Zacapa, we went straight to the orphanage to visit with the children. The facilities are taking on a familiar "feel," with cinder block walls, "dormitories," and a courtyard area for recreation. The children at the orphanage in Zacapa range in age from infant to 16, and like before, special needs children are mainstreamed. The oppression is evident at the orphanage, and Courtney and I came upon the "discipline" wall that features the name of each child, along with a color-coded guide to behavior. There were a number of "red" children at Zacapa - those who had either sexually or physically abused another child or had vandalized property (primarily by fire).
Like the other orphanages, Zacapa had few caregivers. This was most apparent in the nursery. It was a hot, stuffy place - cribs framing the walls, no rockers or gliders (or even chairs), few toys. The babies cried for attention, cried to leave - one even cried himself to sleep as he peeked under the heavy metal doors at the courtyard outside. Two particular boys, Jose and Edmund, captured the hearts of both Carmen and me. Jose is just under a year old, but is smaller than most babies half his age. He came to the orphanage when he was 3 months of age, healthy and strong. Now he is frail, and cannot sit up or crawl. He only has two teeth. He is alert and responsive, but his body shows his failure to thrive. Without special care, he will die. Edmund has hydrocephalus and is blind. He is 2, and also cannot hold his head up or walk. He, like Jose, needs special care or he will also die. Neither boy can hold a bottle or feed themselves - and the caregivers simply do not have the time to provide for them. So they are placed on a blue mat on the floor, near the metal door but out of the traffic flow.
Carmen and I held our two sweet baby boys, and talked to them about Heaven. When I mentioned to Edmund that he would have a date with Carmen someday, he responded with a giggle. It was magical.
Thursday night, in the ever-present rain, we ventured to our hotel - and oh, what a hotel it was. I am convinced that our hotels were used to either inspire or "level" us. And the hotel in Zacapa was a great "leveler." The facility was dark and run-down, and the layout was so confusing that most of us got lost as we walked in the pouring rain, following the muddy trails and dragging our suitcases behind us. Mosquitoes, lizards, and cats joined together as an odd welcoming committee for us. Jenny, Courtney and I opted to sleep in the same room (so Jenny wouldn't have to sleep alone), and chose Jenny's room because the tile on her floor seemed a smarter idea than the heavily soiled carpet in ours. We also brought the extra bed linens over, hoping the additional bedspreads would help provide more warmth. Yes, warmth. While Zacapa was very hot, the air conditioners in the room were freezing. Turning them off, however, resulted in an instant sauna in the hotel rooms. So we hunkered down with our thin cotton sheets and bedspreads, did our best to ignore the car horns and loud voices outside, and slept a few hours.
Friday would be a first - for us, for Buckner, for a school.

A sigh-filled day.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

We ate breakfast by the pool this morning. Thank goodness it was an indoor pool, because the rain hasn’t stopped in Xela. Our destination today? Antigua.

On the plane to Guatemala, we watched “The Bucket List.” And I wondered what would be on my list were I to make one. Certainly there would be a visit to Virginia, where my mom was born, just to stand and close my eyes and inhale the scent of the woods outside her family farm. Telling people I loved them with reckless abandon would be somewhere on the list. And there would definitely be a trip to Antigua where I could stay long enough to take in all the beauty.

Edward Cole: I envy people who have faith, I just can't get my head around it. Carter Chambers: Maybe because your head's in the way.

Sorry, that was just a bit of dialogue for those who haven’t seen the movie. It’s got a great message.

We followed the same road we had taken the day before, but this time it didn’t seem quite so long. Courtney and I had purchased CDs at the mall in Xela, and several folks burned playlists for us to listen to in the van. It was a great plan. But once again, our efforts were foiled – this time because someone had stolen the faceplace off the CD player. So if we weren’t accelerating and if you listened VERY carefully, you could hear the awesome music that we had planned to share. Sigh.

