Monday, May 28, 2012

Mary, the teenager


Would you trust a teenager to be part of the salvation plan for humanity? Would you entrust a teenager with raising a king? Would you think that a teenager would be mature enough or spiritual enough to carry the Son of God in her womb? I don't know about you, but I would not. And yet, God chose Mary, the teenager.

The Bible does not state how old Mary was when she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, but according to the tradition of those days, girls would be given to marriage very early in their lives, and most believe that Mary would have been no older than 17 years old at the time the Angel spoke to her.

It is hard to see through the cultural differences, understand how mature a Jewish teenager girl would have been during the time Jesus was born, but one thing is for sure, a 14 years old girl at that time meant that she had lived 14 years, the same for a 14 years old today. So how does a teenager is said by the angel "for you have found favor with God"? Luke 1:30. I remember another man to whom the same is said: Noah "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord" Gen 6:8. And how is Noah described? "Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations, Noah walked with God" Gen 6:9.

We have a tendency in our culture to give free pass for teenagers to have fun, enjoy life, spend time with friends and pursue their own interests. There is nothing wrong in itself with those things, but sometimes I wonder if instead of a maturing age, teenager years have become a free pass to be immature. God chose a teenager to receive the most beautiful news any ear could have heard "You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end". Luke 1:31-33.

All the prophets and kings in the Old Testament would have given anything to listen to such words. And yet, God did not chose a prophet, a priest or a king to hear them. God chose a teenager. Why? Mary understood why. She says "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant... He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly" Luke 1:47-52. Because all glory goes to God. He chooses the humble, the maidservants, the lowly, the hungry and the poor. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, toward men of goodwill (or those on whom His favor rests)" Luke 2:14.

Mary's response shows that she had faith in what God was doing in her life. She did not understand everything, she probably was fearing the shame of being pregnant before being married, and the risk of losing Joseph, but she answers "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word". Luke 1:38 Mary was not holy, or a human being with special powers. She was a teenager girl living inside a society that treated women as an inferior gender. But she was ready to be part of God's plan.

What about you? Are you a teenager? Are you overwhelmed by so many pressures from society and from your friends and family? Do you feel that there are so many different messages being told to you every day? Some say that the most important thing you can have right now is the approval of your friends, some say that it is the way you look, the boyfriend you can get, how academically advanced you are or how good at sports you can achieve. What does God has to say? "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, I have no pleasure in them" Eccl 12:1. "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" 2 Tim 2:22.

Do you want a pure heart? First ask Jesus to change your heart, with His love, with the work of love He did at the cross for you. It does not matter what everybody else says: your friends, the cool magazines, the Hollywood stars, the boyfriend. In 100 years they will all be gone. What they think does not matter when you place things in perspective. But Jesus is telling you like the angel told Mary: "Do not be afraid.... For with God nothing will be impossible" Luke 1:30, 37. He wants to hold your hand. He wants to make your heart mature and to be like His. He wants to show you that you are not "just" a teenager, you are blessed, for "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man (or teenager girl) to whom the Lord shall not impute sin" Rom 4:7-8.

Are you ready to say "Let it be to me according to your word"? Are you ready to let Jesus take the wheels of your life?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Do you love me?


I love my two sons more than words can describe, and I wish everyday that they would play nicely with each other without fighting, but once in a while, I find one hurting the other and I have to intervene. It is not because I love one more than the other that I discipline the child who is hurting his brother. It is because I love them both so much that I don’t want them to hurt each other and my goal is that they learn to love each other.

When I look at the Ten Commandments given by God to His people Israel, I see them divided in two groups: the ones about loving God above all things, and the ones about loving one another. Paul says “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves one another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” Romans 13:8-10. Is it really that simple? All you have to do is to love your neighbor as yourself, and you will have followed half of God’s commandments?

Well, good luck trying to do that. And remember that it needs to be done out of your heart, they are not just actions. “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” 1 Cor 13:3.

I believe that God gave such commandments because He wanted the best for His people. Because when the Israelites followed them, they were not only pleasing God, but they were also being protected from hurting each other - from living selfish destructive lives. But as History shows, they, like us, failed in following them and even used the commandments to hurt each other.

So how in the world could someone be able to follow these commandments? How could someone be able to stop hurting other people and end the selfish destructive life? When someone asked Jesus which was the great commandment in the law, He said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” Mat 22:36-40. Can you see the beauty in it? Jesus is saying that unless you follow the first commandment, good luck trying to follow anything else.

You and I can try to deny ourselves. We can try to not please our own beings every day, and that is going to take a tremendously amount of work. And usually if we are not worshipping ourselves we will start worshipping something else, our career, our wealth, our family, our status, or even our religion. But they are just idols, and as bad as worshiping ourselves. But when you place God in the very center of you life, as the only One you worship, then everything else falls into place. God is the only object of worship that is worthy of our worship because He is God! He is altogether holy, He is eternal, He is all-knowing, all powerful, fair and just. He created all the Universe and every single detail in all the subjects that you and I may have struggled to learn in school: Math, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Biology, Languages, Art, and the list is really endless. He is above time, above mortality, above knowledge. He is worthy of our entire lives, and of all our glory and honor. And when we adore Him we are set free from adoring anything else that will eventually bring us destruction and hurt to others.

