Nov 16, 2012

Back track blogging: MAD dinner fun at THE MERCURY

Whenever we are in Dallas, the POWER(s) that be always make it a point to have a nice dinner out with all the adults (*only*) in the family.

Most everything else we do is generally geared for the most enjoyment for the children/cousins, so it is really is a spectacular  treat to have that adult time with the family.

One of my amazing sister-n-laws, Carolyn . . . . 

And now, for kissy faces.  Who knew I could contort my lips like that?  This kind of face is used a lot in the D.R.  Seriously, there are lots of ways Dominicans use this face to communicate different things . . . but that's another post for another time.  Wait you must for that one.

This year we headed to a casually fancy place called THE Mercury.  Good food + Good laughs = Good times.  This is one of my brother-n-laws, Bruce, tormenting Tricia with style.  He has mad skills. Actually, they all do . . .  Tricia retaliates with not just a "talk to the hand" but a "the hand will smother you and take you down" maneuver.  However, "the hand" was no match for the BIG, slobbery kiss that he went in for after that.

This type of exchange runs in the family . . . .

I heart these people.  They are exceptional.

My nephew, Colin, has made it to the "Big Kid table" and so he was able to join us in all of this.  My artsy sister-n-law, Jane, is a creative inspiration . . . .

And then, there was this . . .

Hi.  My name is Rachel.  I photograph my food.  It's been 30 days since I last photographed my dessert.

At one point, right after the first photograph in the middle row of my brother-n-law, Bruce, was taken, I think tears popped out of Jon's eyes from laughing so hard.  And Carolyn, well . . . .   I can't really say here what happens when she laughs like this.

Beautiful, I tell you.  It was beautiful.

Backtrack blog series: Dallas & family

Life has been swirling with weird, unpredictable winds since we have arrived back in the D.R.  in August after a 6 week stint in the U.S.  Because of that, I've skipped over things that I don't want to skip over.  So, I'm going to do some back track blogging because there were so many special moments during our time in the states, and in particular Dallas, that it would be a shame to not revisit them (plus, I always get homesick this time of year so reliving some of these special times will be like a salve on my soul).

We had TONS of great family times in Dallas.  There was pool parties, lunches, a week in East Texas, a fancy dinner out, happy to be together cousins, etc. etc.  Each one of these could be a blog post all of it's own (because you know that I have almost 2000 pictures from all of this fun-ness!  How am I gonna just pick a few?)  And some of them will be posts on all on their on, but for now a snapshot of some of my favorite moments . . .

Uncle B and Mr. T having a discussion about how many desserts = too many and the difference between gluten free and regular (T-man is not very discriminating, by the way!) All the while Uncle B egging him on to have another. . .  Classic.

Kaf -O - weeeeeeeeeeeen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Grandma and Papa and their baker's dozen. . .  it's not easy to get all eyes pointed the same direction at one time.

More to follow soon . . . .

Oct 19, 2012

Such Grief with SUCH GRACE

Not only did Bethany's life and death impact me for eternity, her entire family has given me a powerful illustration that is carved into my spirit.  The Brown family (Bart, Becky, Ben, Sarah and Derrick) came to the D.R. shortly after Bethany's death and oozed the love of Jesus onto everyone that they encountered.  Their personalities, gigantic and genuine at the same time, along with their hearts, even larger than their personalities, touched us and ministered to us in a way that could only be attributed to the love of Christ in each of them.

Bethany's siblings told stories of a sister who always had post-it notes of scripture on her wall, who would gather them together to "pray for them" when they were fighting and/or would tell the person that she was engaged in a quarrel with that she was going to go to her room and pray for them (and she meant it in both cases!)  Her brother told of his conversion to Christ earlier in the year, which Bethany had prayed about for a long time, and how after a long time of her praying for him, that he was able to return the favor and pray for her prior to her coming to the D.R.