We arrived in Antigua around noon, and were promptly dropped off at the Mercado for some shopping. The place is a couple of blocks long, and is an explosion of color. We laughed at the line of the day – “For you I make good deal. No business.” Thankfully, Manuel was our official negotiator, and made sure we found the best deals. Courtney even got a wooden giraffe. Yes, a giraffe.

Shopping was followed by lunch and a meeting about our afternoon plans. McDonald’s was the destination of choice, but there is something special about a fast food joint housed in a centuries-old building. And this McDonald’s featured a McInternet area and a McCafe bar (complete with coffee, chai, and pastries). Despite the beauty, it was still McDonald’s. Another sigh.

We traveled down the narrow cobblestone streets to Manchen, a girls home across the street from a women’s prison. I had been to Manchen in February, but wasn’t ready for what we found when we arrived. There were more than 140 girls at the home, a record number. The number of young mothers had also increased – with more and more stories of incest and rape. As in most of the facilities, those with special needs were blended with the others. And the needs here were different - there were a lot of psychological challenges, a lot of developmental delays.

I fell in love with one girl in particular. Her name is Josabeth, and I believe she’s in her mid-teens. She’s observant and bright, and made it a point to help us pick up all the supplies after the girls decorated frames for their photos. She sang so tenderly during music time, and shared with me how much she loved God. She had a maturity missing in many of the girls. Josabeth has so much potential. Unfortunately, she’s not a candidate for the Buckner transition home. She has been classified by Guatemalan specialists as developmentally delayed – and at present, those kids aren’t eligible for the transition services Buckner provides. If I could, I would bring her home. Yet another sigh.

I also can't forget about Stefani. This 14-year old was 7 month pregnant. She felt unattractive, and the shoes she was provided for her swelling feet didn't help. But Courtney and I had just wast the doctor ordered. We had packed an extra pair of pink Converse shoes, complete with floral pattern and fuschia stars on the sides. Court and I have dubbed ourselves the "big feet gals." And we knew there would be a girl in Guatemala who could join the club. We're proud to announce Stefani as the newest (and prettiest) member!
As the day ended, we packed up our supplies and headed to our hotel. I had visited Santo Domingo and Vista Real in Antigua, and didn’t think anything could be nicer than those hotels – that is, until we entered La Porte. It was idyllic, with lush gardens and pools.
We enjoyed a wonderful meal followed by a most unique concert/sharing time led by Geoff and Dana. And then a few of us – Carmen, Dana, Geoff, Katie, Courtney and me – ventured out to enjoy the last night with Geoff before he returned to Nashville. I can still hear Carmen’s laughter echoing through the cobblestone streets. What a joy-filled night. Final sigh.

Excerpt from "Libertad" by Pacifika

Of all the gifts you’ve given me
The greatest one has been silence
I’m a kitten climbing up the tree
Inspecting one more mystery, I’m falling
From the thought of my life if you should stay
There’s no point to this life if we don’t risk it all away


I tried to run away from you but in the end
I feel I’ve gone nowhere
My feet are firmly planted on your ground
And I’ve discovered I’m growing
And the fruit of my actions has gotta be shared
‘cuz the freedom you’ve given me has brought me here



Tuesday, 30 September 2008

My fan broke. For you who don’t know me, you may not understand the unfathomable depth of that sentence. You see, I sleep with a fan – all the time. I am addicted to white noise – it’s my sedative. So, again, my fan broke (moment of silence – bad, uncomfortable, sleepless silence). When I pulled it out of the suitcase last night and things “clanked” inside it, Courtney and I knew it wasn’t a good sign. And when I turned it on and smelled a nasty burned smell, I pouted.

We tried sleeping with the television turned on, sound low enough to be indistinguishable but high enough to be noise. But it didn’t work well. And when Courtney started laughing in the middle of the night about a most unattractive photo that had been taken of her at San Gabriel (out of courtesy to the children, I have not posted it), I knew it was over.

