Uniquely Inspirational

Uniquely Parenting 101

This is me, on being a Parent:

Some say that your kids grow up in the “blink of the eye.” That’s not true. It takes millions, if not billions, of blinks. As they grow it seems that the “blinks” are not enough to get them to grow fast enough. Sometimes if feels like, “come on and blink now already!” What they should say is “TREASURE EVERY BLINK.”

Now that my girls are older, I do miss those days: the days when they played together, shared their stuff, laughed. You know, before the fights and tears came into play. Yeah, those days. Those are the days that we miss the most and treasure the most. Raising children can be fun, and yet, challenging. It has moments of bliss and moments of tears. It has moments of peace and moments of “war.” The writer of Ecclesiastes was definitely a parent.

 

I think that the hardest thing to do is watching your kids hurt. As the years go by that “hurt” comes with different experiences and in different forms. Nonetheless, it is the hardest thing for a parent to watch. We want to keep them from hurting, we want to shelter them from those times. However, it is those “hurt” moments that we learn from the most, that THEY learn from the most.

Through these moments that cannot be avoided, we learn to deal with many issues in life, making better decisions. We learn about fear. We learn to console each other. We learn the do’s and don’ts of being a kid (and for parents, of being a better parents). We learn to keep an eye on the “warning signs,” so as not to fall in the pit of “hurt” again. We learn what to avoid and what to jump into. We learn how the world truly is and not just the utopia we wish it was. But most of all, we learn how much we need God.

Parenting is a skill, learned if we are smart and wise, and do not go at it alone. We need God with us every step of the way. He is the ultimate experienced parent. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that without God, I’m a horrible parent. It is God who inspires me to be a loving, patient (though sometimes my patience seems to run low at times), grateful, giving, compassionate (the list goes on, you get my drift), and empathetic parent. I need those characteristics, God’s characteristics, to be the best parent for my children. It is not easy to allow God in the mix at times. We are humans and sometimes our prideful humanity gets in the way. I have to be a humble parent, especially when I mess up. I have to allow God to build me and shape me to be a BETTER parent everyday.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had”                         -Romans 15:4-5

God inspires us to be the best, unique parent that ever walked on earth. Overall, God teaches us to be better “teachers.” He teaches us to comfort our children when they hurt. He teaches us to forgive them when they break your favorite mug. He teaches us to expect more of them as He expects of us. God teaches us to encourage their abilities, gifts and skills. God teaches us to keep them humble by reminding them “because I’m your mother,” now that’s fun. 😁 We need to be reminded as parents that it is through the grace of God that we can shower grace on our children. The same is true with patience, mercy, love, and forgiveness.

We often think that we can solve everything by giving to our children, but that is not a solution. Giving can be a demonstration of LOVE, but is sometimes only cheap manipulation. Kids need, hugs, time, encouragement, teaching, help, and more… all those areas in our lives that we use to show God how much he loves us, we need to show our children. It is through the bonding relationship with God that we learn to have a bonding strong relationship with our children. God helps us guide them through the difficulties of life, the sad, the good, the beautiful and the ugly. There is so much more that we learn from God and should learn, that we in turn need to teach our children. Most of all, we need to teach our children how to LOVE GOD, the how and the why.

 

Building a strong relationship with our Triune God is what allows us to build a strong relationship as parents with our children. Learning how God helps us deal with the “hurt” helps us deal with their “hurt.” I really do believe that parents grow in experience and this allows God to better us. After years, we become better and ready to be the BEST unique parents we can be. Of course, by then, it might be too late. They all have grown up. So what now? “You ready to be a grandma?” yeah, then that happens. Now you have to learn to be a unique grandma… yeah, in the “blink of an eye.” Time to learn to be the BEST grandparents ever…. (Just waiting for that moment😉) What a unique sense of humor God has.

In the meantime, I continue to do my BEST to be God’s BETTER and Unique Parent everyday 😊

 “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates..”  

                                                                     —Deuteronomy 11:18-20

 

Uncategorized

When life throws you boxes…

I’m aware of my lack of blogs these past 6 weeks. I have a good excuse. At least I think I do. My husband and I accepted a new call, to a new church, to a new place we’d never heard of. But God has plans for us, and we humbly (with some uncertainties) accepted the call. With that, we find ourselves surrounded with the perils of moving, and boxes, boxes, boxes…

Now, life is funny this way. The unexpected happens. It throws you monkey wrenches that you never saw coming. Yet it happens. You pick it up and make the best of it. You realize that the changes are taking place faster than you expected. You are surrounded with questions, problems, and lots of chaos.WIN_20190509_16_24_22_Pro

With the changes of moving come questions. How does this effect other family members? What about schools? How does this change schedules? What about events? Then other questions arise. What can we take? What do we get rid off? What do we need? On it goes.

There is a tendency to procrastinate the moving announcement as much as possible. No one wants to say goodbye from their church, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances. We had to play rock, paper, scissors to decide who would deliver the news. We knew we couldn’t delay the announcement because it would take time for the church to stop hyperventilating, and slow down to avoid fainting.

It seems to me that moving can be very overwhelming, sad and chaotic. For a person like me who has a tendency to see all possibilities from every side (even the edges and the invisible sides), it can be down right stressful and just short of panic. I have, however, become very astute in the strategy of moving. I kind of thank my parents for that.

So, here is my strategy: (Prayer should take place from beginning to end and in between). Note: This is my 2 month process. If I have more time I stretch it out. If I have less time I work faster, longer hours. Regardless you will need a calendar.

  1. Foresee the changes that must occur, how long it will take to accomplish the changes, and plan the moving date. Most of the time it surrounds the school year. When is the next break? Can it wait until the end of school, or semester? We must also consider our present ministry’s needs, so as not to affect important calendar events.
  2. Before anything else, I like to research about the new place to which we are moving. I like to research about the location, the city, the church. Others might research their new job’s history. I like to research the county, activities, things to do, and even places to visit. I have even gone as far as reading about every town from point A to Z when visiting the new location. This allows me to feel more at ease and understand the people in the new location.
  3. I look at the potential of the new location, the church, and if there is a parsonage. There should always be a parsonage, or else you will have another burden and hurdle to go through, adding more stress. I have gone through this before. We had to wait to find a place to live after moving. That church had a temporary place for us, that little more than a hallway with rooms. That said, it was more difficult and time consuming. Moving, home searching, starting a new job, living out of boxes all at the same time. I may be OCD, here but it really helps me know the size of the rooms so I can plan a place for everything. I even do a model to help me, seeing as I’m visual.

    Some people think that I go too far, but the reality is that laying out the space allows me to foresee what I cannot use, and gives me time to sell it or donate it. It also lets me know what I will need ahead of time, so additional plans for purchases can be made. Visualizing makes it more “real” to me. This allows for an easier, and in a crazy way, fun transition. (I am aware that not everyone will understand what I mean.)

