Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cleaning the Ranch House

The header photo for this blog was taken last September at a place about forty five minutes outside of Managua, Nicaragua, called Ruby Ranch. Its a space of 500+ acres that our friends are slowly but surely developing into a camp facility, with the help of numerous teams and hundreds of individuals. The dream and vision is to create a place where kids from within Managua can come and experience God's creation is a tangible way, something I take for granted growing up in Oregon, but something that is almost unreachable for some of them. A place where they can hike, swim, ride horses, climb rock walls, play baseball and witness the majesty of a clear night sky.

Less than a week ago my husband and I returned from leading a team to Managua to serve alongside our friends there. We painted inside and outside at Casa Havilah, and replaced a roof on the back building. We cleared trees to make way for the new rancho at Ruby Ranch. And we cleaned and repaired the old ranch home. It was one of the biggest cleaning projects I'd ever been a part of, and challenged me in more ways than one. But through those dusty hallways, tarantula infested ceilings and grubby windows God taught me something of Himself. Something of His heart for me. For us. For humanity.

When we first entered the house there were comments about how we should just condemn it. It looked to be beyond help, deserted and neglected for too long. "Let's just knock it down and begin again," came one of the comments. And really, the comment wasn't outlandish. Until recently the house had been the only secure structure on the property, and because there isn't a full time tenant at the ranch, anything of value had to be stored within it. This meant all construction equipment, donated sports apparatus, and extra farming supplies were residing within the three bedroom, one bath house. All in all there were six bunk bed sets with mattresses, a dozen soccer balls, three buckets of random yard game supplies, four dozen tennis balls, one giant baseball bag full of gear, a sixty pound bag of sugar, a generator, six five-gallon buckets of old paint, three boxes of farming chemicals, a honey bee smoker, fourteen bicycles, a trampoline net, three rocking chairs, three rock climbing ropes, half a dozen harnesses and grigries, fifty pounds worth of rock wall holds, a suitcase full of yoga mats, three six-person tents, nine baseball bats, a stack of plates, seven stacks of styrofoam cups, thirty field hockey sticks, close to a hundred yards of random wire and rope, and at least a dumpster full of random junk. Our team of twelve people spent four hours just pulling things out of the house and organizing them into categories that made some sort of sense. The bathroom was completely unusable: the toilet didn't flush, the faucet was broken off and the shower had a a pipe that shot water straight out. The refrigerator and oven were ant nests. The kitchen cupboards housed tarantulas, whip tail scorpions and an array of different sized geckos, which would all scurry to the corners anytime the half broken doors were coerced open. Giant black wasps had nested in the rafters of one of the bedrooms, and dive bombed a couple of the guys as they worked at dismantling two of the six bunk beds. The bug life alone challenged our fears and fortitude. We had begun an immense project.

Slowly we began to clean, though. We started by spraying the entire thing out. Then we scrubbed the walls and floors with Ajax and stiff bristled brushes. One of the guys mixed cement in a sand bucket and patched holes in the walls to deter more rodents from taking up residence inside. A few more went to work on the bathroom, replacing parts and making sure each appliance worked properly. Myself and a few other people organized the piles of stuff that had been moved out to the porch. We organized sports equipment, moved construction and farm supplies to the container, and discarded a lot of garbage. And slowly but surely, it began to look like a house again. Pretty soon the floors were clean. Then the ant nests were destroyed and wiped away. The kitchen cabinet doors were repaired and hung straight. The once cloudy window panes were finally letting light back in. By our continued, steady work we were able to witness as the house was transformed from a storage shed, half full of dust and garbage, back to a residence. Back to the original intention for the structure.