However, God also knows that in ourselves we have no power to place Him in the center of our lives, to love Him for whom He is, to adore Him. Therefore, He reached out to us first, He so loved the world, He offered what was most precious to His heart, His own Son, to free us from sin. To receive in Him the fair discipline for the hurting we have been doing. The just punishment to free us from our self-destructive sinful nature. And God`s love is so big that Paul describes “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom 8:38.

Before Jesus left to go back to Heaven, He asked Peter. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” and again “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” and again “Do you love Me?”  Jesus wanted to make sure Peter understood that it was only if Peter loved Jesus above all things, even above his own brethren, that he could follow Jesus. That he could feed Jesus’ sheep, that he could be the amazing testimony that Peter became to crowds of people. If Jesus was not at the center at Peter’s heart, there would be no profit trying to do Jesus’ work.

Do you love me? Jesus is asking you. Do you love me above anyone and anything? Heaven is a place where the ones washed by Jesus’ blood will spend eternity adoring Him. Why would you want to go there, if you don’t care about Jesus? He asks: Do you love me? Then, follow me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Free Book Online: A Fight for Life - Chapter Four (Part 1)


First picture taken of Pedro after he arrived (notice that Lucas, on the left,
and Pedro, on the right, are only one month apart in age)


CHAPTER 4 (Part 1)

The messenger

Maria had already traveled a few times to the big city where we lived, even though her home was quite far from ours. She would travel through uncomfortable roads for two days, inside a modest bus that would jump up and down as it navigated around the holes in the asphalt. It was an extremely long and tiring trip, but she and her youngest adopted son would leave everything behind so that he could get his much needed cornea transplants. She knew that in the big city she could find free and adequate treatment for him, so that he could have his vision back and finally experience forms, colors and light in fullness.

Every time they traveled, they would stay at our home. Like many others who were also dependent of the free health care system to find a solution for their pain, sickness and limitation, Maria and her son would face the endless lines inside the public hospital to receive assistance. Waiting was not easy, because she had to carry her son on her arms, trying to calm him down, especially because being inside a dark world he could not fully comprehend what was going on.

On what was supposed to be her last visit to our city, we received the answer to our prayers. By that time her son was already running around our tiny apartment, with his eyes wide open, without crashing against the walls and furniture or falling down and hurting himself, like the other times before the transplant. The long trips back and forth, the endless hospital lines and the surgeries had all been worth. Maria was sincerely thankful to my family for opening our home and she would have given back the kindness if possible, and in a certain way she did! But she never thought that it would be as an answer to a prayer.

On that last day of her stay she was having breakfast with us at our kitchen table. A feeble ray of sun, that had unexpectedly made it through the fog outside, made her face shine when she begun to tell us a story, between sips of hot coffee and bites of toast.

“The other day, I learned from an employer at the general store that there is a boy being given away by his mother.” Then she stared the floor, as if looking for the right words deep in her thoughts. “Unfortunately, I cannot adopt any more kids, especially him! I heard he is blind, deaf, mute and paralyzed. Can you imagine that?”

My parents sent each other worried looks. She kept adding to the story: “His mother is not a respectful woman, she makes easy money, if you know what I mean.” Both of my parents nodded. “It looks like the boy is about to die if nobody steps in”, she concluded.

Trying to add something to the story, my father said: “Life is tough!” As Maria told the story, her eyes kept blinking, as if her brain was trying to find a solution: “I am hoping that someone will take this boy in, but it is not going to be easy!”, she added.

Then Maria went on to describe all the details she knew about the boy. He was four years old and until that moment had only survived because his grandmother had taken some care of him, but she died and nobody cared anymore. That was the reason his mother wanted to give him away, which was not an easy task in a country with not may options to institutionalizing children with disabilities.

I had never heard such a tragic story in my young life. My six year old eyes were trying to capture every move coming from Maria's lips as the entire story was so intriguing. She added, “To top it all, he is very sick, undernourished and living on the floor of a shack. It is heartbreaking, but the people in the area can't even afford their own kids, much less a sick one!”

My parents tried to swallow their coffee, but it felt stuck in their throats. “Did she start the adoption talk on purpose?”, they thought to themselves. “Why would she tell exactly to us about this child in need of a family?”, they kept asking inside their heads. Maria had no idea my parents were praying for a child to adopt that really needed it, but this one was off the charts!

Maria added a final question to the table, “Do you know of anyone around here that would be interested to take in this child? At least for a while, until he regains some strength so he can be transferred to an orphanage?” My parents nodded a silent no. Of course they knew of someone: themselves! However, they were too scared to compromise to such an unattractive adoption option.

“Where I live we don't have orphanages that could take him in now. The few places we have don't have the structure to take care of a child in a condition as serious as his. In fact, I think that if he went to one of those places, he would not see much improvement”, Maria remembered.

As she kept going on with the uncomfortable conversation, my parents started to avoid looking at each other. Neither of them wanted to be the first to accept that the boy was the answer to their prayers. It would be much easier to think that it was just a coincidence. Besides that, Maria lived so far away! There was probably a local child in need for adoption right in our city. Someone that really needed, but not as much as this boy!

Eventually someone who lived near that boy would show up to take care of him. Who knows, maybe a retired lady, filled with life experiences, grown up children, and willing to contribute to the common good of society. Someone that did not need to work anymore, with a good retirement pension, mortgage paid off, and a big heart. There is always someone like that in every city... But, what if this boy was the answer to our prayers?

