1.29.2015

We are only responsible for ourselves.

When I was preparing to take my driver's test a couple years ago, I told my uncle that I was excited to drive, but that my only concern were the other people on the road.  "I know how to drive and I drive well, but other drivers..."

He told me, "Raquel, everyone out there is thinking the same exact thing.  All you have to worry about is your own driving.  You aren't responsible for anyone else."

I was thinking about that today on my way to work but applying that to life, in general.  How often do we fret over the way someone else does something or how we think they should do it or how them doing it wrong will affect us?  I know, personally, that I tend to do this.  I also struggle with comparing myself to others and always thinking people do things better than me.  I guess that does keep my pride in check, but it's also not good to beat myself up about feeling inferior.  All I need to focus and concentrate on is myself.  My actions.  My thoughts.  And how I can better myself.

There will always be people in our lives that we will view as 'better than us'.  And some of them may very well be just that.  But this shouldn't hinder us from striving to do OUR best and working at becoming better at something.  We aren't able to bring that person down to our level, or somehow make them 'not as good as they are'.  We are only responsible for ourselves.

1.26.2015

Music Monday | Artist: The Gray Havens

A couple weeks ago, a friend commanded recommended that I get a free song by a band called The Gray Havens.  Sure, I love free music.  And new bands.

Well, I ended up getting a lot more than just that one song.

And they've been on repeat the last few days.

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David and Licia Radford are a husband-wife duo hailing from Illinois.  Their narrative-pop-folk style is one that I am not immediately attracted to nor would be my first choice of music to listen to throughout the day.  But there's just something about the perfect blend of storyline lyrics and catchy folk music that really nabbed me.  "Fairly simple but insanely catchy with magnificent melodies."  Their voices complement each other so well, and the guitar, mandolin, and other chosen instruments are haunting, yet pleasant.

Their name was inspired from 'the Grey Havens' in Return of the King, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It is the name of the harbor from which some of the main characters sail from towards the Undying Lands.  (So nerdy, it's amazing.  Plus, I love the color gray.)

When my friend first introduced me to them, he told me that their songs 'sounded like something C.S. Lewis would write.  And doesn't it just make you want to go read Narnia??'

He was right.

After downloading and listening to 'Far Kingdom', all I could picture in my mind was a scene from Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

There is a far, far kingdom
There at the end of the sea
Where they know my name
And until that far, far kingdom
Calls me home
Oh, my soul, I will wait...

This song is definitely a favorite of mine.  Haven't you noticed that the first song you hear by a new artist, will always have a special place in your heart?  Well yeah, that's 'Far Kingdom' for me.  A couple other favorites are 'Gray Flowers' and 'Silver'.

I am always looking for new music.  And what I look for in new music is not only good lyrics and appealing tunes, but that the song, in whole, catches my attention and soul.  The Gray Havens have wiggled their way into my list of Most Played songs this week.  And I have been able to listen to them in almost every mood I've been in - which is definitely points for them haha

I am hoping to get an interview with these talented people for next week's Music Monday, so stay tuned.


Official Website: The Gray Havens
Twitter: @grayhavensmusic
Facebook: The Gray Havens


You can get their free song download HERE, or purchase their album (released on Jan. 6, 2015) HERE.

Oh and for any coffee lovers out there, The Gray Havens have their own coffee blend now.  No joke.  Kind of rad.  Just click the photo to the right to be taken to their coffee club website.

1.24.2015

A story about a brunette, a blonde, and humbleness


Regular font - Raquel
Italic - Racquel

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Once upon a time…

There was a girl named Raquel who went with a team of amazing people to Peru and spent a week at an abandoned boys’ home.  While there, another team came.  And in this second team was a girl…who shared Raquel’s name.  Except she spelled it Racquel.  And she was blonde.  And had a southern accent.

There was a girl named Racquel who went to Peru on her first mission trip to spend some time sharing God's love at an abandoned boys' home.  When her and her team got there, another team had already been there for some time and had a few days left of their trip.  One of the first things someone on the team told her after she introduced herself was, "We have a Racquel on our team, too." Except she spelt it Raquel.  Racquel had never met anyone who shared her name so she had mixed feelings about her. 

Well Raquel #1 took an immediate dislike to Racquel #2 and made it rather obvious by avoiding her as much as possible while finishing out her time in Peru.

