Make it Count

What times we live in. I don’t think any of us ever imagined that one day we’d refer to the good ole days…of a few weeks ago, when life was moving. When we were out of the house. Working, hustling, traveling, doing all the instagrammable things, with all the people we love. How fast things change.

One day we hear reports about a virus in another country, on the other side of the world, and the next day, it is here. In our country, in our city, our neighborhoods. So quickly. So surreal. Our lives literally changed overnight. We went through all the stages of being prepared…not really thinking about the big picture of what was happening. Then hunkering down, then the reality sinks in, and we mourn and grieve the realities of the plans that we are now cancelling….and now 6 weeks in, it’s real. We’re doing this staying home thing. For our safety, for the safety of our loved ones. So crazy!!

As we are settling in. Settling our minds, and our hearts, and making the most of this new reality, we’re also making new habits. We’re establishing new ‘norms’….because that’s what we do. As humans, it’s how we survive.

The one thing I see people doing this week is making masks. Masks for ourselves, our loved ones, and those around us. It’s actually really heartwarming to see humanity love and care for each other. It’s beautiful.

As I was in prayer for our world this weekend, I started reading the story of Nehemiah. He was a cupbearer to the King of Persia in his time, who heard about the walls in his city being destroyed. This troubled Nehemiah so much that the King took notice and asked him what was wrong. In a short conversation, the King allowed Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. He was later appointed to be the governor over that city.

Walls around a city, in the Bible, served as a protection from enemies, and defined separation; established boundaries to keep things in, and keep things out.

As I read the book, and thought about our current times, I felt like this was a great time to evaluate the walls in my life. What are the conditions of my walls? Have I allowed things into my heart, mind, soul that don’t belong? Have I allowed my enemy to win battles over my heart, mind, soul that I know He doesn’t deserve to win?

The answers were yes. Yes, I had allowed things to come into my walls that I should have never allowed. I was squandering my time. I was watching things that were fruitless and pointless. I was reading things that were popular, but so time consuming. They did nothing to help me grow as a person or as a Christian. Yes, I had allowed my enemy to win battles over me, like fear, like doubt, like self pity, comparison, and so many other things. Honestly, I would just let him win…calling them battles is not even fair.

Gosh, how did I get here? Slowly. One day at a time. One bad choice at a time. Until I made this a ‘normal’ thing. Is it surprising? Well, sadly, no.

I kept reading Nehemiah, and discovered what he did to repair the walls. He inspected- check! He began the work- harder than it sounds. What does that look like for me? Slow. One day at a time. One better choice at a time. Defining clear boundaries for myself.

I am finding that this quiet, quarantine, slower pace time in my life is really such a blessing. I am not done reading Nehemiah, not because it’s a long read- but because I am really dissecting it and really digging in deep. So far, I see that his enemies kept tempting, and coming around to provoke, and entice him into war….and I suspect that in my quest to rebuild my own walls, my enemy will do the same.

Because I love you, as a friend, and as a fellow human- won’t you evaluate your walls? Are there any gaps that you can work on closing? Maybe your walls are doing great- can you help those around you? Maybe your walls are completely destroyed- how can I help you rebuild?

I can point you to the one who I am completely devoted to, who helps me win every battle, and gives me the courage to set boundaries – Jesus. The one who changes me daily, who I can trust with every detail of my life….even the ugly parts.

Make your quiet time count. Don’t look back a few months from now, and regret the time you have now. It truly is a treasure. Time is a gift, that today, many are literally fighting with their lives for more of. Make it count.

Love, C

Fighting for Freedom

A few years ago, I became aware of a major problem lurking in the shadows all around us. I heard about the statistics that completely shook my core. Hearing that we have more people enslaved today than ever before in human history…how could that be? I thought. I couldn’t ignore that statistic.

That statistic kept me awake at night. It caused my overthinking brain to research and find out why. I began my quest for information, and the results of all the facts surrounding human trafficking were extremely sobering and all too gut wrenching. The ever expansive problem of human trafficking was so vast, it was hard to grasp all of it. Surely others have heard about this. Surely.

That was not my experience. When I became aware, I could not think about anything else, except the possibility of people currently being enslaved. Someone’s daughter, mother, friend, son, father, brother. When I mentioned my findings to others, they were in complete shock and many times in complete denial and disbelief, as if I was telling them something that could not possibly be true.

In an effort to bring awareness to this topic, first in my own community, I began my search of people that would help me host the first A21 Walk for Freedom in San Antonio, TX. That search, brought together many wonderful friends who share a passion to see others come to freedom. As we began our mission of hosting a walk, we received a donation to file to become a non profit organization.

On February 21, 2020, A21 Freedom Chasers will celebrate 5 years. In these 5 years, we’ve had the amazing opportunity to serve our community as an awareness group. We have hosted the A21 Walk for Freedom with many others around the world, and have seen so many people walk in their new found freedom, because someone had the courage to help them. Because someone empowered them and gave them a voice.