If he was the answer to our prayers, he was way more than what we had been asking for. However, how could my parents doubt of such a clear and concise answer? What was the path to follow? Deny a gift? But could that boy be a gift? As she explained the boy's situation, Maria had no idea of the battle going on inside my parent's hearts and the petrifying reality they were facing with a thousand questions. Not even in her wildest dreams she would imagine that right there and then she was being used as a messenger to deliver the answer to somebody's prayer.

The subject that started at breakfast ended with the meal. However, it never ceased to surround my parent's thoughts, knocking, suffocating and overwhelming them. Their shaking hands, trembling lips and weak legs tried to follow their reasoning, but no words were spoken, actions taken or directions walked. They were paralyzed in the inside and trembling in the outside.

Silence became the norm of communication between my parents. They did not want to start a discussion on the subject afraid it could become the natural path to a decision. They were used to adventures, but this one was completely different. It was emotionally overwhelming.

As she departed, Maria did not have a clue about the sequence of events that were about to start. For her, the most important thing was that her youngest son had his vision back. From now on, another visit to the big city would only happen for business or vacation, no more medical excursions. She told us her goodbyes unaware of how pale my parents' faces were and how painful their hearts felt.

Not even after Maria left, my parents felt relief. The thought of that boy sick and in need kept pounding, hurting and burning their consciences. While trying to reason with their own consciences they had never imagined  such coldness of heart could exist in them. How could they have let her leave without sharing their feelings? Weren't they always championing against this kind of emotional apathy? What about their common speech against the human insensibility to another's suffering? But the truth is they were going under a huge internal suffering, filled with conflicts and fears.

There is always a way out. They knew that. The best they found was to go back to prayer. But not the same one as before, asking for a child. It would have certainly seemed like a comfortable position to pretend that nothing had happened and to keep with the old prayer. But nothing was the same now. They had heard with their own ears the answer to their prayers and from now on the question was if they would accept it or not. To make such decision, they asked for wisdom, discernment and strength. Wisdom for knowing how to act, discernment for knowing when to act and, finally, strength to act. Without looking back or forward. Just looking up, from where help would come.

At the same time, they knew the boy had not enough time to wait for them to analyze every angle of such a decision. Urgency, surely, also helped them to make the decision. Maybe if they had all the time in the world, they could have given up. But if the answer was to be yes, they had to make it quickly.

It did not take too long for help from above, or the perception of such, to cast away their fears. Without delay, they took a deep breath and said: “Yes, we accept this boy as our son. In happiness and in sadness, in rich and poor times, till death do us apart.” I was holding the ring. I also wanted to participate in such happening. Together, we threw back the bouquet hoping other families could have the same experience as ours.


Book: A fight for Life
CHAPTER 5 (Part 2) coming soon...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What are we here for?



What are we here for? What is the purpose of us being born, living and dying? Are we the result of millions of chances and because we are just an accident in the Universe, our lives don't have any purpose? Were we created by chaos, by the accidental fusion of particles? Or do we see, when we look around us, the hands of an artist that created not just function but beauty?

There are only two conclusions. Or our life is an accident or our life is inside a purpose larger than ourselves. And if our life is inside a purpose larger than ourselves, what is that purpose? Are we here to best enjoy everything that is good around us? Are we here to create memories, reach success, or build a name? Are we here to do whatever we think is best for ourselves? What are we here for?

I believe that the answer can be found inside another question: What is the plan that the creator of everything and everyone has for you? If He created everything and everyone, and if He placed you at this moment inside history, what is His plan for you? What is the purpose of you being born and being alive right now on Earth?

Jesus Christ came to the world to show you what is the plan for your life. He said "For God did not send  his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved". John 3:17 and when praying to the Father "I have glorified You on the earth: I have finished the work which You have given Me to do". John 17:4

Jesus Christ came to the world to bring salvation and to glorify God on Earth. He came to the world  "that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." John 17:3 That you could see the love of God, sending His own Son to receive the punishment that you deserved,  that you could adore and give glory to God. "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

And what about after you believe in Jesus as your Savior, does God have any plan for you? Is there anything that you can only do while you are on this Earth? Jesus said "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world... that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." John 17:18, 23 Witnesses to the glory of God!

It is only while here, in this world, that we can be witnesses of God's love, Christ's salvation and God's grace. "That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world". Philippians 2:15 It is only while here that we can glorify God in our daily lives. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God". 1 Corinthians 10:31

It is only while here, that we can follow Jesus' steps while on Earth, showing His love to the ones around us. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them". Ephesians 2:10 And for us women saved by grace, there are some specific examples of good works that we can do. "Well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saint's feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work". 1 Timothy 5:10

Jesus did not die for me because I am at the center of Christianity. Jesus died for me and for all that accept Him as their Savior, for the glory of God. "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" 2 Corinthians 4:5-7

If you and I are still on this Earth it is because God still wants to show His glory through our earthen vessels. It is because there are still children to be brought up, strangers to be lodged, feet to be washed, afflicted to be relieved, every good work to be done and people to be touched by God's love. And how do we accomplish that? "having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness ", "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" and "with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men". Ephesians 6:14,18,7

"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming time (or making the most of every opportunity); because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15,16

I am sure that when we follow what God wants us to do, we won't have to worry about what to do with our free time! That we may say like Paul at the end of our time here "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing". 2 Timothy 4:7,8

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Scars in Heaven


I carry a scar. It is not pretty and it is not what I had wished for, but it is there, a scar that I will have to live with. However, when I look at my scar, I don't feel completely sad, because I know that this scar means that my second son is alive and healthy. That for his safety, I went through a cesarean procedure, and this scar, even ugly, is a scar of love.

