09 June 2017

3rd Birthdays

Yesterday, Randy and I should have been in California celebrating our grandson's 3rd birthday. But 3 years ago we received that unthinkable phone call. Randy's daughter had gone to the hospital to deliver, a week past her due date, only to discover that C.J. no longer had a heartbeat.

Somewhere in Baja, on that very same day, a woman went into labor. She would give birth to a healthy baby boy. C.E. would soon be taken to the children's home where his older sister lived, and later a younger sister would join them.

Yesterday, a mama goat and her adopted baby came to live with us. I told C.E. that I had a regalo (present) for his birthday.

"Is it Mama A?" he asked, inquiring after his biological mother. With so many kids leaving us over the past week, all the other kids are wondering when it will be their turn.

"No, it's not Mama A," I said. "It's Mama Chiva (goat)."

"Mama Chee-va," he said, because 3-year-olds repeat everything you say like little myna birds.

He was timid around the goats at first, but when the other children arrived he became brave and no longer needed me to hold him. Half-an-hour later when the kids were ready to leave the goats in peace, C.E. asked, "Where is my regalo?"

A new pet, it seemed, paled in comparison to the thought of getting to see his mother for his birthday.

It's impossible to understand why a mother capable of giving her children a beautiful life would lose a child. And a mother who may never be capable of caring for her children keeps having healthy babies.

It's hard to trust God when he doesn't measure up to our expectations. But I suppose that is what we are called to do. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep loving. Even when we don't want to. Even when none of it makes sense.

07 June 2017

Love Them While You Can

When the lady from DIF (child protective services) showed up, I greeted her warmly.

"You are bringing us more children," I said, because that is what I'd been told to expect that Friday afternoon.

"No," she said. "I came to take your children."

Wait... what???

She showed me her paperwork with the names of 4 of our children. They had only been with us for 4 months, but already they were an integral part of our family.

I went upstairs to the office to tell our administrator, but when I walked into the room I couldn't speak. The tears started to flow. I kept trying for words that wouldn't come.

"What's wrong, Mama Katie?" she prodded.

"The lady wants to take our children away," I finally managed.

By the time we got downstairs, the staff were already gathering backpacks to fill with clothes and shoes to send home with the children, who were going to live with their grandmother.

I had met the grandmother several times. She was very nice and obviously loved her grandchildren. But could she protect them from the abuse that brought them to live with us in the first place?

And just like that, our 10, 7, 3, and 2 year-old were gone.

A few days later, on Tuesday, we received another call. A mother would be by in a few minutes to pick up her 14-year-old daughter. The situation that led this teen to come to us had been remedied quickly, in less than 3 months, and she too was returning home.

Our administrator watched me closely to see how I would handle this news. I took it much better. Recognizing now that our job isn't to be a permanent home for all of these children. At times we are simply a safe haven while abusive boyfriends get kicked out, or addicted parents go through rehab, or a family member steps up to take care of their nieces, nephews, grandchildren.

It's hard to see the children go, yet that is the goal, isn't it? Parents prepare their children to leave the nest. Foster parents prepare their children for a forever home. And here, Sonshine mamas and papas prepare our children for whatever unique situation comes next for them, whether that is adoption or giving their parents a second chance to provide them with a better life.

The best we can do is love them and care for them, teach them and encourage them, for whatever time they are ours.

08 May 2017

Mother's Day

As Mother's Day quickly approaches (Wednesday here in Baja; Sunday in the United States), my social media feeds are filling up with tributes to moms, memes about moms, gushy sentimentality about moms. But one Instagram post in particular jumped out at me this morning. It said:
"No one can be a better mom to your children than you."
This one stood out to me because it's not the world I live in. The world I live in is one where moms are controlled by addictions and abusive husbands and have been rendered incapable of being the best caregiver for their children.

Some of our children were found living on the streets, ten-year-olds caring for four-year-olds, with fetal alcohol syndrome, severe handicaps, sleeping in cars, dirty, bruised, burned, afraid, scared and scarred.

Three months ago four siblings were brought to us. They had their first visit with their mother on Friday. After accepting new children, we have a three-month waiting period before they are allowed visits. This gives the kids time to adjust and the parents time to seek help.

I didn't think I would ever be open to this particular mom visiting. Maybe because all the other kids I care for were already living here when Randy and I moved six months ago. But I saw the condition of these kids on arrival. And I've seen them flourish in a loving environment.

But when this mom saw her kids for the first time in three months she burst into tears. The kids burst into tears as they ran into their mother's arms. And I had to walk away for a moment to wipe my own tears away, as the kids started telling her all about their new lives:
"Mom, I turned 10!"
"Look at my dress!"
"My backpack has flames on it!"
"When we are bad we have to eat lentils, with NO SALT!"
Visitation is once a week for thirty minutes. During their thirty-minute visit, her kids called me "Mama Katie" several times. My heart went out to her. How must it feel to hear your kids call someone else "Mama." To have to share your children with another. But as the visit came to an end, she took my hand, looked me in the eye, and thanked me for taking such good care of her children.

Maybe she is the best mom her kids could have after all. Not because of the mom she was three months ago, but because of the mom she was on Friday, because of the mom she has the potential to be next Friday and the Friday after that, even if just for thirty minutes.

01 May 2017

The Problem With Sharing

I’ve noticed that more often than not, when we tell kids to “share” we don’t actually mean it.

Randy and I have very different communication styles. I am literal; he is general. Por ejemplo (for example), if someone asks “Is that what you mean?” I will answer “si” or “no.” Randy will answer “mas o menos” (more or less). This is too vague for me. I want to mean what I say and say what I mean.