Awareness is prevention. We firmly believe this.

Every single one of us is a Freedom Chaser. Every one of us has the opportunity to help someone find freedom.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

Red Flags / Indicators:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.*

See something? Say Something:

Human Trafficking Hotline (save this as a favorite on your phone):

or text HELP or INFO to
BeFree (233733)

You can find helpful information at www.a21freedomchasers.org, or on all social media platforms- A21 Freedom Chasers, and make sure you tune into our podcast- Talk for Freedom- available on Apple podcast, and Google Play.

 

*Blue Campaign

 

Old Things to Count On In the New Year

Revelation 21:5
Behold I make all things new.

New-different from one of the same category that has existed previously. (according to Merriam- Webster Dictionary)

The idea of something new. Something never before seen, or never before experienced can be both exciting, and scary. I don’t think we fully understand new. Our minds always look to compare something ‘new’, to something familiar. We have a hard time fully understanding new.

When the iPhone was talked about, we really couldn’t grasp the idea of a phone, also being a mini computer in our hands. We didn’t know what it was, and we had nothing to compare it to. It was new, and unknown.

Several times in the Bible we see the word new. Here, the Greek word for new is Kainos. The same word Paul used to describe us as new creations in 2 Corinthians 5:17. He said, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’

Here we are. At the brink of starting a new year. A new decade.

There is so much that has transpired in the last decade, in the last year. For all of us, some kind of pain, some kind of loss, and many victories, celebrations, memories, and successes. When we look back, it’s hard to have even predicted. Sure we plan as best as we can, and we steward our time as best as we can, and yet still, so much of the last decade / year, somehow seems to either take our breath away, or make us cry…maybe both…at the same time. 🙂

One thing is for sure. New is new. This new year, this new decade is completely unknown. On the other side of our midnight hour, awaits love, pain, loss, success, and so much more. It’s enough to make us nervous, and eagerly anticipate tomorrow.  The next year, the next ten, are brand new chapters. Brand new opportunities. Brand new adventures. We can plan for them, and we can steward our time in them. Hoping and praying that we make the very best of them.

Although we are unaware of tomorrow and all of the new things that await us, we can always trust in the Old Gospel that still saves, and still speaks. We can always trust on the God, the creator of all things new, who is unchanging, and unmoved. We can trust in the old rugged cross. In the power that Jesus, through the ages, has proven victorious, and still reigns.

All of our unknowns, can be trusted to a known God. Even in the new, God has already been in, and walks with us. Every new goal, He looks forward to guiding you through, every unexpected loss, He carries you through. Every new unexpected thing to us, is already known to Him. Trust Him.

Our old selves can be made new by the God who creates new things. We can trust Him with our year, and we can trust Him with our lives. If you are looking for something new, let this new year be the year you trust Jesus to make you new.

Some old things can still be trusted. Jesus, His unchanging nature. The Gospel, His words to us. The Cross, where everything became new.

Happy New Year, Ceci

Who am I?

My name is Cecilia. I have so many nicknames, and for the most part, I’m known as Ceci. Honestly only my father calls me by my given name. Maybe because he helped name me. Maybe because he wants to remind me that I am Cecilia, and not Ceci. I’ve never asked him why, but I enjoy hearing my real, whole name said every once in a while, so it’s not an issue.

Even still, I am not just Cecilia. My name is not my identity. My identity is wrapped in something far greater, far deeper. Deeper than the name my father gave me, and deeper than the brown eyes my mom gave me. So who am I?

I think this is a question so many of us have, without knowing that we are asking it. In news stories, in social media posts, everywhere you look, the question is loud. Who am I? There’s movements for everything today. Political movements, racial movements, gender movements, ethnic movements. Regardless of the movement you belong to, there’s so much hatred from the others. There’s little to no room for mercy or grace.

As a woman, I am God’s idea. Just like men are. I have everything inside of me to be everything I was created to be. To do everything I was created to do. Nothing is lacking. Nothing.

Have we forgotten who we are? At a time where we have access to everyone else’s lives, have we forgotten who WE are? In the midst of seeing how Betty organizes her pantry, and how Suzy does her make up, and John’s mega ab workout, do we know who we are? While trying to become better versions of ourselves, have we taken on trying to become more like Betty, Suzy, and John instead?

Our identity can only be found one way- by looking at our creator. We cannot separate ourselves from Him. We are made in His image. Each of us unique. Each of us creatively and beautifully hand crafted. No one the same. How amazing that out of every one of us, not one is the same as the other. No competition required. There’s room for each of us to shine brightly in our own unique gifts and talents. Like an artist and their canvas, never exactly creating the same portrait twice, so are we in the hands of our creator. We’re so intricately alike in our physical attributes, yet soo incredibly different in mind, body, and spirit.

Our identity is more than our social media feed, or our greatest accomplishments. It’s who we are. And who we are can only be found in who made us. Inside of us exists a familiarity toward God, because our being remembers His voice and knows when He speaks.