I wish that all the scars in this world were scars of love, but the truth is that there are many more scars of anger, of hate, of sickness and of accidents. Scars that don't remind us of beautiful moments. Sometimes the scars are not visible, they are deep inside the heart and they may still hurt.

I read somewhere that the only thing man made in heaven, are Jesus' scars. Have you ever thought about that? That Jesus, being God, decided to be born as a man to save us and the only thing that we could give Him in exchange are scars? The only thing that we could send back to heaven as a gift, are scars? Scars that He got because He decided that He was not going to call twelve legions of angels to free Him from the nails men where hammering in His hands. Scars that He got because He decided He was going to accomplish His purpose and receive in Him all the punishment we deserve.

When John describes what was happening in Heaven he says about Jesus Christ, "stood a Lamb as though it had been slain" Revelations 5:6 To slain means to kill by violence, to destroy, extinguish. The kind of death that most people don't look forward having. And yet, we decided that our creator deserved just that. To be slain.

At the same time that Jesus' scars are scars of men's anger, hate and ugliness, it is also a scar of love. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by his stripes we are healed". Isaiah 53:5 It is the proof that He loved us to the point of letting us hurt Him, while He was saving us. It is the proof that He chose not just to be born in a man's body, but to keep the scars in that body. So that when you look at Him, you can see that His love is not something to be forgotten, that our sinful nature is not something to be proud of, or polished.

Can you see His scars as your Savior's scars? Can you see His scars as scars of love for you?

And if you do, can you say like Paul "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus"? Galatians 6:17


Scars

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

Amy Carmichael

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cinderella in Reverse



Who is the girl whom never once dreamed of being Cinderella? That is enchanted by similar stories where the servant becomes the princess? All the hard work, all the poverty and oppression are left behind and a life filled with glamour and luxuries awaits her.

But what if you were a princess and one day became a servant? Would you find it unjust? Would you accept this new position? Do you think that you would be a happy servant or would you live in anguish for not being a princess anymore?

Let me tell you the story of someone that went through a similar situation. In reality, it is not the story of a princess, but of a prince. A prince of the most important kingdom of the world during his time, with the right to all the kingdom's luxuries. A prince that spent 40 years of his life living in a palace. A prince that was actually the son of a servant but who was adopted by a princess as her own son. His name was Moses.

Moses was from the people of Israel, and during the time of his birth, his people were under the hands of Egypt's Pharaoh who did not want the people of Israel to multiply too much and risk a revolt, so Pharaoh ordered that all baby boys were killed. However Moses, when born, was such a beautiful baby that his mother did not want to give him up to be killed, so she hid him for three months in her house. But after three months, there was no way of hiding him anymore so she places him in a protected basket floating on a river. Pharaoh's daughter finds the baby and decides to adopt him as her own and the life of a prince starts for Moses.

But Moses "by faith, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward" Hebrews 11:24-26. Affliction? Reproach? Who would want to receive affliction and reproach instead of living the life of a prince?

Moses leaves behind the life of a prince because he sees the invisible. He recognizes that his prince's life would last a few decades, and then what? What would happen after his body had been embalmed and placed inside a pyramid?

However, Moses not only leaves behind his palace's life, he also follows what God wanted him to do and his last 40 years of life are spent in the desert as the leader of a people that did not follow his leadership very well. In the desert? How could Moses think that he made the right choice when everything seems to have ended very bad?

But don't get tricked by the details. The desert is empty of pleasures for the body that Egypt could offer, but it is overflowing with treasures for the soul. Moses was privileged to watch God performs miracle after miracle to rescue the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians. And when Moses is in the desert something wonderful happens: "So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." Exodus 33:11 Face to face with the God of the Universe? Do you think that while in the desert Moses missed being face to face with the important Pharaoh? I am sure that he did not, he was face to face with someone far more important.

"So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain) that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him." Exodus 34:28-29 The skin of his face was shining!!

Moses could have spent all his 120 years of life living a comfortable life inside Egypt's palace and never have his face shining with the glory of God. Moses could have spent all his life feeding himself from every fabulous dish from the palace's table and never had experience what was like to be sustained by no food and no water, just by God alone. When Moses accepted to take the reproach of Christ and suffer with the people of God, he finds out that what he had left behind was nothing compared with what he had gained.

What about you? When you look at Christ dying at that cross, do you see a despised man, or do you see your Savior that opened the way to heaven so that you could also see the glory of God?

What about you that have already accepted Christ as your Savior? When God asks you to go to the desert suffer with the people of God, can you picture Him calling you for a life of treasures for the soul? To a future of reward?

Because it is not Cinderella that lives happily ever after, but those that accept the reproach of Christ. "The image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." Colossians 1:15

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Free Book Online: A Fight for Life - Chapter Three (Part 2)

A little bit of extra history to fill you in. I wrote this book in 2003, while I was still in college, so the story about my brother Pedro is 99% accurate, but the "Dear Diary" part about me working in a hospital is fictional, based on experiences I was going through during nursing school. Having said that, the things I wrote in the "Dear Diary" section are also a big part of whom I was in 2003, my aspirations, my questions about life and my view of the world.