Her parents spoke about her three main goals 1) to be a missionary (check) 2) to ride a motorcycle (check) and 3) to marry a godly Christian man.  Her father was choked up at the third one because he said at first glance he was sad that she didn't get to accomplish her third goal.  However, he said after thinking about it, he realized how high of standards Bethany had for a husband, and he admitted that he didn't think that there was a man alive that could meet her high expectations.  Teary eyed, he said that he realized that when Bethany went to be with the Lord, that her third goal, in fact, had been reached because Jesus was the only one for her.  Check.

CMA and Bethany's family grieved side by the side about the earthly loss of Bethany's vivacious presence on this earth.  There were many tears, but most of what was expressed by her family was an overwhelming JOY.  Yet we know that there is a deep sadness, but it pales in comparison to the JOY of knowing that she is now with the only perfect man in a place where there is no tears or sadness or infirmities, as we have been promised in God's word.  
"I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

   I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.  
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”  Revelation 21: 1-5 the message)

You know what the Brown family taught me?  That it is both possible and a beautiful display of Christ at work in us to be able to express such grief with such grace.  Thank you, Brown family, for offering up such an authentic example of Christ in you, hope of glory! (To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27)

Oct 18, 2012

He walks the path with us . . .

The day that Bethany died, October 4, is not one that I will ever forget.  While I will choose to remember the lively things about her: her smile, her tenacity, her jokes and questions, her practicing riding her motorcycle up and down the steep, rocky road in the middle of the campus, the look of accomplishment on her face when I passed her in town - on her motorcycle, etc,  I will also remember how my experience of her death compelled me to stare some of my fears in the face, and how the Lord is speaking to me about those fears.

My life is not one that has been marked by great loss.  I have lost my grandparents to old age and I know that they are all with Jesus.  It feels weird for me to say that it is not necessarily the loss that scares me (in the case of losing a believer) but the actual death, the evidence of a life lived left behind.   I think it might be somewhat natural to be uncomfortable with the reality of death, though I know people (like one of my sisters) who is intrigued with it and curious about it, but not the slightest bit afraid of it. And there are those who work in a profession that deal with death frequently. However,  I. Am. Afraid. Of. It.

My husband told me once after my PaPa passed away and I stood in the hallway of the church paralyzed by a fear that would not let me enter the sanctuary, "Rachel, you know that that body is just like a peanut shell.  Your PaPa isn't in it anymore, it's just his shell."  This helped me take the necessary steps to get into the church, sit in the very back only glancing briefly and sporadically from afar at my PaPa's peanut shell.

But on that day when I entered the house, then entered her room, I was alone (though not by myself) with my fear and with Bethany, who had left to be with Jesus sometime earlier that morning,  and with my friend Courtney.  On that day, I was up close and very personal with death in ways that I never would have imagined.  I gave Bethany CPR on the way to the hospital.  My heart was set on doing all that I could do for her despite my fear, but it was too late.

In the days following her entrance to heaven, I had a difficult time dealing with my contact with her peanut shell.  It was traumatic for me, but not necessarily the part of the story I think needs to be highlighted.  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  ~Romans 8:28

A few days after her death, I had what I thought was a panic attack in the middle of the night, but I have sense learned that it was a night terror (and that it was very good that I had it so close to the event because it is an important part of the healing process, that flood of emotion released from it's inner chamber).

"I was walking on the path up the house, that's it."  I told her.
"I could see the jagged rocks with the grass creeping over them and I knew where I was going.  With each step I was closer to that which I did not want to relive.  I kept telling myself, "STOP WALKING!  You know where this is leading!" I woke up with my heart racing, my pillow wet, my face drenched with tears and snot, my body both sweaty and clammy."

My sister asked, "Did you see your feet while you were walking?"

Weird question, I thought, but answered, "No, I just saw the path in front of me and I knew where I was going."

With a thoughtful pause, she asked a question that took several days to sink in,

"Have you considered that what you saw in your dream was God's view of you as He walked the path with you?"