  4. Next is separation time. Divide everything into 4 categories: Keep and pack, sell, throw away, and leave out until 2 days before moving. This is when you find your long lost sock’s mates, gifts you’d hidden too well, and even that high school shirt you forgot you couldn’t wear since who knows when. This process is easier if it is broken down by room. I like to start at one end of the house and move slowly to the other end. Make sure to start in an area where the “moving sale” can take place.

    This way, little by little, you can add things to this room as you go through the other rooms. I have learned through experience not to schedule the moving sale one weekend before moving. Give yourself 2 weeks at least, that way you still have time to get rid of stuff while you are doing the last week packing.

  5. When packing, label your boxes writing on 2 sides of the box the new location like kitchen, hall closet, and so on. Write contents on top. Now, don’t forget writing the word “FRAGILE.”

    I write it on every side because you never know who is going to dare to carry more boxes than they should. This will allow the movers, or volunteers, to know where it goes when you arrive, and for you not to be opening every box looking for your espresso machine, which you will need your first day.

  6. WIN_20190509_16_29_01_ProGive yourself time to relax. This time, thanks to my friend who dared to come and help me pack everyday, (maybe she really wants me gone…), I worked until 4 or 5 pm packing and sorting and more. This gave me time to relax and do other less physical stuff. Maybe I should have written this blog during those times. In reality, I just got worn out at times. 🙂

Now that we are already, I can enjoy the last few days before the big moving day. Not that all is packed, all but the minor everyday essential items are packed. For the most part, we are 98% done. I still have to wash my last loads of clothes and sheets, pack the snacks and breakfast stuff, and of course, gotta leave that espresso machine out until the last day. 🙂

So now that I’m surrounded by boxes, big and small. And thank goodness I still have my TV out for 2 more days. I can sit back and relax and take a last trip around town… maybe I can find that screen for the fireplace because the new house has one, and see about…  never-mind. Point is, I can sit and write and thank God for this unique opportunity that God gave me here in Abilene. Learning to love this town and the people has not only been a blessing but a gift. I plan to visit often, especially since my little sis is still here and I can’t forget my sweet little nephew. All that said, yeah, it has been a unique experience. A wonderful chapter to my life. To my friends I’m leaving, you are not being left behind. You are being given your own new unique experiences and blessings. I love you all!! Thank you for being part of my “Uniquely Raqui” life. ❤ ❤ ❤

 

 

Uncategorized, Uniquely Mi Vida

A Bi-Vocational Dilema

“Perform your work as a calling instead of for income. Success or failure is never measured by the amount of money, but whether we are performing what God has called us to do.”                                                         –“Bi-Vocational Pastors”,  from Pastoral Care Inc.- 3/1/2019 

“I getting tired of subbing” I Mentioned as I took the laptop and laid it on the chair next to me.

“Why is this frustrating you so much?” Todd asked me with concern.

“I don’t know. I love the kids, but this constantly looking for jobs and re-scheduling my life, cancelling here, adding a day there, this system is frustrating me. I thought it would be temporary. I was hoping I could tie it into ministry… but it is not working out.” I exasperatedly responded to my husband. “I just want to do ministry.” I told myself.

It has been 6 years now, and five years ago I was ready to move… on… somewhere… into a better part-time job. I was even considering, why not, a full-time job that would cover medical. I had searched and applied to several jobs in town, to no avail. I even considered getting a real estate license. God closed the door there, too. I just didn’t understand why.

Out of the blue I hear my 21-year-old daughter’s voice coming from the other room, “She wants consistency, Dad”.

abstract bright color dark..well..

A light-bulb clicked on in my head, “YES! I think I would like more consistency. I mean, I like to be flexible and do different things, but this is beyond that.” I realized at that moment it was the non-ministerial aspect, and the pull between realms, that was dividing me. I need some kind of consistency. Or at least know that one is feeding into the other…

So, I’m encountering a dilemma, how do I give my life a little more consistency in such a way that I don’t have to stress or divide my brain into two jobs? Or my time, my priorities, or even my preferences.

It seems to me that I love to do one job, but I just tolerate the other. One is my calling, the other is income to survive. I think I have a problem with that. I should love both jobs….but I don’t.

I love working with the kids, the teachers, the parents, but if I cannot share the Gospel with them, I realize the most important thing I have to offer them is shut down. I mean, I have once in a while “dropped” hints of who God is. I get to pray, and mention to the teachers that I am praying for them. I get to love on the kids… but that is all things that ALL CHRISTIANS are called to do in every work place and aspect of life. I want to be able to do more. Or at least have the freedom to do so.

 

Bi-vocational Pastors  have a hard time. They have to split their time, efforts and lives constantly. Some have spouses in other vocations that are willing to work full-time. Which is not true in my situation, because my husband is just like me, a pastor by profession. (Though he could be an editor if he finds a job. He edits everyone’s writings.) Many others are used to splitting their jobs, they have a second profession or vocation, like Peter was a fisherman before he was a church leader, or Paul who worked in the secular world before becoming an apostle. Me? I have always been in ministry. Granted, I have done odd jobs during my college years and I did work at two faith-based organizations. All those gave me skills and developed my gifts to be better at my job as a minister. Therefore,  I looked for faith-based organizations for jobs and even in multicultural settings… nothing..nada..,zilch.

One thing I have learned, and I teach young people, is that you have to love and enjoy what you do. So what am I to do with my other half that stresses me out after 5 to 6 years of working in it? Why is this non-ministry work failing to bring fulfillment and draining me so much?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out. I continue to look for the right second job in the areas of my skill set. There just aren’t many. So, I continue to pray… take a day off to distress once in a while, listen to Christian music and yes, do my blog. I continue to share, what I can share, when the time allows, Christ with others at the schools. I will continue to see and seek opportunities to share the gospel, the love of God or just be Jesus to others. Somewhere in there I will find the feeling of consistency… regardless of how I must accept that no matter how erratic my schedule is, or in how many directions I get pulled, fulfilling my calling is priority. And working for God, in any form, should always be done with all the sincerity of my heart. (Colossians 3:22-24) My comfort comes from knowing that God has something for us still.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”                                                                            -Colossians 3:17

I guess I’m hoping that this crazy and unique aspect of my life may turn into, well another unique aspect of my life. I can’t do without it’s uniqueness. I need that. But, I’m telling you, sometimes that gets tiresome. Or maybe it is just, well, my unique personality… that gets “bored.” I can’t really blame my mild ADHD or my parents’ constant changes and moves in my life. Maybe it is just me. Maybe I just need to read a book. Maybe some new hobbies will do. Maybe I just need to wait for God to lead me in the right direction. I truly hope I find out soon.

What a unique dilemma.😁

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.”                                                                                                                      —Ephesians 2:10 NIV

Uniquely Mi Vida

Heartbeat of Life

 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  — John 16:21 NIV

Hearing the heartbeat is the most amazing thing in the world. It is like opening this giant window into a deep, mysterious, dark room. The light just flows right through in such a wave that it not only brings a ray of light, but the whole room becomes something different. It looks different. You see things that you never knew were there before. Your heart leaps and you find yourself dancing with the sun rays. That is how it feels to hear the heartbeat of the child you carry, regardless of his/her size. You can breath and respond to the beat… a song of life. They say you can also hear the heartbeats of puppies in their mother’s womb, the unborn calf, the unborn lamb, the unborn colt, but nothing compares to a human heartbeat for bringing joy.