My name is Cecilia. I am a woman created to love people. Like my creator, I am created to solve problems, to speak kindness, be joyful, care for others, bring life to everything I am a part of. I am created for community. I am created to nurture, and see destiny when there is disaster in front of me. Despite how I am treated, I am created to love.

Ladies and gentlemen, remember who you are. When we look beyond labels, and platforms, we are family. You are my brothers and sisters, and I am yours. I choose to honor and celebrate you and your unique gifts and talents rather than try to be like you. I know you will celebrate me, when I operate in mine.

Who we are is not what the world looks like today. Not one single person is responsible for where we are… we all are. We all carry the responsibility of representing our creator better than we have been. As my family, I will pray for you. I lock arms with you and believe in you. All of you. Let’s abandon the labels. The movements. Let’s be family and love without restrain. It’s what family does.

This is My Story. This is My Song.

What if we saw life as a song?

Like a beautiful symphony.

A compilation of riveting, exciting, dance worthy tempos, rhythms, and melodies. Followed by deep, dark, cry-worthy notes and harmonies. Yet beautifully arranged to make a masterpiece. A masterpiece worth playing on the world’s stages. For all to admire.

Not only are our lives a beautiful symphony. So is everyone else’s. So is all of nature.

Every single living thing singing aloud, in its highest voice….to an audience of one. The Father.

How fascinating!!

Each of us are on a different portion of our song. Some of us are on the highs, and some of us are on the lows of our song. No one better sounding than the other, all of us as important and all of us as loved.

Each portion of the song fits together. Like puzzle pieces. The song wouldn’t be the same, and it wouldn’t sound beautiful if the dark pieces weren’t knitted together with the uplifting, joyous crescendos! It wouldn’t be complete!

Life is so intricate, and so beautiful. We don’t always understand the overall beauty in it, until we step outside of the physical, mundane routine of it. When we stop and really take inventory of who we are….I mean at our very core. Who we genuinely are. Who we are becoming…and who is writing our story. It’s humbling. It’s majestic. It’s beautiful, and it’s so wonderful.

To know that we are unique, no one can replace us, also indicates that each of us has a unique role. One that is only ours. Not positions and titles- those will always change- but roles.

Our lives were never meant to be perfect. Somewhere along the way, we picked up that lie and have used it to measure other people against (usually not ourselves). When Jesus paid the ultimate price of His life on the cross, there was room for our errors, our mistakes, and short comings. Like a savings account for a rainy day. There’s enough of His mercy to cover all of it. Every. Single. Time. Not just for us…but for every person in the whole world. No exceptions.

But wait! There’s more….

We get a tour guide for our journey. A guide that is an expert at this living life thing. Who will ever so gently and ever so lovingly take us by the hand on both the amazingly great and the darkest seasons of our lives…our songs. The Holy Spirit is so gracious. When we learn to partner with Him, life just makes more sense. We’re not wandering aimlessly. We listen more than we talk. We love being silent just to see what the next words will be. Like a warm hug after a long day. Like a friend who knows everything about you. I have never loved being still more than I do now.

I feel like I have a partner for life. When you learn to listen, and how you personally hear His voice- you will learn so much. The Holy Spirit (the spoken word of God) will never contradict the written word of God. It will always confirm it, or repeat it- but never contradict it. You must know how to listen for it….and this is also why Paul told Timothy in 2.Timothy 2:15, ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.’ When you know the word of God, no other words, no other lies, can deceive you.

If you stepped out of yourself and your present circumstances. No matter how dire, or how amazing….they are all working together. We have a master composer in the Father, who works every detail of our lives into such a beautiful masterpiece. And like the musicians- the pieces of the music may not make sense but they keep playing while the conductor waves his baton. Such are we. We don’t stop the music during the hard parts, we keep playing. We trust that the next note will be higher, and the next piece more lively. We trust. We hide in the secret place. Knowing that we are not alone. Resting in the wisdom of the conductor. As he keeps waving the baton, we keep moving.

Suddenly, in the wonder of it all…everything begins to make sense. Every trial, every dark moment, every great and exciting moment. All of it begins to make sense. Our song takes shape, and as we live it out, we make a harmonious sound, along with every other song, to the Father. As we hear the Holy Spirit guiding, leading, and instructing, always representing the finished work of Jesus.

If you close your eyes and meditate on the beauty that is your life…can you hear it? can you hear your song? Sing it out loud, play it out loud for the world to hear!

Freedom in Gratefulness

These days seem to fly us by. Days seem like hours, and without warning we leap from one year to the next. No wonder James said in the bible that life was like a vapor, here for a little while, and then gone [James 4:14]. Our lives are made of the hours- the moments- in each day. If you took some time to reflect on today, how would you rate it? Would you consider the moments that drove you nuts before the moments that left you in awe? Back up a little to the last year. How would you rate it?