Because it has been almost 10 years since I wrote this book (and this statement makes me feel really old!!), during the translation of this book I have been sometimes changing the text to bring more clarity to the reader. There are other times when I find myself not agreeing 100% with what I wrote 10 years ago, and I have been trying to resist the temptation to change the book too much, and end up sounding like a 30 year old married women with kids that I am, instead of the 20 years old single girl full of dreams that I was. Not that I don't have dreams anymore, but I know that to grow old is also to become another person, hopefully a more mature one. 

The interesting thing, though, is that a lot of the things that I wrote in this book ended up happening. I visited the region where my brother came from, I ended up working in pediatric nursing for a while and I ended up... well, this last one I cannot tell you or I will spoil the end of the book!

Enjoy the reading!!



CHAPTER 3 (Part 2)

Dear Diary,

Every morning, standing on a corner inside the nurse's station, I check the medications that will be used during my shift. I am always amazed by the amount of complicated medicine's names that have been added to my vocabulary, besides all the knowledge about their collateral effects, specific care and recommended doses. I know that all this information didn’t get inserted inside my brain on a single day, just like the rest of the nursing knowledge that became part of my life. They were the result of a long learning journey from college until now. I have not been working as a nurse for that long but sometimes I feel like I have been in this same floor for a lifetime. Do you think that I am exaggerating, dear Diary? Anyway, this feeling makes me wish for a change of routine once in a while.

My entire life has been filled with dreams and some challenges too, and so many ideas have popped inside my head only to be forgotten a while later. I remember the one time when my dream was to go to the Amazons’ region to take care of Indians. A dream quite far from my reality right now. There is nothing better than time to change me!

But now, looking back, I find out I never really chose to work here in this unit. I identified myself more with some areas of nursing, but I tried to be realistic to the job market and not set my expectations too high for a perfect position. Thankfully, when I was looking for my first job, I came across an opening in an area that was one of my favorites, so I took it with a smile on my face. But to tell you the truth, dear Diary, at the beginning my job was filled with highs and downs, hard learning experiences, and some conquests. I guess it has been the final push to get me more knowledgeable and self-confident, while at the same time recognizing my limitations. Everyday it has been a new adventure as I land in the Pediatric world with both feet.

Last weekend I was taken by a nostalgic crisis and started going through some old pictures that brought up many memories. Looking at myself in the pictures, a skinny and fragile little girl, dressed in bigger clothes than her size, made me think that I came a long way. I survived childhood dangers, teen age's insecurities and even profited from the process by maturing. Some days, I still feel like that little girl, surrounded by unknown dangers, while on other days I feel like the teenager filled with insecurities. But looking at the mirror I see the difference quite well.

The truth, right here and now, is that I don't really enjoy these cold days we are having. My feet seem always far from warm, even with my tick socks packed inside my shoes. I try to keep myself moving, from patient to patient room, to stay warmer.

Now the important news... Yesterday, I started to notice this unusual silence around my unit. It seemed that the only thing I could hear were my thoughts and they were, in fact, quite loud shouting for something to eat. I guess the stress keeps me thinking about eating a lot lately. This hospital life has me getting a few extra pounds.

So, hungry as I was, I went to our small kitchen area for a snack. Inside, I had a quick talk with a fellow worker that works in another floor. She asked me if I knew of the child that was being investigated for the unknown contagious disease and had been referred to my unit. I swallowed my breath. I have no problems taking care of sick kids, but I started to wonder if to be in the front line of a mysterious disease would be really a good idea.

The snack landed on my stomach like a rock. I could feel the heartburn starting to make its way up to my throat. Maybe that is what that silence was all about. Just like in the movies, the anticipation for a horror story. Like the one they find out the disease is in fact worse than they thought and now we are all doomed to die with the rest of the human kind.

I spent last evening going through a thousand questions in my head about the possible situation. What should I follow in such case? My faith, my salary or my safety? I felt like walking on a rope knowing that if I stepped off the line that would be it. So I tried to calm myself thinking that probably it was just an unconfirmed speculation, and at the end it will be just a common virus. At the same time I know I carry some responsibility for the safety of my team, and that includes not alarming them but also keeping them aware of the risks.

And then this morning the news was confirmed. The child will come to my unit, but they will also send some specialized personnel to guide us in the safety procedures. To tell you the truth, dear Diary, I am not afraid of dying, but the press is exploring the subject to such an extent now that people are panicking right and left. I know there are other diseases as bad as this but the unknown factor is causing a lot of impact.

All in all, I will try my best to consider this poor child's well-being, who has been suffering from this unknown disease, and give her the best I can, even though there is no specific medicine or known cure. It is going to be emotionally hard to watch this child suffer and nothing that can be done to heal her, but I know that there is not a medicine for every problem in life. Some diseases will never be cured, some problems will never be solved and some wounds will never be closed. And I give a lot of credit for my brother Pedro for teaching me this hard reality.

Good night, L.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothering faith


Today is Mother's Day. Today my kids will give me extra kisses, extra attention and extra treats. For them, I am the world. For them, I am the source of all comfort. For them, I am still the super hero. In a few years they may think otherwise, but for now, I can enjoy the extra attention.