On that day, God knew that I was going to reach out and touch my fear.  He knew that I was going to shutter and shake on the inside.  He knew that He would begin to apply salve to a wounded area that I didn't want Him to touch.  He also knew how and what the others involved would feel, where their minds would go, how they would struggle, and He walks the path with them too.  And I am just as certain that He walked the path of heaven with Bethany, and walks the path with her family then and now.

I trust that it was not an accident that I went into her room on that day.  I trust that the Lord was with me when I was confronted with a lifelong fear.

I recently walked the path again.  I went back into the house.  I went back into her room.  A dear woman of God (thank you, Ruth) walked with me and helped me through it.  I stood where I stood on that day and looked at the empty space where Bethany's peanut shell had been camped almost two weeks earlier.  I remembered her expression.  It was one of peace, as if she had drifted off into a sweet dream. Now, I look at those moments with Bethany's peanut shell as a blessing for me.  I. Am. Not. Afraid. Of. It.  Thank you, Bethany.  Thank you, Jesus.  

What I found when I went back to that place was encouragement all around me.  Post it notes scattered here and there, notes on the wall, a big sign on the wall entitled "Encouragement" where notes were left from one to another to spur each other on.  And so today, I sit here encouraged.  Yes, indeed, He walks the path with us.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  ~Romans 15:13

"Be strong in the Lord and in His MIGHTY POWER."  ~Ephesians 5:10

(These were two of the verses that I found in the house on post it notes.)

Oct 17, 2012

Unpacking my Bethany Brown Experience

Sometimes the unfolding of a story makes sense.  Perhaps its packaged in a linear form and logically moves from one step to the next in a flawless flow.  This is not that story.

The Lord is gently guiding me through the pieces of an experience that I recently had, and though my part in the story was brief it was significant for me, and the bigger story eternally significant for many others.  In my case, the Lord is slowly pulling the petals of the flower back, and what is to be revealed in the juicy center  I am certain will be His glory.  Already the sweet aroma of Christ penetrates the air, and with the pulling back of the petals the sweetness grows.

There's a page in the worn little notebook in my purse.  On this page are phrases that the Lord has given to me over the last little while, and as He leads me I will tackle each one . . .  a petal pulled back.

Before the petals begin to lean backwards in search of what the Lord wants to do with them, perhaps a glimpse of the whole would be helpful.

I knew this girl but not very well and not for very long.  I entered her life in it's last chapter, though this was not revealed until later, and I was with her on the last day of her life, though I didn't know it.  I was with her shortly after she died and when her body was taken to the pathology lab, her last earthly destination.

I missed the middle part of her story in the Dominican Republic, because we were gone to the U.S. for 6 weeks right after she arrived to serve here.  But the moments I had with her are some of the petals, and as the Lord leads I hope to be His instrument in telling the testimony of an incredible woman of God, and how the Lord is showing me His limitless love out of my limited experience with one of His beloved children, Bethany Brown.

While the story unravels from my point of view,  none of it is meant to be about me.    And honestly, knowing the little that I know, Bethany would not want the story to be about her either, though she was the conduit of His love, His grace and His gospel in this story.

Sometimes there are hidden treasures tucked beneath a story,  revealed in hindsight, after the fact.  From this perspective, big chunks of Bethany's story were revealed after her passing.  She had a disease called diffuse scleroderma.  She had been given a life expectancy.  She was gluten intolerant.  She was generally in pain, more susceptible to sickness because of her immune system YET within the last 6 months of her life, she moved to a third world country, climbed the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, learned to ride a motorcycle and owned one, ate whatever everyone else ate, and carried on living life to the fullest, all the while none of us around her in our community in the D.R. really knowing what she was dealing with.

Sure, we knew pieces - she had to have regular blood work, she had a skin condition, her immune system was low, her stomach was generally upset - but she didn't really talk about any of this much. (Maybe she didn't want us to treat her differently?  Maybe she didn't want to be perceived as weak?  Maybe she didn't want to cause extra effort for those around her?) She punked us by not letting us know fully what she was dealing with, but this was her choice.