Needless to say, 5am came early. But with enough caffeine and sugar in a body, one can get perky quickly. So when the bus departed at 7am for Xela, I was ready for whatever the day would bring. And the day brought much.

Several of us piled into the van, in the hopes of listening to some music (you see, in February, we had found an ‘80s station that resulted in hours of karaoke fun). But alas, the radio was broken. So we each pulled out our respective musical selections, donned our earbuds, and settled in for the long trip to Xela. The actual name of the town is Quezaltenango, and it’s located in the Sierra Madre mountains. The ride there was at times treacherous due to an inordinate amount of road construction and several landslides. Several people, including my sweet Courtney, took Dramamine to keep from getting carsick. It worked, and she slept like a log while I looked outside at the patchwork farms on the sides of the mountains, the tiny villages dotting the horizon, and those mountains that seem to split the skies and disappear into the heavens. I found my theme song, "Libertad," by Pacifika. It made for a perfect soundtrack.

Guatemalans are very resourceful people, as we discovered on the road. Each time road construction or landslides would force traffic to a creep, they were there – the street vendors. Cokes, pastries, souvenirs, cell phone chargers – all just outside your car window. At one bend in the road, several women were roasting corn. Brilliant use of a bad situation.

We arrived in Xela later than expected, and were taken to a mall for lunch. Pollo Campero, Dominos and Taco Bell awaited us. I opted for the last – and refuse to allow the experience to taint my view. It’s just not the same without lettuce, tomatoes, and Fire sauce (the girl behind the counter looked at us like we were crazy when we asked for “Fuego.”)

After lunch, we traveled to our first orphanage. Ascension SOS is a beautiful little place, with one housemom to every nine children. This was Buckner’s first visit to the orphanage, and the reception was amazing. The people here in Xela are mostly from Mayan descent, with strong features and jet black hair. The children had been bathed and powdered and dressed in their finest for the occasion. We sang with them, took lots of photos, and then distributed the shoes. The time was brief but rich.

Our next stop was to the Hogar Temporal de Quetzaltenango. The facility was old and dirty, and more than 100 children crowded around to meet us. Many had special needs, including a number in wheelchairs. Jeff called out to me, “Ronne, he’s here!” as he brought a young man named Juan Carlos out to see me. Juan Carlos had disappeared from San Gabriel in February, after Geoff, Dana and I had had the chance to spend time with him. To see him here, more than 5 hours away from the other orphanage, was bittersweet. He had only been at the home for 4 months, which meant he had either tried to return home or had lived on the street for a while. He seemed more mature, more reserved.

Geoff, Carmen, Jeff, Courtney, Katie, Bonnie and I settled into the “shoe room,” along with Manuel, Edwin, and Berta. Courtney spent time getting shoes ready while I videoed and photographed Carmen as she delivered special shoes she had carried with her. These shoes were donated by children in Florida, and today several pairs would find their “homes.” The children streamed into the room, as we pulled off worn shoes and socks and replaced them with new. The staff reminded each child to say “thank you” for their gifts as we rushed to provide care to so many children.

I glanced over my shoulder to the back of the room, where Courtney sat with a young girl named Lari in her arms – both were weeping. The picture was so hauntingly beautiful. I learned later that Lari had asked Courtney to be her mom.

Tonight, we walked around the town square in the pouring rain. We saw the tributes to the man who led the fight for Guatemala’s independence. We stepped into a Catholic mass – just for a moment – and drank in the beauty of the cathedral. And back at the hotel, I downloaded “Relax” for my iPhone. Sleep came quickly as we drifted off to the sounds of “Under the Sea.”

Blue and Gray and Red.

MONDAY, 29 September 2008

Day 1: Guatemala City. We awoke this morning to birds and sunshine peeking through clouds. The Vista Real hotel is a lovely sanctuary from the congestion and noise of this city. And we get two nights in a row here – before we start our hopscotch journey through the country.

