finding grace in the moment and living a life of Joy!
My first experience in Guatemala was 2011. My heart and mind were opened in ways I never imagined. Posts are from mission team adventures, personal visits and ways this culture and people here have touched my spirit.
The first time I traveled to Central America I was studying: “Spirituality in Third World Countries”. It was 2004. Nicaragua. I stood in streets filled with waste, spend the night on coffee farms to learn their practice and got my taste of making tortillas over a wood stove. I also rested in beautiful places and watched the sunset in Leon.
I learned about the fireworks and made peace with the rooster’s adamant heralding of the morning. I shared conversations with strangers and made new friends. We met with religious and political leaders and witnessed firsthand the realities of another culture and people. Something broke open in me during that experience and it’s been breaking open ever since.
My heart has grown. My mind has been sharpened. I have learned hard things and have watched beautiful cultures turn into dark spaces of suffering, while others emerged with hope, strength, and humility. My spirit has been pruned and shaped for something much bigger than me. I hope, on most days, it is shaped and breathing in a way that honors my Creator.
A lot of things break us open. Experiences leave us wide eyed and surprised. Grief and sorrow take our breath away and make it hard to live through the next hour. Beauty breaks us open. Love breaks us open. God breaks us open. Marriage, divorce, death, birth, illness, strength…all so incredibly intimate; breaking us wide open while also making us whole.
If you are breaking open today – may God give you peace to know that you are not alone. Help is on the way. Ask! If you are celebrating a joy you can’t contain – I hope you see Jesus’ hand reaching out and inviting you to dance. Do it! If you are surviving one day at a time – know that the plans God has for you are for good and not for harm .Trust this!
We are given life to live. Live fully. When beauty is present, make time to appreciate it. When you or someone you love is hurting – sit in the valley with them; your presence is enough. We are doing this life together – the sorrow and the joy; it is a gift. Above all, remember that you are loved.
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. – Proverbs 16:3
Following the Spirit is always an adventure. One of my discernment tests goes like this: If we believe that God’s timing is perfect… If we rely on divine wisdom to guide our path and move us along the journey as it needs to be. If we trust that the one who created us loves us… then when things don’t work out like we hoped they might, we can have peace that God still holds that too. We don’t get to know all the reasons why.
Sometimes that comes more easily; sometimes it is the hardest thing to accept.
It was 4:15am when I clicked “Cancel flight”. Are you sure? “Yes”. I prayed again the same prayer I’d been voicing for a few weeks, and then each day, and then…hour by hour: “God, if this is the time, please clear the way; if not, I totally trust your wisdom and guidance.” I went to sleep. I knew I was not flying out on my originally planned 6am flight for Guatemala.
My phone rang at 7:30am. A man we’ve been praying for who is literally fighting for his life, was worse. The family had been called to come. These colleagues and friends found themselves standing, once again, in the valley. They needed prayer too. By noon I was praying with a circle of fire department officers as we asked the Lord for help and peace for this man and his family. We gave voice to our faith. We stood together.
I wasn’t supposed to be flying to Guatemala that day, I was supposed to be in Franklin, Tennessee, and available. In what would have normally been a packed scheduled, my time and focus was clear to be where I needed to be. A shift of plans that could only be God’s hand.
Later that afternoon, with a few phone calls and searching, I had free tickets on a next day flight with everything I needed. The way had not only been cleared, but it was also firmly established. I kept moving forward.
I landed in Guatemala the next day, too late to travel the full way to my destination, but fully here and confident the timing was all perfect. I went to sleep to the familiar sound of fireworks and music – the typical Latino pop or US 70’s rock. I woke up to the cherished sounds of birds, roosters and brooms brushing off the dust as people began their days. Parque Central stood soundly in place. A few people moved about, and I was “home”.
The changes in my schedule were just mine. Others who were visiting here to explore and see what God is doing in Guatemala had their schedules interrupted by blockades earlier in the week that stalled travel, and then by something that was stirring their spirits about ACD Guatemala. They returned to Xela, and we all arrived at ACD within the same hour on Friday. I missed their Thursday night fiesta, but I found conversation and synergy on Friday.
As we began to meet one another and share our stories, it was clear that once again, our steps had been directed by the one we are all trying to follow. Story after story, timing and connections – some even years in the making, we all gave voice to our faith. We shared our awkward and amazing calls to ministry. Our Creator is amazing!
Following the spirit always leads us on paths we could have never created on our own. If you are frustrated with the way your plans have been interrupted, just remember: We make plans, but it is the Lord who directs our steps. There may be other people and factors impacting the situation of which you have no idea. We all have our own journeys, it is God that connects them in the right timing. Trust God.