In the case of Bethany, I am sure that her life, most of it lived prior to her arrival in the Dominican, was lived with ordinary awesomeness.  Yet, I wouldn't describe her as ordinary, would you?  What I mean is that she took advantage of ordinary moments and applied the zeal of a lover of Christ to them.  As her father reported upon hearing the news of her death, "Us Browns don't do anything normal."
 But the fact that she walked her last days on earth with stubborn determination to live for the Lord, to share His love with others, to serve Him on the mission field - this WAS her normal, to not let ANYTHING hinder her from living for Him.  Shouldn't we, whether healthy or infirm, live with the same stubborn determination to worship our Savior with all that we are?  Selah (think on this).  

Bethany's Fist Pump for Jesus!
This was taken about a month before her entrance into heaven.
She blocked our vehicle and gave a few victorious fist pumps.
I wonder if she realized how much glory her life and death would bring the Lord?
  In posts to follow, I will continue to unpack my Bethany Brown experience because as Bethany's sister, Sarah, would say, "Bethany's work has to continue.  It can't stop because she is gone."  And really, it is the Lord's work in her life and even in her death that continues to make an impact.  I am humbled to have experienced a little but mighty portion of His touch radiating from His glory in her.  More unpacking to follow soon . . .                                                                                                      

Oct 16, 2012

From the battlefield and under His wings . . .

There is much too say and little time to say it.  A battle ensues from where we sit.  My musings about our vacation are on hold for a moment (though I desperately want to revisit them and do plan on doing so as soon as the dust settles here.  Sorry - Dallas family - I don't mean to give you the blog shaft!) 

Even now, a greater story of the Lord's craftsmanship is unfolding which I am anxious to share with you as I am able.  It is beautiful because it is one that He has written, but it will come later as the fullness of it is still being discovered.  But for now . . . 

Allow me to set the stage, dim the lights and draw the curtains.

The enemy wants to defeat us . . . . 

He wants us to feel discouraged, hopeless, useless, distracted, unsatisfied, rejected and isolated . . . 

In the past few months, He's attacked our character, finances, organization and ministry, friends, family and the biggest attack has been on our minds.

He is slick and sneaky, but also limited (check out Luke 22:31 which is an example of how Satan has to ask the Lord's permission to do what he does) and defeated (Revelation 20: 7-10)!

BUT ENOUGH about him . . . 

I'd rather focus my attention on the author and perfecter of my faith, my B.I.G. daddy, my counselor, my healer, my friend, the judge of the intentions of my heart, my refuge and my shield, my Lord and SAVIOR!  

It's HIS blood that covers me, His love that envelops me, HIS grace that immerses me, His power that moves me - only HE is worthy of my attention, adoration and praise!  

He has equipped me for the battlefield.

A family member recently sent me a note of encouragement that reminded me of how the battlefield is the place where our characters are refined, our faith is firmed up and our walk with the Lord is shown for what it is.

"Rachel, any military leader will tell you that a soldier is forged only when he is on the battlefield.
That is true with our spiritual walk also in that we are forged when going through hardships and heartache.  It is our training ground.  I know I need more training and it will come in the form of trials, but it will allow God to work in my personal circumstances and give me the kind of freedom the world can never take away!"

I am so grateful for words of encouragement like this as well as the instructions for battle given to us in God's word.

In the past week, I had complete strangers but brothers and sisters in Christ pray over me while I strap on my armor for battle.  I was reminded that fire is a tool for baptism (Matthew 3:7) used to burn up the useless parts, and that I am also armed with the Holy Spirit who is my helper.  It's not one or the other, but both that we are baptized with.  

I frequently visit Ephesians 6: 10-20 about the armor of God.  He does not leave us vulnerable in the battle.  The psalm that I have been dwelling on for the last 6 months is Psalm 91 . . .  what a beautiful picture.