At breakfast, we meet the rest of our team. Giles and Kelly are from Fayetteville, NC, where he is worship pastor for their church. Jonathan and Georgia are from Michigan – they adopted a child from Guatemala and want to see his native country. Pastor Mark and his crew from First Baptist San Marcos, Texas, are there – including Lolly, Pat, Charles, Terry and Sheila. Courtney Austin (not to be confused with Courtney FROM Austin) is from Alabama. She and Stacey, from Washington, DC, had the longest journey to Guatemala – courtesy of flight delays and mechanical problems. Jean is a nurse from Florida who has done medical missions. Edie and Laura have been on many trips before – but count this one as particularly special.

We meet our in-country staff - Amed, Manuel (guitarist in the band Mosquito Farm), Ana, Roberto, Edwin, Berta, and Estuardo - as well as the young men at the Buckner transition home who will be working with us - Chepe, Oscar, Jorge, Sergio, William. We prepare our bags for the visits to the orphanages – supplies, treats, and of course, shoes. We then meet to review the plans for the week and to get to know everyone just a bit better. We’re reminded of customs and foods and safety. And we’re reminded of our purpose – to make life a little better for orphans and at-risk kids.

We leave the hotel and venture to Eliza Martinez, a boys home. There are more than 35 boys in residence there – many with special needs. The rooms are cramped and hot, and the rain makes for an oppressive atmosphere. But the smiles are everywhere as we walk in. These boys know Buckner, and have been asking all week when we will be there. The time flies by as we talk about God’s unique and personal love for each of them and deliver those shoes. We find Alfredo and his little brother Isaias there - Geoff and Alfredo became good buddies in February. The two boys are from a family of 7 kids - and they are the only two who were relegated to live in an orphanage. They're bright and polite - and they deserve a loving family.

After lunch (Pollo Campero – the official chicken of Guatemala) and a little shopping with my buddy Jorge (from the Buckner transition home), we wind through the streets and back roads to San Gabriel, a former juvenile prison that has been transformed into a boys home. The exterior has been painted sky blue, red, and gray – a good change from the beige that was there in February. But the new paint does little to hide the pain inside the walls. These boys are rough – many have been living on the streets, many have been sexually abused. The “gangs” inside the orphanage mimic the same power and control on the streets. Trying to keep the attention of all but the youngest is difficult. The place needs so much more attention than it receives from the government. Buckner staff works weekly with the boys – but with the transient rate and the dark influences, it’s a rough road. Still, we find moments of laughter and the hugs are plentiful. Carmen and Jenny become instant hits with their cameras, and every boy wants his picture taken with Courtney, the former Auburn cheerleader.

The rain begins to pour as we say our “goodbyes” to the guys at San Gabriel. Courtney, Katie, and I dance in it – we understand what a beautiful picture it can be of God’s grace. OK, so it did make for an uncomfortable ride back to the hotel, but it was worth it. We end the night with dinner and sharing, and then are told the exciting news – we have to be ready with bags packed at 6am for a 5 hour drive to Xela. The fun has just begun.

The perfect sunset.

SUNDAY, 28 September 2008

This morning, Brad took Geoff and Dana to a church to play. I, on the other hand, hung out at the hotel with my pup Millie, repacked my suitcase and duffle just to make sure everything was in its rightful place, and wondered what it would be like to travel to Guatemala as a participant rather than an employee. As part of my “farewell” from the organization, Buckner is paying for my trip – so I still get to travel back to Guatemala, visit again the orphanages there, see once again the incredible staff. I get to travel again with Geoff and Dana. I get to see Katie on her first-ever mission trip. I get to finally travel to somewhere other than Texas towns with my "brotha," Jeff Jones. And I still get to experience ministry with my friend Courtney, who is journeying with me.