I remember those moments, the first moments I heard each and every one of my girls’ hearts beat. If I was a musician, I would have composed a song. If I was a poet I would have written a sonnet. If I was an artist I would have painted a masterpiece. If I was a dancer I would have danced with grace. But I was a mother, and I did what mothers do. I created tears of joy, mixed with a smile and a dream. I never new what mezmorizing power hearing that beat would have on me. If I didn’t believe there was life within, I certainly knew at that moment. My heart overwelmed my mind and I began to love that sound.

I suppose that there are some who feel the same way about their pets, animals, trees, or the environment, but that life is “small” in comparison. Because those types of life are not “persons.” I agree with Dr. Seuss and Horton, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” In fact, the heartbeat of those others cannot compare to the soft happy tune of the heart of the baby you carry. The reality of what is to come sinks in. I understand, that to some, this creates fear, worry, anger, realization, and yet to most it is pure JOY. Maybe that is the reason why many fear to “hear” the heartbeat. Maybe that is the reason why they refuse to even hear it when they have come to the conclusion they do not want the child.

To an unborn child, fear is his/her enemy. It is what keeps many women in the dark. And so, they keep the blinds shut in fear that if they open, even a sliver, they will see what they don’t want to see. It is, after all, their choice to keep it close. Yet they forget that regardless of their choice the sun will eventually always shine.

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You see, we can’t keep the heart from beating, it is a reminder of life. It is a reminder that every choice we make has the opportunity to give life, either to ourselves or others. Daring to hear that heartbeat is the first step in reminding us that there is life. It reminds us that we are living, and thus we can bring life, we can, in a sense give it. It is the gift that God gave women. It is what separates us from the earth, animals, plants and so on, the ability to choose to hear, carry and bring about that unique life that is in us. That is the power of life. What a tremendous gift we have. What unique and powerful gift. Our bodies can produce life. Not just any life, but life created to be the image of God.

As I heard those heartbeats long ago, I am overwhelmed by the uniqueness of each. I feel those heartbeats, I see their hearts beating in my mind. I brought them to this world. I carried them. I fought for them. I choose to keep their hearts beating. Nothing else would do for the innocent child who’s heartbeat reminds me of my living. Thank you God for the awesome unique gift to me and all women, to give life.

heartbeat of life at 16 weeks

Uniquely Inspirational

Compelled by LOVE

“I Believe in the compelling power of LOVE”

                                                         –Theodore Dreiser

I sat close to the back that night. I was with the few friends my age that came with their parents. We were not supposed to be there, really. Afterall, it was a youth camp… we had no choice but to come with our parents who led the camp events. It was a beautiful night in the mountains of Toro Negro in Puerto Rico. The warmth of the late sun kept the chill away. As always, I was playing and whispering to my friends. The music was over and now it was time for the boring message. It didn’t matter to me, I was 7, and I had other things on my mind… or so I thought until… something caught my attention, “Who is your best friend? Do you know how much they love you?” Rev. Guzman asked. I perked up. Something about that questions started pulling me in.

As he spoke and compared the love of Jesus to the love between friends, family and more, I realized two things: 1. I wanted a best friend to love me like Jesus, forgiving me when I did wrong things, holding me when I’m afraid. I didn’t think my BFF loved me that way and 2. I want to love others like Jesus, being able to love my friends and family. I needed to know more. I needed MORE. As I listened, I realized that I wanted this LOVE of Jesus. I wanted Him to fill me with His LOVE. I felt, at that very moment, the love of Christ pulling me towards Him. I suddenly yearned to be loved, not like Mami and Papi loved me, but more. I WANTED MORE LOVE. and so it happened, I found myself among the youth at the altar that night…I found myself surrounded by this amazing, deep, profound LOVE. It was so strong that it overwhelmed me…and as the tears fell, I heard Jesus telling me, “I LOVE YOU. I will show you how much I love you.” My heart was filled with love that day, and has been spilling out with love ever since.

Campamento de JNI Toro Negro en el altar
Toro Negro Nazarene Camp, one of the many nightly services.

I suppose you can say that I began to learn to love my husband that night, when the LOVE of Christ came into my heart. Without me realizing it, as time went by, the closer my walk with Christ was and my relationship grew with the author of love, my love for those around me grew too. I learned to LOVE through Jesus. I learned what unconditional LOVE was. I learned how to give it to others. I learned to… well… just love and within that I wanted everyone to come to Christ to feel the same LOVE (grace, forgiveness, transformation). It is true what they say, you cannot give what you don’t have. To give love to others, real authentic unconditional love, you have to have it yourself. That love only comes from the author of LOVE, God.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”       –John 13:34-35  

It would be easy to say that Todd compelled me to love him when he showered me with compliments, or when he would say beautiful words, or give me of what little he had… but that wouldn’t be true. What compelled me to love Todd was Christ. I saw from afar the LOVE of Christ in Todd. I listened, observed and yes, questioned. I talked to others about Todd, others that knew him. I heard his struggles and his resolve. I heard the stories and watched as new stories developed. Yet, none of that was enough until I felt God pushing me, yes PUSHING me, towards Todd. And the more I fought and tried to pull back, the more God “pushed” me towards him. God compelled me. He knew what He was doing, because I certainly didn’t. And when on Feb. 14, 1991 came for Todd to fly back to Michigan, I  was thrilled, because he had been relentless and was driving me crazy. “Well, good” I thought, “That is the end of that.” God had other plans!

In the next several weeks God kept “compelling me,” not just to HIMSELF but to my amazement, towards Todd. Then the letters started, and continued. I found myself reading all about him, his thoughts, difficulties, goals, and more, so much MORE. In return I found myself writing to him all about me, my life, my goals and MORE. As the letters grew in number my heart began to grow with it. In many ways I tried to fight it, but God’s LOVE is so compelling that I could see it in Todd. Time passed and we finally were able to spend time with each other. I watched and observed more, how he related to my friends and my family in Oklahoma. The most difficult time in my life was about to happen. I knew God was there, and of all people for him so send me, it had to be Todd. Weeks later Todd was gone and I was back in Puerto Rico.

Missionaires and friends gather the night before Raquel is to return to PR June 1991
With my Mother at the hospital during the 2 weeks that Todd was with me. With our Missionary and church friends. The night before my Mother got flown to her hometown in P.R.

Here I was again, back in the land where God’s compelling LOVE got ahold of my heart and began to fill me, change me and grow me. I realized within a few days that I had a new LOVE. And as I was overwhelmed by Christ’s love that night in the mountains, many years prior, I found myself overwhelmed back in Puerto Rico, but this time by Todd’s love. I thought to myself: God wins! Todd Wins! However, soon after, my heart went numb, as my mother lost her battle to cancer. My heart froze, and I couldn’t feel either LOVE.