After meeting Raquel, Racquel didn't really care to be around her. She wasn't welcoming in the ways Racquel was used to in the south and she felt tension between them almost immediately. 

‘Why didn’t Raquel like Racquel?’ you may wonder.  

'Why didn't Racquel care to try and be friends with Raquel?' you may ask. 

Well, I’m still not really sure of that myself.  It may have been because I felt somehow threatened by another girl being present who shared my name (though I made sure to let everyone know that she spelled it differently).  It may have been because our teams slightly collided and didn’t mesh very well.  It may have been a number of reasons excuses but let’s move on… 

Because, I've never been one to initiate friendships.  Usually, if I feel that someone doesn't like me, I don't pay much attention to them.  I knew why I was there - and it wasn't to meet or befriend Raquel.  So I ignored the things that she did that bothered me throughout the days we were there together and when she left, I was happy.  And I never thought I would have to see her again. 

When I returned from Peru, all I wanted to do was go back.  And when I was notified that there was a possibility of returning as soon as December, I was ecstatic.  UNTIL…I found out that Racquel was going too.  The enthusiasm died down a little after that.  

When I got home from Peru the only thing on my mind was going back there.  So I found some girls who also wanted to return and we began getting a team together to go back just a few months later.  I couldn't explain the happiness and excitement I was feeling - until I found out Raquel was interested in joining our team. 

‘I really don’t want to go if she’s going too,’ I told a teammate.  And that teammate responded with the wisest thing ever.  She said, ‘Maybe you need to go when she goes because God wants to teach you about grace and humbleness.’  

"I don't want to say that I don't want her to go, because if God wants her to go then that's between them.  But I want you to know that we didn't get along this summer," I told my team leader. 

Of course my sinful self hated the thought of that, but I wasn’t going to let a blondie from North Carolina stop me from seeing the boys again.

I wasn't happy about it but I knew right then that I had to give it to God - if He made it possible for both of us to go, then I would just have to suck it up. I wasn't going to try to stop another girl from going just because I didn't really like her. And I definitely wasn't changing my mind. 

So plans were drawn, doors were opened, and I found myself in Peru again. 

So the dates were set, God provided the funding and there I was - in Peru again.

At my adopted Peruvian family's home.  With Racquel.

Surrounded by my Kusi family. And Raquel.

And I started praying.
‘God, You know how much she irritates me.  I don’t know why, but she just does.  Help me understand my bitterness towards her, and also…please…’  Wait.  Was I about to say ‘humble me and teach me to love her’??  Uh, how about no?

Before arriving, I had planned to distance myself from her.  But after I was there, I felt as if God was doing something to me.  Anytime I felt negatively about Raquel, I heard God saying "You're no better than her."  So I asked him to show me a different side of her than I saw the first time.

(And trust me, readers, writing all this out makes me disgusted with myself and the attitude I had.  And my face is rather comical right now too.)

And really, I felt conflicted through it all. I didn't have any desire to be her friend, but after every opportunity I passed up talking to her, I felt uneasy.

Well, God really worked in my heart those first couple of days.  I told myself to at least be civil with Racquel.  I didn’t need to be friendly.  But little by little, He made certain circumstances happen that I was sort of forced to talk to her and be with her – even hold her hand while our team prayed together.  

Throughout the beginning of the week, God opened my heart. I heard Raquel pray. I heard her cry. And I began to feel for her. I realized that she loved God just as much as I do.

And my wall started cracking.

And my feelings of dislike began to lighten.

‘Raquel,’ I felt God telling me one night.  ‘You are harboring bitter feelings towards Racquel for no reason you can think of.  And I say that even feeling hate in your heart against someone is murdering them in your mind.  You need to ask her for forgiveness.’
Dang, that broke me down quick.  That really, really hit me hard.


And little by little, being around her got easier and easier. I didn't mind her as much and surprisingly I got to the point where I actually liked hanging out.  God really showed me how to love her as I saw her loving on the abandoned boys. I had a huge and unexpected change of heart and began to share Christ's love with her as well. 

So one evening, after team meeting, I asked Racquel if I could talk to her before we all went to bed.  She said sure.  We met outside of Kusi, and sat on the entrance steps leading to the home.  With the Huascaran mountains behind us, a sky full of South American stars above us, I told Racquel this story.  From start to finish.  And ended with ‘So I need to ask you to forgive me.  For not liking you without reason and for harboring such bad feelings against you.  It was wrong of me.  And I’m sorry.’