As I reflected on all the work we did, and the amazing transformation that took place, the Lord began to remind me of how He did this in my own life not so many years ago. I had committed my house to the Lord long ago, but through the years, it had become cluttered. Chalk full of half used gifts and a bunch of remnants that weren't really of any value anymore, but I hadn't removed them yet. My life was a dingy, grubby mess. On the brink of being 'condemned', He entered. Braving the tarantulas and scorpions of my fears and pain, He began removing everything. The good, the bad, and everything in between. He took it all out in order to restore me. In order to clear out the cobwebs and hidden dust bunnies, everything had to be taken out into the light and examined for its worth and place in my life. It was a long, tedious process. One that took great patience and fortitude to complete. But slowly, ever so slowly, it began to resemble a life again. A joyful, healthy life. Some things were worth bringing back inside. Others I had to leave behind. And still more was simply rubbish, that only needed to be removed in order to be exposed as such. Eventually, the original purpose of my life was returned, and it was restored to something useful and fruitful. Even though the mess had accumulated over years, He still found it good to restore. Out of love, a new life was gifted to me.

As I study and meditate on His word, I find that this is His heart for humanity as well. I am not the exception, but one of many loved ones that He has and will continue to restore. There is no life so full of tarantulas, wasps and dust that He wouldn't enter. That He wouldn't fight to restore. He is good. And so loving. And I am speechless that He found it good to renew my life.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cultivating Bravery

I have a good friend who has two children. One boy and one girl. Her little boy is all energy, playfulness and wit. Her daughter is imaginative, serious and sassy. They are both amazing kids. And like most children their age, they love Disney. Unlike most children, they both LOVE Disney. Everything about it. The amusement parks, the cartoons, the characters. I should mention that their love is only rivaled by their parents’ love for Disney, so they do come by it naturally. 
At a birthday party for the little girl a couple of months ago, I gifted her a bow and arrow play set from the movie, Brave. In the interest of full disclosure, her parents had informed me that she would love the gift, since I’m not that great at picking out gifts for children. As she opened the package her eyes lit up as she recognized the red-headed girl immortalized on the cardboard packaging. She recognized her from one of her favorite movies. Recognized this character she has begun to look up to in a way. As I watched her reaction to the gift, I found myself hoping she would always look to women who are brave. Women who defy social, political and even familial boundaries placed on them because of their gender. I found myself hoping she would always choose to be brave.
Last summer I competed in a sprint triathlon. Its a sporting event comprised of three sections: a 500 meter swim in the lake, a 20k bike ride and a 5k run. I had never attempted anything so diverse in movements, nor so long in duration. I trained half-heartedly, growing weary of the early morning swims and late evening runs about two months before the actual race day. I showed up to pick up my race packet and almost lost my lunch due to butterflies in my stomach who seemed to be high on methamphetamines. I was beside myself with nerves because I was setting out to do something I had never done. Something I felt like was out of reach for me, mainly because of limits I had placed on myself. As we drove into the parking lot, though, I saw familiar faces. One of my mentors from high school, a good family friend and a former basketball teammate were all standing near the registration table chatting. Immediately my fear washed away in a wave of relief that seemed to speak to my hypertensive heart, “See. You can do this. They are going to be there, too. You can do this.” The short of it is that I competed, did better than I thought I could, and it the midst of my inner turmoil realized that something very important was happening in me: I was becoming brave. 

And now this morning. As I write these words a very good friend of mine is somewhere between mile ten and fifteen of the 26.2 it takes to complete a marathon. She is an amazing mother to her daughter, wife to her husband, and friend to me. She began running a couple years ago after becoming frustrated with weight that wouldn’t drop and clothes that wouldn’t fit. She began slowly, running a couple miles at a time at a leisurely pace. She has now completed numerous 10k’s, a couple half marathons, and is completing her first full this morning. She is tough, determined and brave. And she is not the only one. I am constantly amazed by the women in my life who lay aside social norms to do things they’ve never done. Things they have never have seen anyone demonstrate for them. Things they maybe never thought they could do. These women encourage me and spur me to begin again on forgotten dreams. To stand back up where I once fell. And to continue to cultivate in my life a bravery that I hope younger generations will see, and realize they are just as capable of.