Many beautiful things took place in our lives during the three years we lived in Mexico. Little Deacon was just 2 months old when we boarded a plane with our belongings and his 2 big brothers and headed into the wild unknown. We were going to serve with Youth With A Mission, Guadalajara and Nathan would become the short term teams coordinator as well as the communications guy. He helped lead Bible studies at a local men’s prison, headed up the Homes Of Hope program, a home-building ministry for the poor and was over staff-development in the area of fundraising.
To say he bit off more than he could chew is an understatement. There were so many needs and so many good opportunities to invest in God’s Kingdom that before we knew it, 70 hour work weeks were the norm. It was a difficult season in that regard, and really taught us a lot about being purposeful about where to invest ourselves . We eventually zeroed in on the 2 ministries we felt most passionate about: an under-funded orphanage for boys called Ministerios De Amor, and a little town, where a small, faithful group of believer’s had formed a church and were in need of a meeting place and discipleship.
When time allowed, we found ourselves visiting with the boys at the orphanage, taking them to buy new shoes for church, watching Ben and Averic play soccer with their new buddies, and maybe most importantly, raising money for a little boy named Juan Carlos to have corrective eye surgery that would change his life. Unfortunately all that time spent at the orphanage highlighted how under-funded it was. Often times we would see the boys share a stale birthday cake, a cast-off from the local grocery store, for dinner. Forty boys, one cake, dinner. Most other meals consisted of beans and tortillas and rations were small. Often times, orphanages close to the American border receive a lot of help and goodwill from their friends to the North. This was not the case with Ministerios De Amor, in the interior of Mexico, and we were moved to advocate for these boys.
In the town, our friends became dear to us. We would go for the day and spend the night on their small farm. Though they didn’t have much, we were treated to some of the most wonderful food I have ever eaten. They loved our children, and our kids became fast friends with the boys on the farm. When we would show up for the day, inevitably some young girl would come scoop Phoebe (at that time a baby) out of my arms and I would scarcely see her for the next couple of hours. These are the times when I felt most comfortable practicing my Spanish with another young mother named Karina.
Soon, all of the short-term mission teams that Nathan led were taken to Ministerios De Amor and to the small town we loved. The pastor of the church in the town became a dear friend to us. He was a farmer just as his father had been and his father before him. But with limited financial resources and no real outlet for better agriculture education, the family struggled.
We longed to help but had no real skills. I had grown up in the Dallas/ Ft. Worth metroplex and Nathan was a city boy from Houston. Oh I had read a “Mother Earth News” article or two and thought it might be fun to have a garden and a goat someday, but suddenly farming had new application and the idea that it could significantly change the quality of someone’s life began to drive us. We saw the problem, knew there was a practical need that could be met, but lacked the skills to do anything about it. So we began looking for agricultural training in Mexico. We were settled by this time in Mexico and making good progress with our Spanish. The culture shock was fizzling out and the boys were finally comfortable in their new country and had ceased crying every time we would talk to the grandparents on Skype. Phoebe had been born in Guadalajara just a year before and was now walking and talking and woo’ing the locals with her blond hair and blue eyes. We did not want to leave.
There was a promising organization called “Plant With A Purpose” in the state of Oaxaca, but when we contacted them we discovered they did not offer training, only received those already trained. We looked within our missions organization and found work-shops dedicated to agricultural training, but did not find an in-depth school that would give us the experiential aspect that we needed. We even looked into training in other Latin American countries so that at least we would still be speaking Spanish. But we came up empty handed.
Enter “World Hunger Relief” in Waco Texas. World Hunger Relief is a training farm pioneered by former missionaries to train others to address hunger and poverty issues domestically and internationally. They said they would welcome us for a year- long, hands-on internship and that our boys could work alongside of us. It was perfect for our needs. But we had to leave Mexico. At least for a year. So we reluctantly, and yet expectantly packed up our house in Mexico, crammed everything we could fit into two vehicles, and sold the rest.