Several weeks passed. I wound up flying back to the USA, and eventually my Dad paid to fly me out to see Todd. The moment I saw him, my heart cried out. And that unending pain that I felt in my heart came out like a dam breaking. He held me for 2 hours and within his arms I found the loving comfort that I could find with God. That is when I knew, God’s LOVE for me was like Todd’s love for me, and I knew that just as I could rely on the LOVE of God in my daily walk and relationship with Him, I can rely on Todd.

God’s LOVE Compelled me to Himself and later to my now husband. This February, first find that unconditional LOVE that GOD can GIVE YOU and second, find the one who LOVES you the same.  That unique LOVE of GOD can be found in the person who LOVES God just as uniquely as you. You will then find that as you LOVE GOD, you will also LOVE your spouse. In return, as your spouse LOVES GOD, they LOVE YOU. That is God’s unique, awesome and compelling LOVE. 

Uniquely Mi Vida

Confounded by Culture

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was 7 years old and we had just arrived in the “mainland”from the Island. More specifically, we had arrived at Texas. As I walked out of the airplane it was night already, and I was freezing. The thin jackets from Puerto Rico couldn’t stand up to the cold of south Texas. I tried to stay warm standing close to Mom with her arms wrapped around me. It was November, and I was excited and scared at what was to come. I was soon embraced by my first real coat, and Dr. H.O. Espinoza, whom came to be like my “grandfather.”

recien llegamos a San Antonio 1977
Our Recent arrival to San Antonio (recien llegamos a San Antonio)

We had been in the mainland of the U.S.A. for approximately a week, and we were getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. At the time my understanding was that we were having a huge meal with other pastors and their families at the Espinoza’s home, where we were staying temporarily until our own house was ready. I came into the dining room area where tables had been setup with all kinds of food. My curiosity of what we were having got the best of me. Asking constantly, “what is that?” I came to the giant bird on the table.My eyes were amazed at its size. My mother came over and I looked up and exclaimed with my unbelievable amazement, “Mami the chickens here are HUGE!” 😆 She looked at me with the eyes of a mother and smiled hugely, “Mamita, that is not a chicken. It is a turkey.” Then she carefully laughed…  🤔 I was confused, and could only say, with a bit of disappointment, “Then what is a turkey?” She tried to explain to me, and then left to obviously go to tell Sister Espinoza what had transpired. Bro. Espinoza heard of my confusion so he pulled me aside and not only showed me pictures of a turkey, but introduced to me the story of the first pilgrims in America.  And here I thought we were simply having a special meal to give thanks to God for all that He had provided. 👼 Little did I know that there was a whole historical story behind it.

Next thing I know, I was learning songs about someone named Rudolf with a red nose and Dashing who throws the snow at who knows who (and why are we singing about someone being so mean? And wouldn’t snow hurt somebody? I heard it was cold like ice?) … and the more I was introduced to the stories of American Christmases I wondered, wow I didn’t know the reindeer were animals that could fly with names even. 😲And they told me unicorns🦄 didn’t exist.. Thank goodness to all those movies that set the record straight for me, and explained all the songs… except about this “Dashing” kid…and this horse that opens something called “slay.” (Shamefully, I didn’t get the story straight until I dared to ask 3 years later🤦‍♀️.)

..And while many celebrated Santa, we celebrated the birth of Christ, which apparently Santa celebrated in a different way here in the USA. Then, while the songs of Christmas faded in the background and people put away their lights and trees, in came the new year and our tree was still up, as it is for all Puerto Ricans. For us, Christmas was not over. We waited patiently for the coming of the “3 Magi Kings” (As some call it “epiphany.”), who delivered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. Though the kids at school made fun of the 3 kings and their story, and I felt sorry for them because I got more gifts… not once but TWICE. That’s right, on the eve of Jan.6, good boys and girls in Puerto Rico, gather grass and water for the camels,write a letter to the kings and in the morning we have MORE presents. 🤗

          When Todd and I were engaged, I introduced him to our way of celebrating Christmas. raqui blog pic002We married soon after Christmas day and made a decision to include both cultures. ✨Though the stories of Frosty and the red-nosed reindeer were not on my top 10, not even my top 100, I conceded to allow my kids hear the stories, take a photo with Santa, and open at least 2 presents on Christmas morning and sing the solemn Christmas, English music. In exchange, Todd (and the girls), had to hear “parranda” music, eat pasteles, lechon, flan and more, celebrate 3 Kings Day, and join in the parrandas and trullas, the real way to go “caroling”. (Of course to do that you would have to be among Puerto Ricans and be willing to stay up way past bedtime and eat during the night). In many ways, my daughters got an extended Christmas and different celebrations for almost 2 months. Eating different things for Thanksgiving, opening presents the night before Christmas from each other (like we did growing up), then in the morning from “Santa,” and then on Jan. 6, the ones from the 3 kings. It wasn’t easy combining it (and budgeting for it)… but we did it. We added a 4th aspect to our family traditions, the American “Black Friday” sales… which started with us getting presents for hundreds of other children which eventually led to teaching our girls the importance of giving with joy and love. (I was co-director of a compassionate ministry center and it this was a part of our Christmas assistance program I was God-led to create, called “Gift of Hope” in 2004.) It wound up being a budget friendly way to do all the gifts and a late night (early morning) of fun for all. It was always funny to see the reactions of the Walmart cashier as she wondered why anyone would by ten of the same board game,or have 4 carts loaded with kids toys. It was always a joy to be able to tell them we were wisely using donated money to get as many presents for poor children as we possibly could.

Missing the pasteles but still enjoying a mixture of Puerto Rican food and american. (Roasted pork, rice w/piegon peas, tostones, rolls and greenbreans)

 Yes, Thanksgiving and Christmas are BIG in our house. With the uniqueness of the American traditions, (did I mention learning how to bake pumpkin pies and Christmas cookies?😉) and the uniqueness of the Puerto Rican ones. We have created a colorful mix of cultural celebrations. When others thought that our cultures clashed, we were enjoying the colorful mixture they create. It is a joy to find ways to celebrate, and yet find the biblical perspective of them. We have opted out of some cultural celebrations because they are not compatible with our subculture that we share, Christianity. We see the uniqueness of others and the stories behind them, and based on these we add them in. So no, Peter Cottontail does not come through our home… (I said it when I first heard about it, age 7, and I will say it again, a rabbit should NOT be laying eggs… that is just wrong!), nor do we bother much with Halloween except when the girls were little, and dressed up as princesses to pass out candies and share the love of God.

           It is the mixtures of cultures and their traditions that, when they seem to clash, their combination makes our family culture unique. From the New years and Easters, to the 4th of July celebrations, to quinceañeras (sweet “15” instead of “16), to Thanksgiving, Christmas and more, it is this unique cultural traditions that have made our Home joyous. Figuring out how to celebrate is not that easy, but knowing the story behind the traditions and celebrations certainly helps. It is the story that makes them worthwhile and as unique as the celebration itself. So, for Thanksgiving, we will have our turkey on Thursday with our American family and then have a Puerto Rican dinner, including “lechon asado”(roasted pork), with my side of the family.