I have been enjoying studying through a series about parenting with a focus on changing their heart, instead of  just behaviors. And let me tell you that in the process of changing my children's heart, my heart has been changing too. It is one thing to teach my children about compassion, it is another to show it with my life. It is one thing to teach my children about God, it is another to let them see Him in my life. And I have learned that if I want to have children with genuine faith, it is my faith that I have to work on first. 

Timothy, a young and faithful person in the Bible, had a strong foundation that started way before he was born. "I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also."2 Timothy 1:5 Genuine faith, or in other translations, unhypocritical. When you walk the talk.

For Timothy, Paul had already said in another letter that "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith." 1 Timothy 1:5. If there was a secret to mothering with love, it would be these three things: pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith. And such things, I can only teach my children if I have them myself. 

But how to achieve such things? Paul goes on to say that he was a terrible man himself but "I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering (or unlimited patience), as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." 1 Timothy 1:16. And this is the other secret, I don't have to achieve anything. I should just let Jesus fills the broken vessel that I am, with all His light, and He will transform my heart into a pure heart, He will give me a good conscience, and He will lead me to walk the talk.

Because at the end, who should get the praise for a mothering job well done? Not me! "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:17 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Are you Bible fashionable?



Every season brings a new fashion trend. One year the trend is to wear neutral tones; the next year, lots of colors. Fashion moves forwards and backwards, invents the future and reinvents the past. And keep us women always busy with activities needed to keep us updated with the new fashion styles. Is there anything wrong in being in tune with the new fashion trends, I wonder? Or to be fashionable is only one of the many requirements for us to feel accepted?

The Bible also has a fashion trend. In reality, right in the beginning of the Bible the first man and the first women invented the first clothing piece, sewed with fig leaves. They thought that dressing themselves in fig leaves would cover their weakness and improve their chance of being accepted again. But God shows that the fig leaves were not the best solution, and God made them tunics of skin of an animal.

Did you know that God also wants to cover you in a special way? Better than all the fashion styles, and better than the most expensive clothes in the world? The prophet Isaiah said "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness." Isaiah 61:10 Garments of salvation? Robe of righteousness?

Jesus Christ died on the cross to cover you. Like that animal that was killed to cover Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ died so that you could be covered with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness. That when God looked at you, He would not see your nakedness, your weakness and your sin. That you could put an end to the constant effort of trying to feel accepted.

When the prodigal son came back to his father's house repented, the father said "Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry." Luke 15:22-23. Would you give the best robe for a man that had spent his last months living among pigs? The robe would become all dirty!! No. The robe would cover all the prodigal son's dirt. The robe would make him feel accepted again.

Are your really clothed? Are you dressed in tune with the only fashion that brings complete acception? Are you ready to stop running after the wind, and recognize that if the God of all the Earth and of all the Universe accepts you, you don't need to follow any other fashion?

But there is one detail in the fashion of the Bible. The clothes of the fashion of this world, once purchased, only get older as the years go by, they only get more out of fashion, and it is necessary after some time to buy more clothes, to follow another fashion style. The fashion style of the Bible is different. Once covered by Jesus Christ, the clothing only gets newer. "Since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." Colossians 3:9,10 A piece of clothing that renews itself!!

Now imagine that prodigal son, once covered by the fathers best robe, after a few years start to place other clothes on top of himself thinking that the fathers robe is getting kind of out of fashion. Besides that, what would people think if they saw me dressed in my father's clothes? Paul has a special message for us women in this sense. He says "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." 1 Timothy 2:9-10

Good works to improve the robe? No! The robe is already perfect! Good works that proceed from the robe! It is because of the new robe that we can, once dressed, produce good works!

Do you want to be Bible fashionable? Accept the robe of righteousness that God is offering you. Accept Jesus Christ as the final garment to cover everything that you cannot cover from God.

Are you already covered by Christ? Offer your life as a worship to the One that covered you. There are approximately 2 billion people in this world that have never heard about this new robe. And there are 200 million Christians that are being persecuted for wearing such robe. That we may be more in tune with God, to spread the fashion of the Bible, than in tune with the world, to spread the fashion that does not last.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Free Book Online: A Fight for Life - Chapter Three (Part 1)


CHAPTER 3 (Part 1)


A stretched hand

My father used to walk through the downtown area of São Paulo city during his lunch break. It was part of his routine to observe the different workers busy in their activities. Construction workers remodeling old buildings that would soon become expensive real estate; executives in their suits and suitcases on hand, speeding by as they had no time to stop and take in the sunny sky or feel the mist splashing from the sprinkling water in the park's fountain.

Even though downtown was packed with people, it was also a very lonely place. The physical distance was not correlated to the psychological distance as you could see people from all walks of life in the same space but not necessarily interacting with each other. The emotional distance decreased the pressure of the physical proximity in a packed space.

The downtown scene was the same day after day, much like my father’s modest middle class life and his routine back and forth to work. He dreamed of owning a home, paying off his debt and upgrading the old car, but he did not have any more dreams of running away from civilization and being self-sufficient in the country, as he had before. When I was born they were living such dreams in a remote region of the country and it didn't take long for them to find out that the reality had been less dreamy than they had expected. So now it was time to leave behind their aspirations to change the world and work hard to keep the family, raise the kids and maybe someday enjoy a decent retirement.