During our first week, I had a hard time gaining the strength to share my testimony with my team. Looking back, I believe God was just preparing mine and Raquel's hearts for the right night to speak up. So I finally opened up and shared my past, present and future with my teammates. And after, Raquel asked if she could speak to me. Anxious to hear what she was going to say, I agreed. We chose to sit on the steps at the entrance of Kusi - with a beautiful snow-topped mountain behind us and a sky full of stars over our heads. And Raquel really came out and said what she needed to say. She shared that the past summer, she hadn't liked me at all and that she was upset when she found out I was coming back to Peru. But then she said God had been convicting her for those feelings and wanted her to ask for my forgiveness. She said that she had been watching me and saw how I loved the boys and how I seemed so different to her. And that when I was giving my testimony, God spoke to her and she knew she needed to talk to me. Then, she asked for my forgiveness.

What happened next surprised me.  Not only did she say she forgave me, but that she hadn’t liked me from the start either!  We laughed, and I think cried a little.  And talked for about two hours.  Out there under the stars.  Two girls who God allowed to meet in a small village in a country far from where they lived.  And He taught us so much – as individuals and as (now) friends.

While she was telling me everything, I was smiling because I knew exactly what she was saying. I had felt the same way as her and God had also been working in me. I told her how I had felt about her and how those feelings had changed since being back. We began talking about how amazing God is and how it was so obvious to us that he sent us both back to the place we met at the same time so that he could mend our hearts and create a beautiful friendship between two of his children. And we sat there and talked about our struggles and futures and the beauty that was surrounding us. It was such a testament of Gods love and grace.

The night our team left, as that horrid bus was driving us away from the boys, Racquel and I sat and hugged each other and cried together for a good hour or so.  Not only were our hearts bound together by the love we shared for the boys, but also for how God had worked in both of us (me, especially) and showed us just what His grace can do.

The rest of the week we spent a lot of time getting to know one another. I realized that we actually have a lot in common other than the pronunciation of our names. And the night we left Kusi, we both waited until the last seconds to get on the bus. We walked to the back with tears running down our faces. And I sat down in front of her, pressed my face against the window and cried. And the crying turned into sobbing. And in the moment when I felt all alone and like I was leaving everything I loved behind me, Raquel came to my seat and wrapped her arms around me. She cried with me. God shared his love with me through her.

I guess I wanted to share this with you all for two reasons.
1) To prove to you all what an imperfect person I am haha
2) To remind you NOT to let feelings harbor against someone.  If you have a problem with them, talk it out.  If you need to ask someone to forgive you, ask God to humble you to do so.  It’s hard.  It’s really really tough to admit you’re in the wrong.  But the end result is peace and fulfillment.  And God will honor your efforts to ‘love with brotherly love.  Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good.’

It's amazing what can happen when you obey God and do what he calls you to do.  By doing just that, Raquel and I have one less enemy and one more friend, who I can also call my sister.  Sometimes, asking for forgiveness and the act of forgiving are difficult, but humbling yourself unleashes you from the rope that's holding you back from experiencing joy. "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." -Proverbs 17:17


1.20.2015

Now what?



I have never been one to plan very far ahead.  God has taught me, many times, that I could plan weeks in advance for something, but at the last second, He could decide that my plans weren’t the best.

Going to Peru for the second time was an enthralling and incredible plan – of God’s, for me.  With a big trip like that, there obviously needs to be planning in advance.  But for the most part, that’s not how I function normally.  And right now is a perfect example of this.

I just got back from a 3-week trip to South America.  I left behind many people I love.  My soul was touched in more ways than one.  And my heart was torn for the hurt and pain of others.

And it ended.

I was pulled away.  I’m back in my beautiful Oregon home.  Now what?

Now what?

I unpack my luggage.  Go back to work.  Indulge my cravings for all the things I missed while in Peru.  And I cry.  For longing to be back with my boys in Kusi.

So now what?

There’s no way I can return to Peru any time soon.  At least in my mind, there isn’t.  I don’t know what God is thinking or planning right now.  But for reals, going back to Kusi within any number of months, at the moment, is labeled ‘IMPOSSIBLE’.  I hope and pray that God will change that title on that dream.  And of course, the sooner, the…nicer.  But until then, what am I supposed to do?