The timing of the Lord does not fail, even when it takes what may seem like a lifetime to be revealed. When we trust this, we can stop trying to “make” things happen and start placing ourselves in the position of being prepared while God’s perfect timing is being carefully arranged.
The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps. – Proverbs 16:9
Public schools in Guatemala have been closed for two years. Two years. Some online learning was offered, but many students do not have access to technology at the level needed for learning. Schools were scheduled to reopen on Monday, January 31st, but many did not. COVID continues to move through families and communities. A mask mandate is in place. The current vaccination rate for Guatemala is 31.2%. For perspective, the current USA vaccination rate is 64%. All over the world, we are living through a new experience. Everything has changed.
And still, children have dreams! Their minds need exercise and challenge. They look to adults to help them discover how learning and education opens our lives. The spirit and mind of a child is so deeply shaped by the encouragement, mentoring and love they experience in these early years.
There are 23 children sponsored through ACD Guatemala and 19 of those sponsors are through Franklin FUMC. These 23 children are attending a private school, Ad-Astra La Esperanza, so they can continue to learn and thrive. Each morning the children come to ACD and are given transportation to school. If they have need of supplies, they receive them. The children know someone is waiting for them each morning at ACD Guatemala and that someone believes in them. When they get on that bus and are on their way to school, they know an army of love is going in with them!
The presentation for our visit to the school began with the raising of the flags. The children gathered at the bottom of a steep garden area and their bright eyes watched with anticipation. The flags of Tennessee, USA and Franklin First UMC all raised as our national anthem played. ACD Guatemala, Ad-Astra La Esperanza and Guatemala flags all raised as the Guatemalan national anthem played and the children sang. We are here. Together. A big dream is unfolding.
When the kingdom of God is fully present on earth it is hard to tell who is serving who, because we are all serving from a mutual place of sharing what we have: giving and receiving…together. The story of ACD Guatemala, Ad-Astra La Esperanza, and Franklin First UMC is one of those thin places that we cannot stop from flourishing. Geography and land are involved, but the friendships that connect here for a greater purpose are the real story.
If I begin to write the sequence of events that brought this moment into being the miracles are so intertwined the story overflows. I cannot find its beginning, there is no static moment, nor is there a natural end. It is a fountain overflowing. It is out of our hands, out of our control. We can only give witness to the fruitfulness and praise God for allowing us to be a part. I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith that serves with others in whatever way brings hope where it is needed.
Rooster calls across the dark morning tell me to rise, a new day has come. Before the people move or I can launch my mind to the work ahead, every bird, animal and plant is making a clear claim of praise for the faithful rise of the son. Villancico; song of praise. Santa Maria is invisible; the clouds shield any human sight of her presence. Nublado.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. – Hebrews 11:1
Morning Prayer God, thank you for the creation that never ceases to praise you for the morning’s arrival. You have ordained another day; you speak it into being for all creatures. And whether we wake with heaviness or joy – you are here with us. Please walk with us wherever our steps trod today, we need you. Clear our minds of fear and shame. Remove the weight of worry. Fill our spirits with your grace and mercy. Remind us that we were created with your love, and we cannot destroy what you are making whole. Where we are broken – keep mending and restoring. When we are moving too fast – redeem within us your pace. Wherever love needs to pour over our wounds, we welcome your presence however you come. We trust you completely. Let it be. Amen.
The morning quiet time. Breathe. Think. Pray. Time with God in nature and listening to the breeze in the trees; whispers of the Spirit. Being close with the deeper things of life.
I’ve been in this spot many times. It is part of the transition. A few moments of saying “thank you” and taking time to remember the gifts. There are always more than I can count; now is no exception.
And here my spirit opens to what is ahead. The transition and the days coming. God keeps shaping my heart. Its landing place is wherever I sense the hand of Christ in mine, reminding me in each moment that there is no other place to be. I’ve known for many years that my “call” is about obedience: wherever, however, whenever. Hoping Jesus never lets me go.
God help us to hold on to you and trust you. We are all in different places and situations but you hold us right where we are and I don’t believe you ever let us go. Please let that truth be present for everyone who needs it today. We are crazy for you and we trust you completely! Amen and Amen.
A great pleasure on Thursday and Sunday morning was meeting with several students who are studying for their futures. They are friends of our church and a complete joy for us. There is one message in my heart to share on behalf of the church: “We believe in you! So dream and study and trust God with what we are all doing together.” From the students in Xela, the young adults in Chichicastenango and more in Mazatenango…we are so blessed to be part of this journey! Grateful.