After his lunch break, in a hurry to walk back to his office table filled with documents and obligations, my father had no thoughts of slowing down his pace as a street seller tried to stop him to sell some magazines. But this particular seller was insistent enough and took over my father's time and space as his own. Tired of trying to run away from him, my father decided to give in and allow the seller to make his offer. Aware of his urgency, the seller quickly presented all his magazine collection, assuring that they were worthy every cent. He kept insisting on the idea that a future of happiness awaited those that had access to such quality content reading.

My father wasn't interested in anything that was going to cost him extra bills at the end of the month, but a picture, a peculiar picture, at the cover of one of the magazines, as purposely placed there, called his attention. In the picture a homeless boy, at most five years old, looked for his next meal among a garbage pile. The underweight and sorrowful appearance that the boy carried was not different from many that flash everyday on the news. However, this particular boy, did not looked like a stranger to my father, he seemed to say something without any words. Maybe he carried a message, a message that would reach my father's heart.

The picture touched my father in a different way, it was so strong, alive and real that caused a reaction. A child, a human being full of promises revolving around the putrefying material and death. Surely, this was not the first time the picture of a child in distress had crossed his eyes, but this one went straight inside his being, before it was blocked out by any rationalization.

The insistent seller, trying to talk him into subscribing the magazine, was not the problem anymore. The boy in the picture was now bothering my father much more. The magazine cover was the image of a huge problem, a chronic problem. A problem bigger than all of my father's problems put together.

My father finally gave in and subscribed to the magazine while still taken by the picture of the boy in the cover. As he walked away, the magazine in his hand, he could not stop staring at the picture. On the way back to the office, he read the article about homeless and abandoned children. The article stated that some of them had no place to live, eat or sleep and had to fight for their own survival.

He thought about his own kids, my brother and I, giggling as we played, jumping and running around so happily. He surely did not want anything bad to happen to us, ever. We meant everything to him and he could not imagine seeing us around garbage piles looking for our next meal. Nobody deserved that, every boy and girl should have the right to a childhood filled with good memories and not horror scenes.

As the sun gave place to the grayish skies covered in traffic smoke, the bus taking my father back home passed through avenues and bridges and noises and flashing lights. He kept his eyes closed while in his mind a whirlpool of thoughts were inundating his entire brain. Over and over again he asked himself who would make a difference to the children left behind, those who were nobody's problem. Probably someone should do something to help them, he concluded. He knew that there were professionals specialized in helping to bring up a fair society. But, what if he did have a share of responsibility in the problem?

Arriving home he still felt confused, however, when he saw my brother and I running into his arms, he smiled. He hugged us in a special way like if he had spent years away from home, such was his gladness to see us. He knew that he was blessed to experience happy moments with his children and yet he felt guilt at the same time. He felt a wave of relief for being able to care and protect his own kids from the terrible life the boy on the magazine was living, and yet a burden haunted his mind for not caring for the orphan and homeless children living without love and without hope. Even though we had no idea of the things that troubled my dad's thoughts on that day, we gladly received the extra special attention.

As he sat down with my mom after dinner, he shared his worries. He told her everything that had happened during his day and showed the magazine he had kept. She could see that he seemed to be really touched by that, and she understood his point of view. She also felt sorry for children in such terrible situations, but what could they do? They could hardly pay off their own bills, much less solve the problems of the world. She would love to think there was a solution for that, but she had to be realistic and keep at least one foot on the ground.

Talking about it helped him to see where those feelings were coming from. He was being carried by a lot of emotions and it was not rational, thinking like that. It was surely easier to dream day after day, than to face their own hard reality. So he set his mind to look at the problem from a more rational perspective, an intelligent path to produce concrete ways to help, less tears and more results. His first step would be to sleep through it, let the ideas settle down. Maybe tomorrow, when he woke up, he would have found a solution or just be happy to move on with his life, keeping himself apart from problems he could not solve.

However, the next day did not bring the numbness of conscience he expected; it shed more light on the matter, bringing out more ideas and goals. And with a more rational line of thought he saw an idea taking shape. If they could not help all the children in the world, at least they could try to help one, someone that really needed help. They would not be offering anything different than what they were already offering my brother and I: love, care, and food on the table.

The idea would be to adopt a child, but not any child; he thought about adopting someone nobody else wanted. To have one extra child in the family would not add a whole lot more bills to the balance, and my parents would like to have another child anyway, so why not another one through adoption?

Being six years old at the time, I already knew something about adoption. Sometimes Maria, a friend of my parents, stayed at home and would bring with her a boy that was her adopted son. Physically he was very different than her, but he would call her mommy just like we did to our mom. With time, I got used with the idea of them being a family just like mine. However, I never thought about having a brother through adoption. This was a kind of dream I never had as a child.

As my parents thought more seriously about adopting a child, they were constantly faced with doubts. Wouldn’t an adopted child get in conflict with their other children in the future? Wouldn’t the child, when reaching adolescence, have the tendency to rebel against them and get in trouble? Would the child love them as his own parents? Questions and more questions.

There was no easy way out. To adopt a child would be to position themselves under certain risks. However, not to adopt that child would be to ignore someone that was already under risks. My parents knew that any child could become a disgrace to his or her parents, adopted or not. It did not matter if the child was biologic or not. They knew cases of biological kids that had killed their parents, and also cases of adopted children that as adults took great care of their aging adopted parents. There were no certainties, and it was not really about them, it was about the child in need.