We filled up on Jake’s hamburgers, said our “goodbyes” to Brad, Ryan and the pups, and drove – slowly – to DFW (thank you Dallas Cowboys for allowing us to experience your nasty traffic). There, we met Bonnie Hilton and Carmen Brown, two awesome gals from the radio world who were joining us. Steven Patterson was also there, the lead singer of Branch and worship pastor at a church in Athens, Texas. Ben Day and his equipment were waiting – he was to join me to take video and photos for Shoes for Orphan Souls, Geoff Moore, and Branch. My departure from Buckner meant someone else would be working with him on this trip – and I couldn’t have asked for a bigger blessing than to have Jenny Pope join the team. She is the publications editor for Buckner, and getting to spend a few days with her is a special treat! And John Adams, our trip leader and NOT the president, is waiting. He is an awesome guy with such a heart for the poor – and he’s got an amazingly dry wit. My kind of guy.

The plane ride was easy, and the sunset outside our window as we flew held new meaning for me. Only a week before, before the praying and the downsizing, Courtney had said, “I don’t know why I feel this way, but I feel like this trip is going to be your sunset with Buckner.” The flaming red, rich blue, and bright orange in the sky brought tears to my eyes – they were all the colors used in our “Go. Be. Do.” branding. I pray the sunset is only for this chapter – I hope Buckner remains a part of my life in some way.

Hello Guatemala. I’ve arrived.

Not the Saturday I had planned. But the Saturday I needed.

SATURDAY, 27 September 2008

Last night, we picked up our friends Geoff Moore, Dana Weaver, and Katie Godfrey at the airport in Dallas,Texas, and enjoyed some good Tex-Mex cuisine to welcome them to town. Their arrival marks the beginning of an amazing week for me – a bittersweet week of beginnings and endings.

It’s Saturday. My 49th birthday. And originally this day was to be celebrated by working at Soled Out, a free concert benefiting Shoes for Orphan Souls – and then gathering a group of friends together for a good dinner somewhere. But things changed last Tuesday, and my birthday would now be celebrated a bit differently.

We awoke and headed to my office at Buckner International. My husband Brad (a prince of a man), and my dear friends Courtney and Ryan Nowakowski, joined me as we packed up books and pictures and awards and knick-knacks. You see, on Tuesday afternoon the marketing function of Buckner was eliminated. And that meant my job was dissolved. Just a week prior, my boss had talked of enlarging the department, with more staff and a full-time assistant. But talk doesn’t count for much when budgets are being reviewed and new visions are being cast. So, with bowed head and cracking voice, he shared the news. And I smiled through the tears.

Yes, smiled. Because the Lord has so carefully prepared me for this moment. As the “growing and enlarging” discussions were happening, He whispered a different kind of change to me. I even dreamt of a “leaving” kind of change in early August (and have the “nail in the wall” photo from my office to commemorate that dream). And last Sunday, I asked my closest friends to pray specifically that the Lord would crystallize my future with Buckner this week. When asked what I thought it would be, I answered, “I believe I am going to be laid off.” So when the news was shared with me, I smiled through the tears.

After the purging of my office (boy, I had moved a LOT of stuff in there), my friend Debbie treated me to lunch at the Greek Food Festival (nothing says loving like a bowl of loukoumades). Then Brad, Courtney and Ryan joined me as we ventured to Soled Out – we had shoes to deliver (Court’s ATA school had collected bunches for the kids), great music to listen to (yes, Geoff was playing), and some Buckner folks to see one last time.

After Geoff finished his set, we wrangled his band and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. What a wonderful dinner it was, with friends new and old joining us. Charmaine Poteet (my best lil’ buddy), Arnie Adkison and his wife Sandra, Geoff, Dana, Katie, Matthew Tobias, Marc Frieden, and Glen Kimberlin, met Brad, Courtney, Ryan and me for steaks at Kirby’s. So much laughter. So much food. Cherished memories. I’m so blessed!