The literal definition of sharing is to “give a portion of something to someone else,” or to “enjoy together.”

But when we tell our kids to share, isn’t it true that we are more likely to praise them if they give away their toy and go off to play with something else? Isn’t it true that we are more likely to praise them if they give away a bigger portion of the snack they have and settle for the lesser portion?

Yet it would still be sharing if they gave away a lesser portion. It would still be sharing if they asked for 5 minutes alone with their toy first before giving the other kid a 5-minute turn. It would still be sharing if they asked for a second piece of candy so they could give it away.

Maybe kids would be more likely to share if we reinforced the true meaning of sharing, rather than calling it sharing when it is really sacrificing.  

This is my struggle with being a volunteer missionary.

Randy and I were called to San Felipe to share our gifts, to share our talents, to share our lives, to share our help. Yet instead we’ve given up everything we were so intentional last year about creating – time to hike and take care of our physical bodies, time to read and take care of our minds, time to participate in church activities and take care of our spirits, time to date each other and take care of our marriage, time to serve and give back to others. There was a healthy balance there, a true sharing. Yet volunteering is not celebrated as sharing. Instead, “volunteer missionary” has become synonymous with “martyr.”

God put share (“compartir”) on my heart this year; yet any time I’m asked how that is going I answer with a groan, a grumble, an “I hate it” and “I’m terrible at it.”

But I don’t think I’m actually terrible at sharing. I don’t think I actually hate sharing. What I don’t like is being called to share, but expected to sacrifice.

While there will be times in life when we are called to sacrifice – our free time, our stuff, our spending, our security, our comfort zones, our sleep, our lives – I don’t think it is healthy to live that way all the time.

Sharing is healthy. Sharing allows you to not only take care of others, but to also take care of yourself, your relationships, your home, your soul and heart and body and mind. So that you don't burn out.

I know there is a reason God put “compartir” on my heart this year, while I am here in this environment where it feels almost impossible to achieve. 

Because impossible is God's specialty.

18 April 2017

A Different Kind of Easter

Easter ("Pascua") in San Felipe is very different than Easter in Santiago.

For two years in a row (2014 and 2015) I was in Spain for Easter. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the country for an opportunity to be a part of a two-thousand year-old tradition. They read the local papers for schedules of "Semana Santa" (Holy Week) events. They lined the streets to watch nightly processions go by, from Mary weeping to Jesus carrying his cross. They fasted and waited for the doors of Cathedrals to be opened so they could sit at the altar, touch the feet of the Saints, and receive a blessing. They packed the pews, eager to hear the familiar words of Scripture:
He is not here. He is risen!
Likewise, hundreds of thousands of people flock to San Felipe every year for Easter. Except they don't call it Easter. They call it Spring Break. They line the beaches to watch nightly processions of 4-wheelers racing across the dunes. They wait in line at the 7-eleven for beer and ice. They pack the local restaurants for fish tacos, but not because it's Friday. They shop for inappropriate souvenirs of sexual positions. The headlines in the local paper announce that 45 percent of people in Baja have herpes. Extra security is called in, but they end up partying right alongside the people.

It doesn't seem surprising then that one of the things I miss most is having a spiritual community. And yet it seems odd, given that we were clearly called by God to come to Sonshine Hacienda to do his work. So why does it often feel like we've been forsaken?

15 April 2017

Family Time

When I was growing up, I spent every summer and winter and break that I could with my grandparents in Iowa. Sometimes that meant flying alone, or tagging along with church families who were driving in the same direction. Sometimes it meant family road trips or flights that inevitably got cancelled due to ice storms. There didn't have to be any agenda, other than spending time with my grandparents.

This week I got to be on the other side of that. Two of Randy and my granddaughters came to spend their Spring Break with us. They flew into San Diego and then we drove them down to Baja.

The past 5 months have been challenging for Randy and me, to say the least. So it was incredible this week to be among family, and to see this calling through their eyes.

27 March 2017

Seasons in Mexico

Because it is hot nearly year-round in San Felipe, we've had to come up with a new way to "define" the seasons.

There is no rainy season, snowy season, tornado season.

Instead we define our seasons by which bugs are attacking us.

When we first moved into our apartment at the children's home, I noticed that all of our outlets had these "bug magnets" plugged into them.

I didn't know if that was reassuring or terrifying. Reassuring that we were actively repelling them. But terrifying that they are enough of a problem to require a force field around us.

We have lived here since November, and so far we have been through 3 seasons.

We moved here during fly season. So many flies! Inside, outside, there was no avoiding them. I guess it just doesn't get cold enough to kill them off.

But if I thought fly season was bad, that was nothing compared to mosquito season, which struck around the middle of February. I started noticing them in the office, and before long our kids had bites all over. We didn't have any mosquito bite soother, so I put diaper rash cream on their hands and faces. I'm not sure if it did any good, other than to give the kids something else to focus on.

Our 3rd season struck just last week. Caterpillars. Or in Spanish, "gusano" (goo-sah-no). Aptly named, because when you squish one, green goo gushes out, staining the tile and the bottoms of your shoes. We try not to squish them, obviously, but there are so many of them it is really unavoidable! A huge migration moved from the mountains toward the sea over the weekend, right through our hallway. They are fast moving little critters. But they also sleep at night. So as soon as it gets dark outside they just stop where they are and take 8 hours to recharge.

Maybe our next season will be butterflies. One can only hope!