We have a natural tendency to think about the big moments over the little ones. Mostly the painful, unfair moments over the good and the sweet moments. According to research, our memories are closely related to our emotions and when we feel sadness, pain, hurt- we remember the details of those memories more accurately than the happy memories.*

What if we challenged this? What if we made it our life goal to be the group of people who proved science wrong, and made a conscious effort to be the people who choose to remember the happy things, the little things, the sweet gestures, the lovely people in our days? Don’t the little things add up to big things anyway?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone asked- how was your day? how was your year?- and you answered with the best of the moments of your day and your year?

I have a feeling that would actually be liberating.

I’m sure you’re wondering how that can be liberating. Think about it. If you’re not thinking about the good things then you’re thinking about the bad / sad, things. And if you think about the last bad / sad thing you experienced, wasn’t it just such a drab?

I don’t know about you, but the last time I was sad, it totally made my days unproductive. I wanted to do nothing but lay and mope around all day. I didn’t want to be comforted. I wanted everyone to let me hurt. There seemed to be this weight around my heart, around my neck and on my chest. Breathing was a task, thinking about anything else was impossible, except to think about the one thing that made everything hurt. It consumed my moments, and moments turned to days. After I felt better, making up for the days I’d lost was hard, and frustrating. This added to the count of days I was out for the sad / bad event.

Now think about a time when you were happy. When something was so exciting, so fun, and so lovely. I don’t know about you, but for me, those days add a skip to my step. They make everything lighter and everything brighter. I smile more. I sing out loud more (which probably isn’t a good thing for others), I have more conversations with others, and sometimes I try to do nice things for others so they have a good day too. These days are more productive. I do more because it’s a joy to! It doesn’t bother me to stay longer at the office, or even go out of my way to do extra work.

Are you starting to see the contrast between them? Allow me to add some context to my original thought of how thinking positive, thinking on good things can be liberating.

Sad / bad events hurt. They require healing and self-care. That should never be discounted or short-cutted. If not addressed, this issue can go on to create bigger hurts to you and those you care for. After the healing process, you have a scar. Yes, it’s a memory. One of the memories I described earlier that over shadow the good memories.

If we only allow ourselves to only think about these bad / sad events, aren’t we still letting that re-occur in our minds? Isn’t the count of days that that event has taken from us still going?

What if we re-trained our mind to think MORE about the good little things than we do about these sad / bad events? This doesn’t discount the sad / bad events. It just allows you to move forward, and leave them in your past.

Now consider that we could even thank God for the sad / bad events. Consider that if we looked back at them, and see the sovereignty, and provision of God working all around us. In every instance, in every person, and in every way. It’s so hard to see this when we are in the moment, but when we have healed- truly healed- we can look back and dissect the event, like a lab experiment, and see that in everything God kept you. His sweet hands held you. His sweet voice whispered His love to you. He sent people to love on you, and His angels to protect you. He kept your mind from wandering into the unknown places. He kept you.

You see, gratefulness can be a state of being. It doesn’t have to be a one day thing. It can be a lifestyle. It can be a purposeful, intentional action that we do every day, and every day will turn into every year, will turn into a lifestyle.

Is it any wonder that Paul wrote to the house churches in Rome that ‘we know that God causes everything to work together.’ [Romans 8:28]? Can it be that the very thing that we thought was so painful and so destructive, could actually be a thing that we can be thankful for? Dare I say, grateful for?

David had to encourage himself in the Lord. [I Samuel 30:6] He struggled with remembering the good things too. Paul said that he ‘learned to be content with whatever he had.’ [Philippians 4:11] These two are giants in the bible. They did some amazing feats! This tells me that the struggle to remain positive, to think about the good things  was real. But it wasn’t impossible. It just requires some work. Paul charged the church in Philippi to fix their ‘thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ [Philippians 4:8]

James said that ‘when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.’ [James 1:2]

You see if I know now, ahead of time, before the sad / bad thing comes, that it will be for my good, doesn’t that somehow give me some kind of relief? To know that although I will hurt now, my pain is for my growth. The development of my character. To refine me. To betterfy me. (yes, that should be a word) Not only will it be for my good, but I will not have to go through it alone. God promises to ‘never leave us, or abandon us.’ [Hebrews 13:5]

Knowing this I can confidently proclaim like Isaiah ‘Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense ; he has become my salvation.” [Isaiah 12:2] And like David sing ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ [Psalm 23:4] The rod, and the staff are instruments of correction to sheep. Remember David was a Shepard.

So the instruments that were meant to hurt me, I can now say with a grateful heart, that they have become instruments of comfort to me. Offering freedom and comfort to be grateful for the littlest of moments that add up to days, to years of God’s amazing love for me.  This sets me free to enjoy the moment I have now, and look forward to the moments in my future. Freedom in knowing that no matter what, I always have some thing (even if it is a sad /bad thing) to be grateful for. Freedom to know that my God is a God who is with me in the sad / bad events, and is with me in the most glorious of times.

 

*https://www.livescience.com/1827-bad-memories-stick-good.html

 

 

Walk for Freedom 2017

Freedom- The state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action, liberation from slavery or restraint- or from the power of another. 