Our year at the farm was both wonderful and sad. We lived in a wonderful community of interesting people and learned so much about ourselves. Our ideas about effectiveness on the mission field were challenged and considered in a new way. Our fingernails were dirty and our boots muddied. We planted seeds and saw life spring forth, we watched as the lifeblood drained from an animal that we would eat for dinner that night. We raised piglets that became pets and then learned how to butcher them hanging by their feet from the tree outside our kitchen window. We gathered eggs and herded goats and got attacked by roosters. We tasted raw milk for the first time and learned what a Patty Pan squash was. We ate raw okra and green beans right out in the field and snacked on peppers as we harvested.
And in the midst of all this we lost two babies. Two consecutive miscarriages and two deep sadnesses. And worst of all, the confusion set in. Each time we would pray about when to go back to Mexico and where specifically we should pioneer our training farm, we were met with silence. We fasted, pleaded, put fleeces out and counseled with seasoned missionaries about our future. But to no avail. We had no peace, no direction. Something was wrong with our plan but we didn’t know what. We couldn’t imagine staying in the states. What would we stay for? What would we do? Mexico was “the plan” and God was silent.
So we redirected ourselves, went back to Lindale where our missions training center is located and began preparing to pioneer an agriculture school there. Maybe God wanted us to have more hands-on experience before we went? Maybe He was preparing us to more effectively minister in Mexico and it just wasn’t the right timing to go back? We didn’t know, but we knew we needed move forward and that we couldn’t go without God’s blessing and sending. It was a very confusing time for us.
Meanwhile, something was going on with Phoebe. Her tummy hurt, she vomited randomly, she was pale. They diagnosed her with an intestinal parasite. We packed up and moved from the farm, preparing to settle in Lindale at least for a season. It was Christmas time and we spent our time between our two families, mine in North Texas, Nathan’s in Lindale. And we spent our time in the ER with Phoebe who was suddenly dehydrating despite drinking huge amounts of water. First, 2 hospitals in North Texas, then an ER visit in East Texas, then and ER visit to Children’s. Each time, they rehydrated her and sent us home. And then December 31st 2011, I held her all night as she cried in my arms…”my eyes hurt..my noggin hurts”…and I cried because I was at the end of my rope. What was wrong with my baby girl??
So I went back to Children’s. January 1st 2012. Mom met me there and I explained once again Phoebe’s issues. I asked about a possible neurological issue, maybe Meningitis, because of the eyes hurting and the sweet little noggin. And they granted my request for a CAT scan. And 15 minutes later we knew that a baseball size tumor was inside her little head.
By October, 2012 and we had done the brain surgery and the tremors and the septic shock and round after round of chemo, and lived here in the suburbs of Dallas, of all places. Of course it all made sense when Phoebe got diagnosed…the silence when we’d pray, the total confusion about our future, the door to Mexico that seemed locked to us. And then we were relieved, thankful for that hedge that God had given us.
And Dallas has been a blessing, our neighbors have been caring and hands-on and welcoming and sympathetic. They have loved Phoebe and our family and softened the blow a bit. This house has been perfect for meeting our needs during this time, and being 10 minutes from the hospital has been an absolute necessity. God has richly supplied for our needs.
But it was time to come home. We needed our friends, our church, the grandparents 5 miles down the road. We needed community and activities for the boys and a life outside of cancer treatment. Phoebe’s oncologist said that we are at a good place in treatment to be able to be further away. She was stable and her response to chemotherapy had been consistently better the last several rounds. So there we went!
That little place I mentioned back in August? We bought it in October 2013. It’s a smaller house, but adequate, and most of all it has 10 beautiful acres for us to put our hands to. It was our hope that we will be hosting 3rd world agriculture training and classes and camps on this land. We were excited, and busy and nervous and stressed and ready to move, but mostly thankful, thankful to have a place to finally put down roots and begin life again. It’s not the life we expected, but it is the life we have embraced because it is the life that God has allowed. At least for several years, our life will pan out in Texas.
Now that Phoebe is gone, the next chapter is yet to be written. We enter this new phase of our lives full of fear and joy, emptiness and peace, all at the same time. Those of you who have suffered great loss will know exactly what I mean.