         During this holiday season, I encourage you to find those traditions that make your culture unique. You can even add your own family traditions into the mix. Teaching and learning celebrations that others around you have is fun to do as well. You may not celebrate it, but you can learn about it. History is full of traditions and every culture has those that have been around for 100’s of years. Every culture has its unique traditions and celebrations and many are family fun. So next time you hear Puerto Ricans“caroling” at your neighbors doors at 2 A.M., don’t huff and puff and call the police, instead pick up any instrument you have, and join them… believe me, it is fun plus, you get to eat… again. It is so unique!

To celebrate with my people and see how we do “trillos” (parrandas during the nights) click here

Uniquely Mi Vida

Corrupted by Anxiety

“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear and how to be free from it.”    —Veronica Roth

I sat in the changing room after the assistant left, just as I have done 21 times in the last 18 years. You would think each time I get a mammogram things would be easier. This time, before my fears came out of their hideous cave to corrupt my thoughts, I began to encourage myself, “It is going to be fine, Raqui. You can do this. Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine.” But my mind began to play over the same old thoughts and memories. The same old “what if’s?” Soon fears began to creep out. They wanted to corrupt my thoughts, my mind. I caught it this time, “No! It IS going to be fine. Good results like last time.” Then in a moment of realization that I was not alone, “God, please let it be okay. Help me control my fears.” I can only rest in the thought that regardless, God was with me. And every time the ugly head of fear tries to corrupt my thoughts I would encourage myself again, and pray. It seemed like I waited forever. I wasn’t going to allow my anxiety to kick in and cause me to hyperventilate, or hold my emotions inside, until I burst out crying on the way home, and so on. My plan was to fight it and knock anxiety on its butt.

I surprised myself, I was able to keep my anxiety under a tight lid, this time anyways. Then I got the call the next day… “You have to come back..” she said. Will I be able to keep my anxiety away? Will I be able to encourage myself? And as I hung up I realized that it didn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter, God is with me. I find myself fighting again my fears, but with more determination than ever. I have had two biopsies, and God has always been there for me. My God is bigger than this. He can control my anxiety. And I have to remember that every time that hideous fear wants to creep out of it’s cave to corrupt my thoughts.

 

Many people struggle with anxiety. Some struggle with anxiety more than others. Anxiety is the results of fears that have corrupted your thoughts, causing your mind to create negative thoughts, worst case scenarios, the worst of all possibilities. This is the corrupted thoughts of our minds. They don’t make sense. They do not add up, and they definitely do not give you any positive outcome, ever.

“’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”     —Isaiah 41:13-14

I have learned that these corrupted thoughts are not from God. I have learned that God has the power to redirect those thoughts and break the chains of corruption. But I have also learned that the deeper we allow this fear, darkness, and anxiety, the harder it is for us to hold onto the clarity of God’s power. I have learned throughout the years that I must confront it at the start as often as I can. The sooner I do, the more clear my mind will be, and greater likelihood of stopping the corruption. It seems easier said than done. For someone who refuses to get lost in the world of darkness after surviving the worst case scenario of depression and suicidal thoughts, one learns the need to fight. With the help of God fighting by my side I have gone against everything that wants to take me back into it’s dark cave and anxiety is one of them. I have put my foot down and refuse to fall into the trap of corrupted thoughts, I have learned that I can’t do it alone. Like many, I need help.

So what can we do to stay away from falling into the trap of the fears that corrupt our thoughts and leads us to anxiety? Here are some strategies:

    1. Always remember! You are NOT alone in this! God is our strength, the one who pulls us out of it.  Remind yourself, over and over again that God is there and that He sustains you. He fights for you. He gives you strength. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
    2. Similarly, but possibly more difficult, TRUST in God. Believe He can help you through. One of the hardest things for us, as we face our fears and anxieties is to stop and refocus to TRUST in GOD. Even though God is ALWAYS much bigger than our “problems,” it is best to remind yourself just how trustworthy God is before fears go from creeping to STOMPING… looking at God always shrinks the size of the fear. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
    3. Prayer is a weapon. PRAY PRAY PRAY, before, during and after. Constantly praying keeps your thoughts more focused out of the “danger zone.” It may not feel that way, but trust me, it will help. “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4) AND “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
    4. Encourage and remind yourself constantly that everything is going to be all right. Use POSITIVE thoughts here to overcome the negative ones that come out of fear. ALWAYS fight back the fears with positive ones. This is an exercise that you literally need to make yourself do. This is where your will to fight must be greater. The sooner in the cycle of anxiety you do this, the less likely you will be sucked into the abyss of corrupted thoughts.
    5. Have someone talk you through those positive thoughts. sistersTalking to someone when you feel yourself starting to be corrupted by your fears is essential. However, it is important that you actually repeat, out loud, the positive and real words that they are spoken to you. The more you repeat them, the more likely to form that pattern of thinking.
    6. The one thing that may help you the most is seeing a counselor, and yes, even asking for medication if your anxiety is severe. You know this is necessary, if after years, doing the above is not helping at all, and things are getting worse. Seeking professional help is a good option. We shouldn’t judge a person as weak if they take a cold medicine for their body, and we should not think it is weakness to need medicine for the mind. Several of my family member have had to resort to this, and have the medication available for their worst case scenario cases. This doesn’t mean that you have failed. NO! It means that YOU HAVEN’T GIVEN UP! You are still fighting! So, I encourage you to do this.

After all my years of experiencing times that my fears have led to anxiety and my mind has been corrupted, I have learned to fight and place these in the hands of my Almighty God. It has not been easy. It has, and will always be, part of me. It doesn’t go away, but it can be fought, and the more you fight back the more battles you will win. Over time, you will have peace in your mind.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  –2 Timothy 1:7

My mind is as unique as everyone’s. Within it I carry amazing memories, logic, lessons that I have learned, stories, my education and experiences, decisions, faces of people and so much more. These are things that make me so unique. Those thoughts need to stay unique in a positive way. It is those positive thoughts that bring peace, joy, love and all that happiness. I encourage you to find those unique positive thoughts that will help you fight the corruption of your fears. Remember: FIGHT, and let your mind be the uniquely tough fighter that I know it can be. YOU CAN DO IT!

Uniquely Inspirational

No Matter How Small

By Celeste Blissett

 “When you pass through the waters
I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..”  —-Isaiah 43:2-3a (NIV)

“How can we love something that’s so small, so much?” My husband asked as we sat on the carpet, my arms around him while tears rolled down my face. He held onto me tightly and pulled me closer. I could feel his tears falling on my neck.

His question echoed in my mind. How can we love something that’s so small, so much?

“I don’t know,” I cried, “but whatever it is, it must be the love God feels for us. It’s a godly love…”

To any other person that has never been in our shoes, we were crying over an embryo that was lost at 6.3 weeks gestation.