When we think of freedom we often categorize the word within our nation’s history. In a time we do not know, and have yet to realize. Our minds just cannot think of a time in our generation, in our precious country, when a group of people where sold as property, kept in conditions that were less than par, and without any choice to make on their own accord.

What if I told you that there are more people enslaved today, than ever before in world history?

What if I told you that these enslaved people are among us, each and every day?

According to A21.org there are millions of slaves in the world today. More than ever before in human history, and only 1% of victims are ever rescued.

I’m sure that by now, you are a little confused and not real sure what I am talking about. Let me explain because these are the statistics that shook me to my core. These are the statistics that were engraved in my mind and in my heart for months, before I decided to be a part of the solution. And like you, I was confused. I just couldn’t understand, and sometimes I still struggle with these numbers.

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. It is considered to rank among the top three in biggest organized crimes in the world. Up there with drugs and weapons.

In 2015, I joined a Walk for Freedom in Killeen, TX. Four hours from San Antonio, where I reside. A21 is a global organization in the fight against human trafficking internationally. They have twelve offices around the world, two in the U.S. As part of spreading awareness on this issue, they have a global event called a Walk for Freedom. It happens all over the world, on the same day. For a period of twenty-four hours there is a new walk starting every five mins somewhere around the world. It’s a very powerful, and moving event. My first experience with this walk was in Killeen. There was nothing closer to San Antonio. I couldn’t understand that.

I drove the four hours in anticipation to join with abolitionists at this walk and make a difference. Not really knowing what to expect. As I drove home, I was so impressed with the young lady who hosted the walk. She was a senior in high school. The school she attended required a major project before graduation. She mentioned her classmates were putting on walks for breast cancer, and other types of events. She’d met Christine Caine, the founder of A21 a few summers before at a church camp where she was a guest speaker. She remembered being heart broken by what Christine described on the topic of human trafficking, and thought that the Walk for Freedom would be the perfect event she would host for her project. Impressed by her, and with some help from the Holy Spirit, I knew I was called to do the same in my city.

In 2016, without knowing how everything was going to play out, I decided I would not only host the Walk for Freedom in my city, but I would also start an A-Team [Abolitionist Team]. I met so many people who would become great friends, and help me accomplish this goal I had set out to do. There were some bumps in the road, but overall, we put on a wonderful event. We had a few shy of 300 participants. The impact on so many people was just overwhelming.

At this point, we knew we had to do it again.

My goal of hosting a walk turned into creating a non-profit organization, becoming a part of AACAT [Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking], having many allies in this fight against trafficking, and being a part of the Super Bowl Justice Rally in 2017.

As a team, we set out to begin the planning for 2017 Walk for Freedom. From the onset, things were rough. Planning was not easy. There were many pieces that had become so difficult, so expensive, and so unexpected. We prayed throughout the year, that somehow everything would work out. As the day approached, things seem to fall into place. There were a few loose ends we had to prepare for. The day finally arrived and with anticipation, we gathered.

The morning started a little rough. There were a few things that transpired that added worry and weight on my heart. As the walk began, and there were things happening both during the walk and back at the park where we began, that were out of our control. I remember praying as I walked- ‘ Lord, cover this event with your peace. Settle my heart. Be here with us. Let your grace cover us.’

As we finished the walk, we had a live band playing worship music with songs geared toward freedom. My heart rejoiced, and I was quickly reminded that no matter what was transpiring all around, the goal of our event was being fulfilled.

As I met with several people after the event, including our guest speaker, when I heard someone say they thought there was a survivor walking this walk with us. My heart stopped for a second. At the moment, the only words I could think were: ‘We did this for her! She was THE ONE!’

After I went home, those words just resonated in my mind and in my heart. I became undone. In the quietness of my time in prayer, I opened my heart and every tear that I’d held. Every worry I’d kept inside. Every fear I had. Were now soothed over by the realization of what had just occurred. That day our ONE was in the midst of our cause. The ONE we fight for. The ONE we pray for. The ONE we walk for.

She was there.

I still get emotional telling that story. All of the trouble we went through all year, even the day of….had now made sense. We have a very real enemy who will stop at nothing to make sure we do not see anyone saved.  Today, we not only walked for the ONE. We walked WITH the ONE. Side by side, declaring that freedom rings, and Jesus saves. Today, our enemy didn’t win. Freedom did. Freedom will always win- and we are here to make sure of it. We are modern-day abolitionists, Freedom Chasers.

Sources Cited:

Definition of Freedom: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freedom & http://www.dictionary.com/browse/freedom

A21: http://www.a21.org/content/human-trafficking/gnjb89

Definition of Human Trafficking: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html

 

 

One Word

I love a good book. I love words. I love writing. There’s something about reading something that stays preserved so much longer than verbal words.

The beauty in articulating words together so perfectly that in my mind, I’m right there with you…and you’re right here with me. Words can take us from one messy scene to the most beautiful of paradises, all in one paragraph.