The verb “to help” is put in practice by some through opening their wallet and offering money; by others, it is through opening their schedule and offering time; or like happened at my home, by opening our arms and offering ourselves. At first, my parents didn’t give any step in the direction of the needy. They prayed daily to God to show them the way. And then they just waited. It was part faith, part fear, part trust, part doubt. They were afraid of asking for it too much and end up receiving it! But they could not live anymore without asking.

They didn’t stipulate an age frame, gender or race. The child could be anyone, but someone that really needed help. They started praying at morning time, in the afternoon and at night. They would pray by themselves, they would pray as a couple. I prayed too. In the occasion I didn’t know exactly for what, but it seemed to be something worthy of praying for, the right thing to do. We just didn’t tell anybody. It would be our secret and God’s.

In the meanwhile, one day we went to a Bible study. Nobody there knew about our prayers, not even our relatives knew at the time. Someone, during the Bible study, brought up a special subject to be discussed: Adoption. He used the figurative narrative of a child being adopted to exemplify the Bible passage read – “Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” Ephesians 1:5. Someone was aware of the things going on in our home!

Many days passed by, then a few months, and nothing else extraordinary happened. My parents started to ask each other if they should start to actively search for a child. Or would that be lack of faith? The subject of adoption was taking over all our lives. From our family meals to car rides, we would be talking about who would be the chosen one to be added to our family. How would God answer the prayer? Sometimes we would imagine ourselves as heroes helping the one in need, other times we would picture ourselves in the future overwhelmed by problems and worries that would have come with adopting the wrong person. And sometimes we wondered if we would ever even have an answer to our prayers!

That is when Maria steps into the story. She that had already adopted a few children would say, every time she visited us, that she never regretted adopting any of them. Maria, her husband, her six adopted kids and two biological sons looked like a happy family. They were far from a normal family, according to society parameters but I think that every day at their home was like living an adventure. More exciting then watching TV. It would be hard to get bored with so much going on.

They were a highly educated couple, but had adopted a simple lifestyle so that they could be generous towards embracing more kids. At meal times, her husband would bring the pot directly from the stove to the table center. All that you would see was only one pot. Inside it, all the ingredients were cooked together. The method, a little bit simplistic, seemed not to be a problem at all, but the solution to feed so many mouths without taking too long.

Maria and her husband hadn’t adopted Caucasian babies with blue eyes. They chose children that really needed a pair of parents. One boy was mute, other two deaf, and one blind. My parents had met Maria while they were living on a farm located in the center of Brazil. Those were times of adventures and contact with Nature for my parents. From those times remained good memories, a few regrets, and me! I was born at that time. But that is another story.

The example that couple showed to my parents certainly influenced in the adoption decision they were about to take. However, more than from Maria's example, it was from Maria herself that we got the answer to our prayers. Without being aware, she would be the end to our waiting.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Free Book Online: A Fight for Life - Chapter Two (part 2)


CHAPTER 2 (Part 2)

Dear Diary,

I hope someday to visit the place where my brother Pedro was born, the land that watched his arrival to the world. A location, in the center of Brazil, filled with natural beauties, waterfalls and abundant crystals under the soil. A place that saw lots of poverty too, but different from the one I see in the big cities. Something more like rural poverty, where the lack of resources is passed from generation to generation as an incurable disease. Nature regulates the good and bad seasons, keeping the families unable to change.

These days, that region receives many investors and also Eco tourists looking for a piece of intact Nature to visit, without paved roads, pollution or industries. This means new source of income to the natives, as tourists are willing to pay a lot to enjoy the kind of nature once available to anyone in the past, yet nobody cared. I am also part of this group. However, to appreciate the wild countryside is one thing; to have the knowledge and skills to survive it is something I have yet to acquire.

Having always lived inside a city environment, I have got used to crowded and confined living spaces. So when I leave the city to visit the country, I don’t know what to do with so much tranquility, space and silence! I feel like I would never be able to live without the pressure from some stress! Everybody complain about stress, but a lot of us can't figure out anymore how to live without it. If I moved to the country, to a peaceful spot in direct contact with nature, and yet without technology, I think I would get bored pretty soon. I may want such a lonely place to spend a few vacation days and rest, but it is hard to imagine staying there for a lifetime. It is not for everyone.

I consider nursing a profession that generates stress, as many others. However, nobody wants to be treated by a stressed out professional. The secret might be to transform the stress into fuel that pushes me forward, and yet not letting myself get overwhelmed by it. I think that a little bit of stress might be beneficial, as it motivates me to move faster towards my goals.

I try to imagine a life where it would not be necessary to depend on calendars, schedules, and clocks. It would be a life without worries, but also without a sense of accomplishment. When I leave the hospital after my shift, I look back and realize how useful I was. I was able to produce results and help someone.

To visit my brother’s homeland will be like looking back, traveling the opposite direction he did so long ago to join my family. I surely won’t gain from such experience, as much as he did making his trip, but I will be able to feel passing under my feet each mile he crossed, each one of them worthy. First for him, but much more for me, as everyday he gives me a reason to keep going. It is hard to find a meaning to live when you live a meaningless life.
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