To us, however, we were grieving for our baby. Our tiny, innocent baby that never did anything wrong. A baby that was wanted, prayed over, and loved dearly for 3 beautiful weeks. A baby we imagined bringing into this world. A baby that would be rocked in our little beige glider. A baby that would be named and spoiled with love. A baby, that at just 6 weeks, had a tiny, flickering, yet strong heartbeat just the day before.

Our baby, that we created.

A beautiful life.

As we sat there, two broken spirits, devastated by the news of losing our tiny baby, we felt the heart-rendering pain God must have felt when he watched his Son die. We felt the pain God must feel when He watches his tiny world, his tiny creation, suffer. It was in that moment I understood what it means to have true, parental love; to love something, even if it seems insignificant, with all our hearts. How many times have we, ourselves, felt insignificant, and yet God loved us deeply anyways? Yet, even when we feel small, God looks at us as if we were bigger than life itself. He loves us more than life itself. I understood that, in that moment.

When you get pregnant, especially in this day and age, you find out there are so many apps you can download to help keep track of your pregnancy and tell you something new about your baby each day. It’s amazing to me that by 5 weeks, just a week after I found out I was pregnant, Baby B had a developing heart. Not quite pumping, but growing. Once you start tracking your baby’s development, you start getting so excited about each and every milestone. Knowing that our tadpole-like alien baby was already growing so quickly and becoming more and more human-like made me wonder how people cannot see a developing embryo as a growing human being. I mean, it had a fully functioning heartbeat by 5 and a half weeks.  I just couldn’t imagine our baby being anything else but our baby.

CC's belly at 6wks 2019Thinking of this made me think of the Bible scripture of how God knew us as we were forming in the womb. All I can think about is how much God already knew about our baby. Perhaps he knew our baby would suffer, and that’s why he so quickly took it home. Perhaps he knew the baby could not live outside the womb, and could not stand to put such an innocent life through so much pain. These are the thoughts I can only cling onto in order to understand why? But in the end, the why does not matter. What matters is how we cope with the pain. Where we go with our grief. What can we do with our story. With my story, I want to tell you something. No matter how small a baby is, God loves that baby.

No matter how small you think your prayers are, God still cares.

No matter how small you think your pain seems compared to the rest of the world, God still weeps with you.

No matter how small your situation may seem, God  is invested in it, and ready to fight at your side.

No matter how small you feel, God loves you more than you could ever understand.

That is something my husband told me, they day I started spotting. I cried on the bathroom floor, imagining every worse possible scenario.  Joseph took me into his arms, and said.

“Celeste, do you love this baby?”

“Of course I do.”

“Do you think God loves this baby?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know that God loves this baby even more than you do, even more than I do, even more than you can imagine?”

I paused. I couldn’t imagine such a love. I nodded my head.

“He loves this baby more than us, and he cares for this baby more than we can understand. Do you think with that great love, God would want to protect our baby and give it the best possible outcome?”

Yes.

Even if the best outcome was hard for us to understand, we have to trust that no matter how small, our baby meant the world to Jesus Christ. The baby was His creation, as much as it was ours.

So friends, I leave you with these thoughts. I hope you don’t weep for us, but know that in every situation, God cares more than you can possibly understand. He cares about the biggest heart, to the very tiniest heart beating for life. He cares about the strongest, as he cares about the weakest. He loves the bold, as much as he loves the fearful. God loves us with a burning, sacrificial, and ardent love.

No matter how small.

Uniquely Deep, Uniquely Inspirational

Consumed by Hate

quote by will smith on hate

On the flip side of my last blog, I have to bring to the forefront the one-sided ideology that has been bubbling up in today’s society. It makes me realize how often our actions come from our hearts (or lack thereof). The two extremes of love and hate are familiar to each and every one of us. Our humanity always leans toward one or the other, but usually our human nature leans into the side of hate. Why is this? It is because our first natural impulse is selfish, and selfishness eventually consumes us. The worst thing is this same selfishness refuses to admit fault,  and then blames others for our own anger and hate.

” They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,  slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;  they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” –Romans 1:29-32 (NIV)

So what causes hate? Hate is a response to the anger that comes from fear and pain. This response is usually directed towards an unwanted action (Going all the way back to childhood it progresses just like this: he took my ball, I’m afraid he won’t give it back, I am so mad, I hate it when he does that, I hate him!) This action leads to unwanted results which causes pain and hurt. The fear of falling back into that result or revisiting it, causes anger, regrets and sometimes doubts.  For many, hating the action turns into the hate towards a person or persons. It can begin as something as acceptable as saying “I hate that you were raped.” but may lead to, “I hate who did this to you.” In a society where the anger and hate toward certain people is actually encouraged, it grows far too easily. It may jump even further to a hatred of a group of people, “I hate people that look like the rapist.” Sometimes our minds increase the targets of our anger, and hate grows: “I hate all men because they are all rapists,” Then we start a vendetta of hate towards others without reason or logic, all based on fears… We are then so CONSUMED by hate that there is no stopping it.

Yet, our society takes that “hate” even further, it begins to include  all those with which we disagree. From where I am, I see a lot of people who do not see everything the way I see it. And that is fine, because we all agreed about everything there would be no sense in communication, sharing beliefs, sharing experiences and more. I would allow my bad experiences to redefine who I was and allow the anger to expand. I would have been consumed by hate and therefore become…well, a “Grinch,” unhappy, miserable, lonely and even suicidal. Hate that consumes us does not allow us to see past ourselves and our selfishness.  We see everything through the lens of darkness. It takes us to a life of darkness full of hate and somewhere in the back of the mind, shame. Since it is the opposite of “love,” it is the opposite of “God” because God is LOVE. So if  we are consumed by hate, we do not have God.  (1 John 4:20)

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”  — 1 John 4:19-20

Now there is a fine line between actions based on “hate” and “caution.”

If we have been involved in a painful experience, our human response is to be “cautious” when encountering similar situations, places and people. It does not mean that we “hate,” but that we do not “trust” the situation, place or person. We are not responding out of anger, but out of learned experiences. This prevents us from putting ourselves back in danger.

So what do I do to keep anger, that may lead to hate, out of my mind and hence out of my heart? I PRAY… a lot. I am reminded of the scriptures that say, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven… (Matthew 5: 44b-45a). I pray for God’s guidance, strength and wisdom. I pray for Him to help me get through it. I pray that I may not hate but love. I pray to restrain my anger ( a lot) and keep my heart focused on Christ. I pray for forgiveness for my anger and ask God to help me forgive the one who has hurt me. Prayer leads us to humbleness…like Jesus was towards those who crucified him. So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic and fills you with the fear of death, before anger and hate can grow, pray for that other driver, then forgive them and finally pray for their salvation.couple-on-bench-upset-300x200

Second, take time to heal. Find people to help you heal. Read the scriptures. Listen to the Christian songs and their lyrics. Many of the writers have gone through similar situations. Find support with friends and family. Don’t try to heal alone, as it may lead to depression, loneliness, guilt and even suicidal thoughts. Instead, seek out others whom you feel safe to talk to. A counselor can be a great help here. Healing takes time, sometimes months and at times years. Remember that you are LOVED by God and you in turn need to learn to love yourself as well. However, true healing takes place through GOD. Allow Him to work in you daily. Even when all you want to do is cry. In this process there is a need to forgive yourself, not because you are to blame (because you are not) but because you need to move forward with a clean conscience.

“‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.  “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.  “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. ”  Leviticus 19:16-18

Third, I believe it is hard to love, especially when you have been wronged. But I have learned that the best way to love is to forgive. This opens the door for love to come in and hate to go out. As mentioned above, we need to pray and ask God to help us. Forgiving the person that has wronged or hurt you is hard to do. I’m not saying that you have to go and hug them… Pain is still fresh, but do what God has asked you to do. I suppose it is complicated because if they have done something unlawful, turning them in to face justice may be necessary. This way they may not hurt others as they have hurt you. But this act alone should be out of love, with hopes for life change in them, not hate. You are giving them the opportunity to make things right. and you are saving and protecting others. A lot of self-examination needs to happen before you are ready to forgive. A lot of healing will need to happen before you are ready (or a lot of conviction by God). 

Last, reconcile what happened by sharing your experience with others. In other words, testify. Details are not important, do not romanticize the experience, but share the pain and the healing with others. Hopefully you will be able to share the forgiving of yourself and the person/persons involved. There are a lot of people who have similar experiences. They are full of pain, fear, anger and hate. Help them get rid of their hate and find peace in Christ. Help them heal, help them not to be consumed by hate.

I encourage you to see past the pain, the fear and anger that lead you to hate. Do not be consumed by it, but be realeased. Let the LOVE OF GOD fill your hearts with Love. For His unique LOVE will break the walls of hate and find peace. Live cautiously but without hate. Live peacefully without endangering yourself. Live joyfully healed and sharing what God did for you. Be unique in the your life of prayer, healing, forgiveness and love. Remember, God LOVES your uniquely you. 😉

 

 

Uniquely Mi Vida

Conquered by Love

As we traveled through towns on this special occasion, after Christmas, I couldn’t help but look back and remember all that Todd and I have gone through. It has now been 27 years of wedded bliss, yet not every moment has been blissful. Marriage has gone through ups and downs, but we have conquered every bump, obstacle and hurdle.

“Why? and How?”

Many years ago, on a warm tropical afternoon, We made a vow to the one who’s love had conquered our heart. We hence, made a promise to each other to LOVE always and through it, conquer all…  

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” —Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV)

Marriage is a solid, loyal and binding commitment. It goes beyond the desires of self to commit to the other person for life, regardless of the difficulties. This LOVE for each other is stronger than steel, and when bonded with the LOVE of God it makes it, well… unbreakable.

This is not to say that there are no problems. There are. The truth is that when you get to the core of any marital issues, you will find selfishness. This is the same problem we have in our relationship with God. The self seems to be more important, and when we allow selfishness to dominate the other, we have a problem.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has provided us with the means of a strong committed marriage. It begins with the scriptures and is strengthened by the constant renewal of our relationship with God. A strong bond with God will result in a strong bond in marriage. In other words, the more in-love with God you are, the more in-love you will be with your spouse.

celeste & joseph wedding
My daughter with my, then, new son-in-law.

There is a lot to be said about the “Great Commandment.” It is also a marriage rule: love God with everything, and you will love others as you love yourself. Loving God helps you love yourself and others, especially your spouse. Reading the Bible not only helps us understand who GOD is, but it allows us to see the heart of God. In return we reflect His heart to others… especially in our marriage. It puts us in our place, reminding us to let things go that are not important. It reminds us to be good stewards of what God has provided, to put the other first, to love and be faithful to our spouses as we are LOVING and FAITHFUL to God. It helps us to be selfless, forgiving and compassionate. The Bible is the first guide and counseling textbook. If you have a hard time relating to what it says to your life and relationship, then there is still another “help” God provides.

Pastors and others strong Christian leaders who reflect God’s Love in their everyday lives and marriages are the second means a strong marriage. They are there to help us understand the written marital guidance of the Bible. They are the first counselors we approach. With their help we can see what needs to happen to refocus the relationship on GOD, and then, on EACH OTHER. Praying and sharing within the safety of a pastoral counseling relationship is a great stress reliever and allows us to clear our mind to what is important.

The third means that God has provided for strong marriages is the professional marriage counselor. These can come in the form of therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. For a Christian, seeking professional help is sometimes hard. We have to be willing to accept that we need help, and maybe even need to take medications to help deal with emotional or mental problems that one may, or may not, have been aware of before marriage. We have to be cautious in finding the right person. A good Christian professional will reinforce the values that you hold, and encourage the spiritual guidance of scripture, prayer and Christian fellowship as part of the counseling.

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Our senior friends marriage

Keeping the bonds and commitment of marriage now-a-days is very difficult. Societal and cultural influences teach selfishness, individualism and quick escape from difficulties. There is a need to balance the needs of the self with the needs of others. When the “self” wants to be put first knowing that it will harm another loved one, true love is lost. This is a “red flag” that our love relationships are being destroyed. Our selfless heart should recognize it, and fight against such selfishness.

One thing that Todd and I learned over the years is to talk about and share all of our thoughts. When disagreements come we have to find a compromise that will work for both of us. If there is no way to truly compromise, then both have to evaluate the situation and resolve it on the side of causing the least harm to either person. This means there must be a willingness to let go of what we think is best for ourselves, in favor of what doesn’t hurt the other. There is much to be said about compromising, giving, and more, but it will have to wait for another time. One thing that we have learned to do often, and Todd shares when teaching, is the idea that marriage is a contest to see “who can outgive the other.” This is the idea of selflessness in practice. It is an idea that grows and strengthens the relationship with the selfless love of God, being mirrored in a selfless love in marriage.

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Renewing our vow after 21 years

I was conquered by the love of Todd many years ago. And each year has been unique. Not all have been easy, but they have all had their own unique joys and challenges. Every year we have learned to grow closer even when difficulties pulled us apart… and we held on, with God at the center of it. He always pulled us back to each other. We learned to compromise, to give into the other, to outgive each other, to forgive each other, to enjoy each other in LOVE. We pray often to be the spouses God wants us to be for the other. And because we have willingly given our heart to the other, we let the other “have” what makes them happy without harming or hurting. We are committed, loyal, faithful and true to each other now more than ever.

So as the new year starts I encourage you to find those unique ways that you can outgive the other. Find unique ways to be selfless. Remember that if you began your marriage with GOD at the center, it should always be driven by HIM. Let the Love that conquered you and united you be strengthened by God’s conquering love. This conquering LOVE will make your marriage uniquely strong and happy. This is LOVE which can only be from GOD. It is what binds us together and enables us to conquer all.