What is it about words?

They have a way of drawing us in, and leave us begging for more. Words make stories, and stories are our lives.

If your story could be described in one word, what would that word be?

Mine would be: Graceful.

Full of Grace. Doesn’t that leave you wanting to know more?

 

In Love’s Path

On Saturday, September 17, 2017 a group of about 80 volunteers traveled with Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX to Rockport, TX to assist in cleaning up debris left behind by hurricane Harvey the week before.

My brother, Cesar and his wife Cindy and I, had the opportunity to join in these efforts. We arrived at the church grounds a little after 4 am that morning to load into the buses and head out. The drive time to Rockport from San Antonio is about 3 hours, 182 miles. Right before arriving at Rockport we passed through Corpus Christi, and as we entered the city- there was evidence of Hurricane Harvey’s destructive ways, his path, his fury.

It was incredibly surreal.

I don’t think you can ever prepare for seeing something so heartbreaking. The news didn’t do justice to the reality of what we saw. The sights hit your heart like a ton of bricks. Nothing else can really explain it. Our bus was silent. What we were witnessing, as we rode in our bus, through Corpus Christi into Rockport, was jaw-dropping. Occassionally someone said, ‘Oh my goodness’, or ‘how sad’, or ‘wow’. It’s hard to formulate the right adjectives to come out of your mouth, that you feel in your heart.

In the piles of 2 x 4’s, and plywood you could spot what used to be someone’s dining room. Someone’s bedroom. Living space. Businesses completely leveled to the ground. I couldn’t help but think about someone coming back after evacuating- hoping, and wishing, and praying that their home would be spared, that their place of employment, their place of worship, their home-grown business- that they would still be standing with minimal, or no damage. Only to find it is now a pile of furniture, under wooden beams, soaked with stenched water. Nothing as you left it. Tree limbs and critters now occupy the space you called home. Heartbreaking.

In my mind, I formed stories. I imagined how they’d worked so hard to build that home. How they’d worked so hard to build that business, or get that job that they were so proud of.

I started to wonder how I might feel if that were me. If I came home and it was gone, demolished- what would I do? How might I feel?

When we arrived in Rockport, our first stop was at a BBQ restaurant. The only place in that area with running water and electricity. We unloaded supplies there, we used their bathrooms, and we picked up a few things like bug spray, working gloves, masks, and sunblock. I’m so glad they had bug spray. As soon as the bus door opened we saw mosquitos come into the bus. They were the size of my thumb nail. HUGE. Aside from not wanting to get bitten, there is a risk in getting bitten. With all of the stagnant water out, and possible sewege- there’s no telling if they carry any diseases.

We were given a description of what to expect when we arrived at the neighborhood we’d be helping. Snakes, spiders, critters, sharp objects, were just a few of the things we were warned about.  A kind gentleman prayed over us and blessed us as we sat in the bus ready, and eager to work. To get our hands dirty.

We drove into the neighborhood and knew we were about to get real dirty. Harvey’s destruction left it’s mark on people’s homes. In their yards, and at every turn.

The home we were assigned to belonged to Dale and Suzy*. Their son Thomas (Tommy), had been working to clean up the mess in and around his parents home for 3 consecutive days- with little to no sleep, and not having showered in 3 days. He looked exhausted. The work looked daunting.

It didn’t take long for us to just get in there. We put our gloves on, and started making piles of brush on the streets, for city workers to collect when the time came. We formed teams. We had guys with chain saws that cut the big massive oak trees down into smaller pieces that the rest of us could drag off. It was team work. It was hard work. The heat was about 100+ degrees, and it was beating down on us. We made sure to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks in the nearby bus that was left on and provided a nice cool place of rest.

During the hottest times, it seemed like we were never going to finish. It seemed like we hadn’t made much progress. After lunch, about 2pm, we walked back to keep working. We could really see the progress we’d made then. We high-fiving each other, rooting each other on. It was almost like a second wind. We felt accomplished. We wanted to do more.

We ended up splitting off into several smaller teams. Walking the neighborhood and asking if we could help those families that were already outside doing work. One lady was outside working with her husband. When we asked if we could help, she got emotional and said yes. We all gave her a hug, got our instructions, and went to work.

At this location there was an awful smell. Some kind of stagnant water, among other things. We continued to clear debris, in the sweltering heat, in layers, with this smell- that sometimes we’d end up stepping in. It was not pretty. It was hard, it was painful, and it was HOT! About every 10 mins or so one of us felt like we were going to faint.

We’d been given a time that we needed to be back in the bus by, and as that time approached, we scurried to do the most we could in the little time we had left. Finally, we told the home owners we needed to leave. We thanked them for allowing us to help them. The man of the house was teary-eyed and asked if he could pray for us. He and his son prayed over us. It was such a simple, sweet, heart-felt prayer. He blessed us. HE blessed US.

Indeed the entire experience was a blessing. Let me explain.