In Philippians, Paul speaks of being ‘content in whatever circumstances [he] is in…’.  Reading that verse in context, it’s speaking about food, prosperity, lack of necessities.  But I have felt much prompting from the Holy Spirit, reminding me of this verse.  Being content in whatever circumstance I’m in.
And right now, that means ‘wanting to be in Kusi even though I can’t’.  And it’s not that I don’t love being home – with my family, at my job, at my church, in my own bed, in my home.  But my heart and emotions are wrestling with being content here.

So now what?

I was pondering all this on my way to work the other morning.  I drove through a thick fog on the highway, and thought ‘Oh how appropriate…’, but then, I came around a bend, and this greeted me.


It was like God used nature to show me that He hears and understands me.  Fog…then sunlight and beauty.  His plan for me is beautiful.  I don’t know the outcome yet, but it’s beautiful.

This is just something I have been struggling with since being back.  I promise I will follow up on this post as the LORD reveals more of His plan for me.

1.19.2015

Music Monday | Song: Everything by Lifehouse

When I was in Peru, my team and I did a drama skit to the song Everything by Lifehouse.

Thanks to that, every time I hear this song now, I can only think of Peru.  And the message behind the song.  And the message behind our skit.  It is so powerful.

"Everything"
Performed by Lifehouse
Written by Jason Wade


How can I stand here with You, 

And not be moved by You? 
Would You tell me 
How could it be 
Any better than this? 

This part of the song is my favorite.  It's one of those awestruck questions, you know?  It describes one of those moments when God's hand and power are so evident and you're just like 'How can this NOT overwhelm me?'  It's phrased as a question, yes, but more to ourselves than to Him.  How can WE not be moved by Him?  


My team and I filmed the skit we did but the quality isn't very good.  So I'll leave you with a link to the same skit but done by a different group.


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I also signed up for the 30-day Christian music only Challenge.  Has anyone ever done that before?  This is the first time for me.

Have a great start to your week!

1.16.2015

#RaquelinPeruTake2 | Part 2 | Kusi


Trying to find a suitable way to begin this post was ridiculously difficult.  I delight in words and what I can convey through them.  But sometimes, there seems to be such a sad lack of words that can fully communicate the extensiveness of what I feel.  Or what I experience. 

Such is the case for my time in Peru.

Welcome to part 2 of me attempting to tell you about my trip…  I hope I can do it some justice.

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I met up with part of my team the night of the 29th, picked up the rest of them at the airport at 2 a.m. on the 30th.  We only had a few hours of sleep before having to board the bus for the 9-hour ride to Yungay.  And from Yungay, we took a taxi to Kusi.  The boys’ home.  The place I had left a piece of my heart in five months prior.


The reunion with my boys was better than I had imagined.  I was met with hugs and kisses and ‘welcome back’ greetings and smiles.  For dinner, the boys mingle with the team at nine different tables, and that first night, mine filled up the quickest.  My heart was so happy.

Because December is one of Peru’s summer months, the boys were out of school and the weeks I was there were spent, literally, just being with them.  Loving on them, teasing them, laughing, playing cards, writing with chalk, drawing pictures, going on walks and hikes, a water balloon fight, taking pictures, playing games, watching Guardians of the Galaxy, tickle fights, and many, many hugs. 



I spent New Years with them.  First time spending that holiday out of the country.  And it was, hands down, the best New Years I have ever had.  We rang it in with fireworks, sparklers, and dancing under a disco light.  We were up till 4 a.m. and I went to bed with a full, happy heart and tired legs.


My team and I had raised enough money to take all the boys to a public pool for a day.  I had caught a bit of a cold, so didn’t get in the water…at first.  But one of the boys convinced me to jump in with him.  So I did.  That night we also took them all out to dinner.  It was so wonderful seeing their happy and pleased faces after that long day of two activities that they never get to do altogether (because of expenses).
And on Sunday, we all crammed into the cafe in town for a Spanish-spoken sermon, and Spanish worship songs.  I got to help translate the sermon too - which was a big first for me.  I translated during an interview the team had with the overseeing parents, though.  A challenge that I was up for, and definitely enjoyed.


The Oregonians ^


One of my favorite memories is from the last night I spent in Kusi.  We had a slumber party on the balcony porch of the overseeing family’s house.  We told ghost stories, had a pillow fight, swung in the hammocks and I stayed up till 2 a.m. whispering in the dark with one of my boys.  And he fell asleep on my shoulder as I stroked his hair.