Uniquely Deep, Uniquely Mi Vida

Captured by Joy

I smiled as the children sang in the cafeteria. A volunteer had come in to play the piano during the school’s lunch time. He wanted to bring a little Christmas joy to the kids. As I dropped off the children and helped them get their lunches, he started to play Frosty the Snowman, followed by We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The children started singing, and with every voice, others joined in. I smiled as I walked out… you could hear them all the way down the halls. What joy it is to hear the happy children! Those children had been captured by the joy of Christmas. I hope they didn’t forget to eat their lunches.

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If you find yourself singing along at the stores, or office, when the Christmas music is playing, you too have been captured by joy. If you find yourself singing or humming even without music, as you clean the house, drive, cook, shop or more, then you too have been captured by the joy of Christmas. It is hard not to be, unless you just can’t sing one note   😀

There is plenty around us to remind us what Christmas is about. We hear, see, and smell Christmas around us wherever we go. In Puerto Rico you even hear the joy of Christmas outside as you walk down the streets of the towns. Music is played loud and people just gather with their instruments and play their favorite songs. In the stores we are greeted with “Merry Christmas” not like in the USA where it has been mostly replaced with “Happy Holidays.” (Although, here in Texas people refuse to change it, and continue saying “Merry Christmas!” I’m sure there are others places like this too).

In the USA we still hear the songs of Christmas, different styles and different songs, but still it brings an atmosphere of joy and peace. A story in history tells us of the Christmas of 1914 during World War 1, when a truce occurred in the Western front. They too were captured by the Joy of Christmas and as the Christmas music played, soldiers celebrated and even spread joy with their enemies.

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That is what Christmas does; it brings joy all throughout the world. It captures the hearts of all men (that is an inclusive statement, and yes it includes women and children).  It brings JOY to all, regardless of where you are. It encompasses cultures, languages, and age, regardless of how it is celebrated. It brings joy across the “trenches,” brings down walls, and yes, makes us vulnerable, yet strong. It causes us to see others as Jesus sees them. We extend a hand of friendship and spread the joy to others even to the least of them. Our world becomes different; it opens up dialogues, rebuilds friendships and mends broken hearts. (At least it should if you are truly celebrating the true Christmas). The JOY of Christmas is this powerful because CHRIST is in it.

This is why the Angels sang, “JOY TO THE WORLD, the LORD has COME.” Let your heart be captured by the coming of the LORD. Let JOY ring! And as your heart is captured by that joy, whether it be through song, cooking, baking, giving, playing games or just smiling, let it be uniquely You. So be captured by the uniqueness of the true JOY of Christmas: “CHRIST” who has COME!

MERRY CHRISTMAS! ******FELIZ NAVIDAD!

Uniquely Inspirational

Captivated by Christmas

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

-Luke 2:15-19

As soon as my first child, Celeste, was lifted from my womb due to a c-section done because her heartbeat showed duress, the nurses rushed her to check her. I couldn’t wait. I called her by the name Todd and I had chosen if we had a girl, “Celeste.” At that moment I saw her beautiful face turn towards me as she blinked, to what seems to focus on me, with all that junk on her face. It was the most captivating moment and a treasured memory. The nurse allowed me to touch her before she was cleaned up.  With my second and third it was just as captivating as I held both Aliza, and later Erica, in my arms for the first time.

Watching the girls be mesmerized by the Christmas lights as we drove through the Kansas City Zoo years ago made my heart leap with joy. They especially loved the real live nativity scene later that night when we visited our church. We pointed out the “Star of Bethlehem” and the “3 kings” in the night sky often, remembering how mesmerized and captivated I was by them, growing up. I loved watching stars move across the night sky wondering how amazing it would have been at the birth of Jesus. It was, of course, Sirius, (the brightest star in the sky) and the 3 stars of Orion’s belt. (which, if you drew a line through them, point directly to Sirius.) But it didn’t matter, it was the reminder and the “wonder” of what took place over 2000 years ago that kept my girls and us in awe at Christmas.

The “3 Kings”, other wise known as Orion’s belt,  following the star of “Bethlehem”, other wise known as “Syrus” (not the true star of Bethlehem, that was a once in a life time event.)

I treasured the memories of my girls growing up: When they first encountered Santa, and, yeah they cried, except for Erica who, as a baby, instead tugged at his beard.  I’m sure they wondered,  trying to figure out how he fit into the story. When they participated in the Christmas programs, and sang even when, as toddlers,  did not cooperate fully with the directions. (we had a runaway angel once). Later, when they were older, they helped other children choose the gifts for their parents, wrapped their presents, did crafts with them and dressed up as elves for photos, all for the sake of less fortunate children. One year, they wrote their own play and presented it to the family. They learned to bake and decorate cookies. All those memories and more, I cherish. Those memories captivated my heart as I’m sure it captivated theirs. Those little moments, so significant to even the youngest, bring an amazing wonder to the  awesomeness that is Christmas.

The songs playing around us, the smell of cookies and pies being baked, or in our case, flans and tembleque, watching our children open gifts, smiling with joy, baking cookies or drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace (here in the US), gathering with friends and family for meals, visits and church services, all to celebrate this amazing time of year. The gift exchanges, the joy and laughter that come with it, participating in the parrandas and trullas in Puerto Rico, visiting family, and yes, eating everywhere you go, listening to the people celebrating, seeing the lighted homes, the Christmas trees, it is all captivating indeed. But not as captivating as that morning long ago.

I am reminded often of how captivating were the events that surrounded the birth of Christ. Those stories that Mary “pondered” in her heart. She memorized every detail, the angels as they passed on the message, her fears, her visit to her cousin Elizabeth and how she reinforced the message of the angel. She remembered having to deal with Joseph and his fears. (And I’m sure somewhere in her life she had to deal with telling her family and friends). Then there was the trip to Bethlehem, the arrival, and searching for a place to stay. This was followed by the birth of the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus. Then she heard how the angels showed up, and told the shepherds who the child was. Then came the move to Egypt, and the arrival of the wise men… and so much more. I am certain that as Mary held her new born and was captivated by Him, his lillte hands, fingers and toes and wondering eyes, she could not imagine what this child would bring to the world. Oh, to be capture by His first first smile, steps, words and more. In awe Mary held her baby close. All these memories were captivating… even more so than anything we have encountered during Christmas.

It is the story of long ago, the wonders that led to the birth of Jesus, then the actual birth followed by Jesus himself. This is what ultimately captivates me the most. The promise of salvation, the way to salvation that was made for me through this child.  Salvation that came through an infant as fragile and innocent as any other child, yet the Son of God, better yet, “God with us.” He began as a baby who was vulnerable, trusting His mother Mary and his earthly father, Joseph to take care of Him. He found his attention captivated by his surroundings. I’m sure, as he saw through human eyes and felt with His human heart, he was amazed by the world he found himself in.

I wonder, I am captivated by that baby that I never met face to face. Yet, I carry Him in my heart.  I am in awe of what He went through to come to us, of what  He, Jesus, did for us. For it was this unique and amazing child that brought the Love of His father so that I can live captivated by his forgiveness. He brought the presents of HOPE, JOY, LOVE, PEACE and GRACE that only He can give. I pray that, this Christmas, you too are uniquely captivated by HIM!