After the prayer we were chatting, and this man was so grateful. So GENUINELY grateful. Not just grateful that strangers would come from 3 hours away to help him clean his yard- but grateful about how God had worked in this storm. He explained how he and his family lived so close together. His sister lived behind him, and his mother next to him. He said he and his sister had the most damage, but he and his sister have homeowners insurance and flood insurance, and they have newer homes. He said his elderly mother lives in an 80-year-old small barn that his dad built for her, and she doesn’t have any insurance. Her home was the only one in the neighborhood that didn’t get any damage, aside from a broken gutter.

What a powerful perspective. He was going to be grateful regardless of the circumstance. He was looking for something to still give God the glory for. It didn’t matter to him that he was having to clean up his yard- it was everything to him that his mother didn’t have to because she couldn’t. In more ways than one. Physically, and Financially. He wasn’t crying because the work was daunting and overwhelming, he was crying because he had the most important things that mattered- his family, his life, and now, new friends that he could share this with. He was grateful from a place that had been broken.

We all hugged him, his son, and his wife, and headed back to the bus. As I walked back, the question in my mind about how I’d feel if devastation took my home changed. It was now: Could I be as grateful if devastation took my home?

As we rode off back to the BBQ place where we’d started, we saw love on display. It was beautiful.

The city we’d driven into that morning had come alive. Teams of people had come together at every corner to cook something and offered it to each other for free. There was BBQ, there were hotdogs, there was chicken, there were sausage wraps- you name it, it was there…and it was free. At some locations there were even supplies, toiletries, clothing that were there for the taking. Texas and U.S. flags waved with pride.

It was beautiful.

We saw company trucks from other states like Florida and Oklahoma. We saw the U.S. Military.

Harvey came. Harvey destroyed many people’s homes, and changed others, but it never touched their hearts.

Humanity, as it was created to be, is alive in Rockport. Brothers and sisters unite in one common theme- love.

Regardless of state and city boundaries. Regardless of faith, of race, of political views, of ANY THING else- Love abounds.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, cold fronts follow a path, where they bring destruction and fear. Love has a path too, it is contagious, it is reciprocated, it is beautiful. Yesterday we had the pleasure of being in its path, and we will forever be blessed by it.

I Corinthians 13:1-7 NLT

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If i had the gift of prophecy, and if understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

 

 

 

*Not exactly sure of her name-but Suzy keeps coming to mind. Someone correct me if I’m wrong 🙂 For the record: we did not have any snake, or critter encounters. Thank you Jesus.

A Healing Legacy

Some families have amazing sports and athletic abilities that run from generation to generation. Other families have academic scholarly genes that are passed down through generations. Although we’d like to believe we are athletically inclined, we are instead- challenged in this area. And although we have our share of  intellect in our family,  we are no Einsteins. We don’t pretend to know everything, we keep it real, and really humble- God has been Good. We recognize His hand in each of our lives. We may never win Nobel Prizes, or Honorable Mentions- but we have a hall dedicated to the López family in heaven’s hall of fame that give testimony after testimony of God’s healing in each of our lives. Our family legacy is one of God’s amazing healing power.

In 1978, my parents, Carlos & Cristina Lopez were married and later that year, my older brother Carlos Jr. was born. He was a beautiful baby boy. Active, and energetic. At 4 months old, my brother was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. A fatal disease that every doctor assured was his fate. As his days in the hospital turned into weeks, and weeks into months- my parents desperate for their precious boy to survive, turned to God. Someone they had heard of, but never really had a relationship with. My father recalls at some point whispering ‘If you’re real -save my son. If you save him, I will serve you all the days of my life.’ At some point, things began to change. My brother was recovering. With the help of doctors and medicine, he was making a turn in his diagnosis. Dr’s then began to say that if my brother lived, he would be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life, and would probably be paralyzed. 38 years later, my brother is an RN at Santa Rosa Hospital. He has never been bound to a wheelchair, and lives to tell his testimony. Jehovah Rapha.

As if that wasn’t enough for a newly wed couple to endure- a few months after, my father was bitten by a rattlesnake. Almost losing his life. Thankfully, my father survived the snake bite. He lost the nerves on his toes and had to have several skin grafts done for the lost skin from the snake’s venom, but survived to tell about it. At the time, my mother was left to care for my recovering brother and now my recovering father.

About 3 years later I was born. I was born with a congenital heart condition, bicuspid aortic valve.  When I was a kid, I saw many cardiologists, and spent my weekends being monitored by ultrasounds, to be sure the hole in my heart (literally) wasn’t growing. Aside from that, I had a great childhood. When I became a teenager, and experienced growing pains, I also developed excruciating chest pains. I couldn’t sleep comfortably, or sit for too long, definitely not reach for anything, without hurting. Lots of trips to different cardiologists, and heart specialists- but it passed, and I functioned just fine. I never had any issues- until one day, about 7 years ago, when I went to my doctor for a cold. He listened to my heart and didn’t like the sound of it. He referred me back to my cardiologist, and the news just worsened. He let me know that my heart was beginning to form a pool of blood at the top of my heart, which could result in a blood cot to my brain, or lung- which would kill me instantly, and the only way to fix that was through open heart surgery. This would repair the leaking valve.