Jesus digo: dejen que los niños vengan a mi, y no se no impidan, porque el reino de los cielos es de quienes son como ellos. – Mateo 19:14
Norris Allen met Juan Pablo 20 years ago at a United Methodist meeting of some type. Their conversation resulted in Norris bringing a team of volunteers from Tennessee to Guatemala. That one conversation initiated more relationships than we can count. I am a late “add on” from 2011. For Norris and many of us to be here at the same time is an historical moment. I would name it a bridge from one generation to another…and an equipping by the grace of God.
When you meet a friend from another country, things can happen. Amazing, unbelievable things. God’s Grace is always going before us and just waiting for us to arrive. Here too.
Invite someone into whatever God is doing. You don’t have to know all the details or what it will mean in any one persons life. Just invite. Again and again. Invite!
Norris reminds me that he and Fran were married 58 years. They met in youth group at church “but she had a boyfriend”. (How many times have I heard this scenario?) But they both ended up at Austin Peay later and the match was made in heaven. “We didn’t have any bad words in our vocabularies. Bad words where never said.” They had 58 years of what marriage was intended to be: a graceful and loving partnership for life.
When I came to Guatemala in 2011, it captured my heart and everyone said: “you need to meet Norris”. So we arranged a meeting right away. He and Fran came to meet me at church. It was only a short time after that meeting that Fran suffered a stroke and Norris’ plans for returning to Guatemala changed. Until now.
So all of us being in Guatemala right now, for this time, is very special. I’m a late comer – these men are the brain trust and vision that started something that must be God’s doing because it never seems to stop! I am grateful just to be at the table. With 20 years of relationships,Pastor Jasón on the ground, and the churches assembled- we see God making all things possible again.
We are dreaming. We are planning. We are praying. Maybe the future includes YOU too! Whether it is you alone or your church family or whatever tribe you come with. The kingdom of heaven is bending near the earth and this is the time to fully engage. We welcome you.
What conversations are you having? It doesn’t have to be more than across the room. Across the state or across the world are always on the horizon but across the room is right under your nose. Miracles happen in all of these places every day. Not by our power but by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. Jump in and join this journey; it is an adventure ever day! Walk across the room, or whatever distance you need to experience the risen Christ.
The trucks are blaring through the trees at Bambu; there is no sound barrier. The birds are singing and flying all around. I search out coffee and explain why I need it “to go” so I can be outside.
Snow at home; heat and sun here. A bit of travel later today and the heat will be gone. I love the way God created nature.
I’ve had three dog encounters this time that have been unusual. The K9 officer, an angel of mercy; Lucia’s two companions who didn’t want me to leave yesterday morning; and Manuel’s dog, whose name is Michael, who lay down at my feet and wanted to play. Perhaps they all know I come as a friend.
We visit with scholarship students this morning. And Norris, Dr. Robin, John Hembree, Woody…the crew. We are talking plans, again. It is a day of grace unfolding. I miss my church family in this moment and am grateful for the body of Christ that is connected across the world. All is very well.
Prayer: God, thank you for the way you work all things out for good..and for your glory. We trust you with all that has ever been, and with all that will ever be. You are faithful and we are yours. However and wherever we worship you today – thank you for hearing our hearts and praise. Amen and amen!
Leaving the Western Highlands of Xela and traveling to the coast is a total change of environment. Mazatenango was a hot 90+ at noon. Our pace slowed way down and my hair went up. The mountain pines are replaced with tropical coconut and banana trees. This is where it all began for me in February 2011. I found a hammock under the full moon tonight and rocked out a few prayers of thanksgiving for all that has transpired over the past 9 years. I remember like it was yesterday the early morning prayers from this same spot. I had no idea what was ahead.
As we arrive at Mazate we are reunited with friends from Tennessee who have been coming to Guatemala for 20 years. Norris Allen started the whole adventure in 2000 and began inviting others. It was a conversation between two new friends: one from Guatemala and one from the USA. The rest is history.
We did community visits today. It was great to visit with Pastor Felix and his family; Pastor Manuel and Pastor Moises. The school at La Toma looks great. The water project has come to a halt because of payment issues and Pastor Manuel’s iglesia is getting a renovation that will be complete next week. It was great to catch up with these friends!
Eveytime I arrive at Bambu in Mazatenango I need this Scripture. Today is no exception. Grateful.
Trusting the moments to God’s timing and grace allows us to take a deep breath and let go of the “what if’s” or the “why’s” and the “when’s” in every corner of our lives. The past 9 years of relationships here in Guatemala have been incredible. God has blessed us with friendships and experiences that continue to shape our lives and faith. For Norris, that is a 20 year reflection! Here’s to the next 11 years. Merciful God, in your faithfulness let it be whatever you desire it to be. Amen!