"He who dwells in the shelter of the MOST HIGH will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."  Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare and from deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday."  Psalm 91:1-6

So really, the view from the battlefield looks a lot like the underside of ginormous, unmeasurably powerful and magnificent feathery wonderfulness of the wings of my heavenly Father.  I am content to dwell in His shadow and praise His name!

Sep 11, 2012

U.S.A. part 5 of ?: The last little drops of L.J.

So I'm sadly down to the last few, lingering drops of our time in L.J.  I wish had more photos with my parents and my sisters and that friend I visited with that I hadn't seen in like 7 years! (Shame on us Shannon for not taking a photo!  I even had my camera with! I stink.)  Nonetheless, I tuck these memories in my pocket, carry them with me like that crumpled note in my jeans, and pull them out when I feel lonely and misunderstood.  They keep my insides warm and fuzzy and remind me of people that love me no matter what.

Have I mentioned c.d.o. runs in my family?  (That's o.c.d. (obsessive compulsive disorder) but in alphabetical order as it should be. Ha.  My sisters and I are very different, but cut from the same cloth.  This sister here  has like umteen cameras with her at all times.  She's got a back up for her back up.  We're two peas in a pod because we are usually both armed with one (or three, in her case!)

This sister here, she actually can pull off normal . . . . for a time.  But I've got one word for you: Bambakophobia.  Google it.  It's real.  I've seen what it can do a person - kid you not.  Poor thang.
(sorry to out you, Kim!)

Taylor jamming in my parents' sunroom during a rain shower.  So talented, laid back and smart.  Can't wait to see what the Lord does with him - or what he does with the Lord.

And Sweet Samantha with her Mario Cart Crew and ginormous bean bag . . . .  Thanks for wrangling and entertaining and hanging out . . .

Already miss sitting on the dock at my sister's house . . .

Throwing out dog food and waiting for the fish and turtles to chow.

It was so fun to catch up with people.  These are friends from Sagemont Church including my high school friend, Joy.  Love these peeps.  Can't wait to have them back in the D.R. in November (minus Joy who will have a new little baby girl at that point. Yahoooo!)  

This is the Sagemont cross as visible from the beltway in Houston.  You can see it well before you reach the church.  It's pretty awesome.

This particular photo reminds me about a study that I've been doing about the names of God.  El Elyon is the name for GOD MOST HIGH, sovereign ruler of the universe, and how He, a loving father,  ultimately has power over all things.  Like this photo where the cross towers over even the power lines, I am reminded that El Elyon is the ultimate source of power and how Satan can not do anything without His permission.  So, even as I am far from the people that I love, I trust in Him and His plan. Amen.  

Next post = moving on to big D.

Sep 3, 2012

U.S.A. part 4 of who knows how many: Unforgettable 4th

LJ continued continued.


It always stinks when we are in the D.R. and the 4th of July kinda comes and goes without so much as a sparkler or a picnic.  But since we were in the U.S.A. for the 4th of July this year, we celebrated it with a family feast and a homemade fireworks display (outside of the city limits of course.)

There was a ginormous double blow up slide, homemade ice cream, the best shrimp kabobs EVA, tons of yummy brisket and other great stuff that I ate with wild abandon and now can't remember.

Yes, I do take pictures of my food sometimes.  I can't really explain it.

OH WAIT!  Yes, I can!  We don't GET THIS STUFF in the D.R! Okay, that makes it more normal right?  Not so freakish that I photograph food, right?  RIGHT!  (Smile, nod, back away s - l- o-w-l-y.)

(And in this case I was taking the picture to send it back to some poor sole in the D.R. so that I could totally gloat about what I was partaking in! Nice.  But since I take 20 million photos and have no time to process them, I never actually followed through with my e-vil intentions.  It was Jon's idea, anyways :)

At least we know the pool's not contaminated!

There was sidewalk chalk, swimming, eating, swimming, eating, eating, eating, fireworks.

Wet super squeezer hugs!  Free of charge!  Who's first?

The peanut gallery looking on as the fireworks display is being set up.