A single mom with two small children, it shook me. I prepared for the worst. Spoke to my family, got all the paperwork ready to prepare for open heart surgery, and prayed. I remember telling my family to pray that the Lord would give me a new heart. I didn’t want the same heart, I wanted a new heart. I was called to the Dr’s office to schedule my surgery and he said, ‘let me go ahead and do another sonogram on your heart, I want to see what it looks like today.’ After the sonogram, I walked over to the patient room where he waited for me. He read the results to me and said – ‘ I can’t believe this. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s like you have a new heart.’ When he said those words- uncontrollable tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t contain myself. He dismissed me, and told me he didn’t want to see me for 60 more years. I know that I know God performed surgery on me….and left no scars.

As I type these testimonies, I can’t help but get emotional. God has been good y’all! He has shown up. Every. Single. Time.

When my brother Cesar was about 17 years old, he was visiting some friends in Skidmore, TX. It was a nice summer night, and they played outside with a hacky sack. This is a small bean bag type of ball. Somewhere in all the fun, he was trying to come up from under a large metal beam- it was from a metal frame structure the family was building. On his way up, his head came too close to the metal edge, and he cleanly shaved off his scalp. His skull completely exposed. He didn’t realize how serious it was immediately, but after lots of blood loss, he began to understand the severity of his injury. Thankfully, his friends acted quickly. They placed towels on his head, and pressure- trying to keep him awake. He was 3.5 hours from home, but my aunt who lives in Skidmore made sure to take him to the nearest hospital and stay with him. After lots and lots of stitches, and lots of pain medication- Cesar was ok. He has a gnarly scar to show for his hacky sack stunt, but in all seriousness, angels were with him. They kept him at peace, and allowed him to think clearly during this crucial time.

My littlest brother, Cornelio is tough as nails. A few years ago, we thought we were losing him. He suffered in silence. Afraid, and secluded- he stopped eating, stopped communicating. He lost more than half of his body weight- it was scary. A few years went on, and we did our best to get him help, to no avail. As a family, we united in prayer, in fasting, in communion. One day, on his own, he decided he was ready to feel better. God placed the right Dr’s, the right staff, counselors that understood his fight, and understood his mind. Today, he has recovered, and is well. You’d never know he was ever ill. Jehovah Rapha.

On October 29th, 2001, my daughter Catherine Grace was born. She was so tiny and so beautiful. A lively, and energetic little girl. One day, when she was 18 months old in the middle of the summer, she developed a fever. It was odd, she had no other symptoms, no cough or runny nose- no signs of being sick, except for the fever. After a few days, I took her to her pediatrician who prescribed an antibiotic, just in case- since she didn’t seem to show any other signs of sickness. She finished her 10 day dosage and continued to have fever. These were high fevers too- 103, 104. On the 12th day, I took her to the ER, where they admitted her. By this time, she was a little dehydrated from having fever so long. During this time, they quarantined us in the room. I was 8 months pregnant with my son. They didn’t know what was wrong with her. They ran all kinds of tests, my poor little baby girl was poked and prodded. I remember one day I’d had enough of them poking her (week 2 of being in the hospital)- and I begged them to stop. She cried, I cried….and we prayed. It was so scary. No one could come in without wearing a hazmat suit, and for an 18 month old to be quarantined- that’s a nightmare. When she played with a toy, it had to be thrown away. Around that time SARS was rampant in the U.S. Naturally, I worried that she might have contracted that somewhere- even though we never went anywhere, I was a stay-at-home mom. After being in the hospital for 3 weeks with high temperature fevers, she began to get better. The fever broke. We didn’t have a diagnosis- but we had a God who heard us, and had mercy on little Catherine. She was released, and has never had that happen again!

My son Joseph was about 4 years old when on a normal physical, in his pediatrician’s office she noticed something in the back of his throat near his tonsils. After further investigating she diagnosed it as a small tumor. This would call for a tonsillectomy. With a referral we proceeded to make the plans, and the enemy fought us hard to keep us from getting the procedure done. There were many months that passed due to complications. Lots of prayers for this sweet boy, and the day finally came when the surgery was performed, and he did just fine. The tumors have never returned. God is good!

Recently, my mom was diagnosed with mesothelioma and lung cancer. With no signs or symptoms of any sickness. No pain, no discomfort, no family history of cancer, never smoked a day in her life, and the doctors have said this disease is inside of her. Although I do believe it is there, I also believe it will soon be gone. I believe her healing is coming. Our faith is renewed and our hearts are expectant. Jesus, say the word!

From generation to generation, His hand has been merciful. He has been graceful in healing each and every member of my family from death. We can’t help but live to thank Him, and tell of His amazing love toward us.

And so we proclaim, we shout with a loud voice- The Lord is our healer! Jehova Rapha.