It’s the simple things: clean water, health, a safe place to sleep at night, education; and even more important than all of that: a community of relationships that help us navigate life. Right? We all need it.
The team at ACD devotes their time and talents to moving the needle of these basic issues in the lives of children in Guatemala. Everyone’s life is changed along the way, especially anyone who gets near the realities of life.
Migration is an issue. We know that too. The current culture in Guatemala has become: finish 6th grade and then find your way to the USA. No one tells you what that means, what risks are involved, what it’s going to be like when you arrive or what happens beyond the journey. And there are not many voices reaching other options. ACD is in this conversation and educating the little ones so they have choices and are prepared for life success in Guatemala. It’s is a beautiful gift – and it takes being “all in”. This is joyful but very tough work.
Children have dreams and someone needs to hear them. Hope comes when we believe something could be different. We humans will go to amazing efforts when a glimmer of hope is present. So – if there is no hope that life will ever be any different, and there IS hope that somewhere else you might have a chance of: work, water, safety, health, peace…. then you will risk your life to find it. It’s not hard to see how the cultural shift has happened. And who will help the little ones envision a different future? Who will encourage them to dream and then care enough to help them prepare to reach those dreams? Who will give their time and talents, gifts and love day in and day out? ￼In this little spot of Guatemala, the team at ACD will. For us to be allowed a close up glimpse into their lives and the families they serve is an honor. They change our hearts and grow our spirits. Who would we be without them? It sobers me to even imagine.
The Lord hears the cries of the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
I will attempt to offer a glimpse of reality. It is only a glimpse and my knowledge is always incomplete.
Water in this community comes from one spout on the main road. All water. So you walk and carry it back. Every day. For every water need. For months there is no rain so you do this in heat and dust and dry conditions. A bit like walking in the desert.
Cooking in this community happens over open fire inside the home. Smoke is a daily presence. Respiratory illness a norm. Cooking all day to feed the family is the work of the day. Getting water. Making food. Cutting wood. Carrying everything on your head or back. Every day. Every generation.
Homes are made from tin and wood. By hand and a machete. Sometimes plastic if tin or some other material is available. What you want is a house with solid shelter. What you have is more like a shed or barn.
Vegetables grow well here when there is enough rain. Big beautiful vegetables! Water must be carried in these poor areas where there is no irrigation. Farmers tend the crops. Agriculture is life. The fertile ground in the shadow of Santa Maria’s grand presence is a gift of God. The land is life. Water is life for land and food and all creatures. But water is not always available; droughts impact life & death; creatures suffer.
So the walk through the desert and paying someone to get you to a place of hope and peace is really not a big decision; it is survival and not wanting to wake up tomorrow to something you don’t imagine or think or dream can ever be different. Because it hasn’t been different for any generation before you.
And so…the trek begins. There are two priorities once you arrive; if you arrive. 1. Work to make enough money to pay the coyote who got you there (even if it cost you all of your dignity and spirit).
2. Work enough to send money “home” so they can start building a house.
And this is what brings hope that something might be different. A home means shelter. A home may have water near. A home, water and land may mean growing crops that someone will buy if the drought doesn’t kill them first.
When I spent a month here in 2011 my Spanish teacher shared that she had spent 2 years in the USA to earn enough money to buy a home. That home made all the difference for her family. And “family” included 3 generations who had a home because she bought it. With USA earned dollars. As a teacher. Legally. She had 2 things going for her: education and a skill that was needed. It changed the course of direction for 3 generations, and all those that follow.
It’s not an easy fix, and certainly not as simple as I may be painting the picture. Suffering is never easy. Solutions are often slow and small. But someone has to be willing to make one decision after another that leads to change.
The mining company that is getting rock from this land is part of the issue. They could put back into the community, something that improves the life of the people who are affected by their mining. For example, help the community have easy access to clean water. They could put some protections in their operation so when the rainy season comes there are not mud slides that literally displace communities that will be completely abolished with one slide. They could engage with living wage jobs, make infrastructure improvements (roads; water; etc.) … but instead, they mine in the poorest of communities where the people have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
And so…trying to get to the USA ..land of the free and brave sure seems like a better way than staying. Land of mountains and valleys and rivers and wildlife and parks and beauty and …peace. Even in the bad days, we have peace as part of our way of being.
The ACD staff team is “all in”. But they are not the only ones. These children have begun to dream. They tell us they want to be teachers and doctors and wildlife managers and engineers. They are also going “all in”. And one day… life will be different around them. Hope is rising. God is stirring their hearts and surrounding them with a community of people who will take the journey. And this journey is filled with Hope.
Here is an article recently published that shares about the situation in Guatemala.