Peanut gallery continued . . .  I love my parents!
Isn't this hilarious?  My sister's pug, Otis, goes absolutely limp when she carries him!  He doesn't do this with other people.  Only her!  So funny . . . . . . .  he's puggy in her hands. Mwahaaa  haaaaaa

My nephew and his friends did a really spectacular fireworks show.  It was really, really fun.

They braved the mosquitos for the fireworks.

Unforgettable 4th, we'll remember you :)

Sep 2, 2012

U.S.A. part 3: hairdos and raccoons

L.J. continued . . . .

So there were hairdos and raccoons, but not together.  Hmmm . . . where to start: hair? raccoons? hair?

Okay, we'll start with the hairdos.  First of all, my sister, Dawn, is a hairdresser, or as my Little Pickle would say, a Saloner, which she wants to be part time when she grows up when she's not being a mediciner, but I digress.  For the record, not all of these hair dos came from Dawn . . . .

I'm gonna go ahead and start with what I think is the very best one.  Curly Sue's hair as straightened by her 9 year old sister.  I'm just glad that there were no burn marks or singed hair . . . .

And then there's the front . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . .

BAM!  And there it is!  Yes, I strategically put my name on this one because I can't alter her outfit.  You may or may not be aware that prior to our visit, Belly took some scalloped edged craft scissors to her bangs (they were as long as the  back of her hair) and took some kids scissors to one side of her head (yes, the side showing!) . . . how very Posh spice of her.  Anyways, I think the combination of all things considered contribute to the overall beauty of this moment in her life :)  Yes, like mother like daughter with the red lipstick.  She applied it herself!

The heart of the operation happened in the room of a very loving and special teenager who took the time to love on her little cousins even when they were pilfering through her closet, her make-up, her room, her electronic devices, etc.

This was before Aunt Dawn cut off 6 inches of her hair - so straightening it was totally an act of love by a very patient cousin.

Little pickle with crimped hair, cat eyes, ribbons and her cousin's shirt . . .

Then Aunt Dawn stepped into the picture and did some cuts and highlights for some giddy little girls.  Pickle would have gone with purple, but Dawn was saving that for me!

And the little twinkies all highlighted up . . . .

AND then, it was my turn.  This is me post-Harbey (my Dominican hair artist) and pre- Dawn.
I asked Harbey from some "chunky" highlights and I walked out of his saloon blonde, and while I felt better when people told me I looked ten years younger, I really couldn't handle the straw like feel of my hair.

So when Dawn called and said, "I wonder if you might be interested in being my guinea pig and let me put rainbow colors in your hair? I answered "YES!" without hesitation! You see, our arrangement has always been something like this.  You give me  haircuts and color.  I let you do whatever you want to my hair.  Win. Win.  (And secretly, I've always wanted a thick streak of turquoise or fuscia in my hair, so it's not that much of a hard sell for her! Now, the day she wants to give me an updated mullet or something like that, the deals off, but until then, I'm hers!)  And since my hair was already stripped, we just knew it was gonna drink up all the color.

But hair can be unpredictable, and so can new products, and when it was all said and done (the first time) the colors were hardly noticeable.  (Insert pouty face here.)

So, Dawn became mad scientist hair saloner mixing up more color, and I sat nervously watching hair brush more color onto my hair wondering "Where oh where had the hot pink and electric blue gone?"

In the end, I for a brief moment, had a colorful head of hair (but honestly did not notice it myself until I saw this picture! Hey Dawn, I like the green and the purple color, for future reference :)

Now, the raccoons get the bad end of the deal b/c I'm all worn out from all these hairdos.  Here's the short of it.  My other sister, Kim, lives on a lake.  They have raccoons that come around their house at night.  My kids, thrilled by the sight of squirrels everywhere, were even more excited about the possibility of seeing raccoons up close.  So, the trap was set:  dog food on the porch by the sunroom.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it.

Wake up!!!!!!! Raccoons!