These boys are so much more than just ‘kids in another country’ or ‘boys I’ve spent time with’ or even ‘friends’.  They’re like my own brothers.  Family.  People have even told me that I could very easily be related to them.  Dark hair and eyes.  It’s a Peruvian thing.  And being able to tell them that I’m half-Peruvian, and communicate in their language (honestly, I love Spanish so much more than English)…it just made the bonding ties that much stronger.


I cried more on this trip than I did the last one.  The first night we were there, I cried as I prayed with my team and thanked God for allowing me to come back.  That first day was so overwhelming for me.  Everywhere I looked, I had déjà vu moments from the past summer.  I couldn’t believe I was back.  I kept hugging one of the boys (who calls me ‘hermanita’ – sister) and telling him it felt so right and perfect to be back in Kusi.  He smiled and told me he was glad I was back too.  And that he had missed me.

I cried that first night.  I cried when a teammate and I shared our struggles with each other.  I cried when I was brought back to reality and knew I was leaving soon.  I cried when one of the boys I am closest to gave his testimony, in a detailed version that he had never shared it before.  I cried when I was trying to say goodbye and hug every one of them the night I left.  I cried when one of my boys didn’t want to say goodbye and hid in the house, but I went and found him and hugged him tightly.  I cried when one of my boys waited to be the last one to say goodbye to me, gave me a hug, gripped my hand and asked me ‘When are you coming back?’  I cried as I opened the bus window and waved at the disappearing figures of all the boys gathered by the home as my team and I drove away.  I cried as the last boy I saw was the one who had impacted me the most, who I had loved the hardest, who I knew needed my love, and who didn’t want me to leave.

And I cried for an hour and a half after leaving that beautiful place, filled with the beautiful people whom I love.

There’s something about being able to feel.  About letting yourself be vulnerable and open and willing to experience whatever it is God wants you to be aware of.  And when you cooperate with God’s touch, He will use you.  Many times it will hurt.  Because one way to feel is through pain.

This second time to Kusi was very different from the first.  In July, my focus was to build a foundation of friendship with the boys.  And I was blessed to be able to speak their language.  When I got back to Oregon, I was satisfied that I had succeeded, and had a deep yearning to go back.  And the list of lessons God had taught me was quite long.
 
In December/January, I returned to that small village at the foot of Peru’s highest mountain.  And my goal this time was to build on that foundation I had started, and cultivate the relationships.

Since being back in Oregon, I have been trying to pinpoint certain aspects of my trip that were life-lessons.  But every time I tried, the image of a boy appeared in my thoughts.  Yes, a boy.  One boy.  One who taught me many things.

Remember what I said about being open and vulnerable?  Well, I was.  And when it came to this boy, God let me experience pain in a way I never had before.  This fifteen-year-old boy called me out on a habit I didn’t even know I had.  He tested my patience, pushed me to a limit, seemed demanding sometimes, appeared to others as a bit violent, didn’t express or show affection easily, and rarely smiled.  But I loved him.  And I knew he needed love.  It took a couple days but after we got over the little bumps, we were inseparable.  And he smiled when he was around me.  He smiled in the pictures I took with him.  He started showing affection, too.  Held my hand, hugged me, wanted me to sit with him, and even grabbed my arm and put it around his shoulders.  And when this fifteen-year-old boy shared his testimony in front of my whole team, the last night we were there, I don’t think there was a dry eye or whole heart in that room.  I was torn.  With every detail he spoke of, I felt my heart breaking, piece by piece.  He was crying.  I was crying.  One of my other boys was there with us too.  I pulled up a bench and sat in between them, rested a hand on both their shoulders, and prayed while he spoke.  Once the testimony ended, my team gathered around and prayed for him, for them, for all the boys.  And those two took my hands and held them as we prayed.  I didn’t initiate it.  They did.

You know that saying ‘Home is where the heart is’?  And ‘Home is where the ones you love are’?  Well, that place I call home is in Oregon, with my family.  But it’s also in Kusi, in Yungay, Peru, where all my brothers are.  Where God used me in more ways than I know.  Where He changed me and broke me and molded me in an excrutiatingly, glorious, painful, and magnificent way.

My heart aches to be back.  And not a minute has gone by that memories don’t flood my mind and heart and the faces of my boys fog my vision.

I need to go back.  Someday.

Soon.

Please, Jesus?