Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Post -- 29/8/15

Today’s post is short and necessarily non-specific, as the curtain comes down on a week in which we were churned head-first through the emotional wringer.

In a nutshell, we came very close to a major adoption-related breakthrough, only to see the prize snatched from our flailing grasp at the last hurdle, owing to a combination of legal hang-ups and a communications failure between the relevant parties at state level. We had been led to believe that everything would be straightforward, making the final blow that little bit crueller.

Those who have followed our ‘progress’ over the years with regard to, say, residency or building a house will perhaps not be all that surprised; and, with hindsight, nor are we. But the emotional investment this time makes this a particularly hard one to take.

However – and this is a big ‘however’ – there is a decent chance that what has happened will prove to be a postponement, rather than a cancellation; we probably can’t say any more than that, but we are still very much in this game.

We would therefore greatly appreciate if you could pray for us over the coming days:
  • For patience.
  • For emotional protection.
  • For our witness around others as we engage in these dealings.
  • For the child God wants for us to surface soon.

We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. (Psalm 33:20)

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Post -- 22/08/2015

Ministry provides frequent opportunities for self-reflection, and I (Amanda) have found myself doing a lot of reflecting this week; so much so that I even thought, I wonder if I could get a blog entry out of all these reflections?!?! Craig then asks me last night if I wanted to switch (grocery shopping for blog writing) and I thought it must be fate... otherwise known as divine intervention. 

I've thought a lot about who I am this week, or maybe even for the last couple of months, and I've come to the conclusion that my personality is quite complex, and that I've inadvertently overcomplicated my life because of that. I am generally a perfectionist, yet at the exact some time I'm a procrastinator and can be quite lazy. This was not a problem for me when I was a kid or in high school, because things generally came easily to me. I could leave things to the last minute and still ace a test or a project. University was a bit harder, which led to learning to cope with intense amounts of stress for the first time in my life. And then life got even harder, because I got married... and then I got a job; from this point I was generally coping. But then ministry came along, and if anything ever held a mirror up to me and said, "take a good look at who you really are", ministry has done that for me. Suddenly I can't get by with procrastinating, yet after 30 years I'm not entirely sure how to live otherwise. Suddenly, laziness doesn't fly, but I don't know how to move faster. I am doing so much more, and my perfectionist nature demands I do everyone perfectly, but doing so much more than I am used to means things are not getting done perfectly. I have discovered that my own personality has set me up for a giant failure; I generally feel underprepared, extremely exhausted and disappointed in my own results. My personal struggles with inadequacy overwhelm me sometimes. 

On top of that, I don't know what I want, or should want. We are on the edge of adopting a child and I have bounced between highly excited and absolutely terrified this week. I am not scared of being a mother necessarily, but I am daunted by the change that is coming. Craig and I have been just the two of us for so long, what do we look like with a child? I have worked in a job for my entire adult life, and probably unhealthily defined myself by what I am doing, as opposed to who I am. If I am not working like I am now, who will I be? Will I recognise myself? These questions paralyse me sometimes. Craig and I were both raised by wonderful women who stayed at home for the formative years of our lives, and we both believe in the importance of a constant parental presence. But I love what I do. I am good at what I do. I believe God has led me to do what I am currently doing. I want to keep working, at least a bit, when we have a child. And yet, should I? I completely love and respect so many full-time mothers...I really do. However, I read blogs and articles, and to be honest, I sometimes feel even more inadequate (see inadequacy issues above) because I feel I should want to be like them, and part of me does, but part of me doesn't. I feel torn most of the time. Sometimes I wonder if we should just keep going the way we are now and not risk the change of adoption, but then I realise that that is my fear talking. We both feel very strongly about the importance of adoption in our personal lives, and in the lives of all Christians. We believe God is calling us to this. So where does this leave me? A big, flustered mess most of the time. 

I'm not entirely sure how I got to this point, but somewhere along the way life has overwhelmed me. I feel like I am always chasing my tail and trying to hide how completely inept I feel all the time. And I am even more frustrated because I know I don't need to feel this way. There is freedom from my inadequacy in Christ. All this week the theme of rest has come back to me over and over again; and not the, 'I need to sleep more' kind, although that would be nice too. The theme of rest in Christ has rung clearly in my ears. I have finally started Vaughan Roberts' 'God's Big Picture' and in chapter one he talks about how we were created to rest in God. God rested on the seventh day and that was supposed to be how things continued from that point. I read blog entries from time to time and there was a recent post about resting in God and living in the moment. There have been blog posts on counting our blessings and developing an attitude of peace through gratitude. And I have started a nine day devotional on 'Finding a Work Life Balance', because I know I don't have one, and day one was about how the concept of a work/life balance is not actually biblical. Work, rest, play, sleeping and eating = life. What we see in the life of Jesus are rhythms of work, rest and celebration and all these things add up to life. 

I see the lesson God is trying to teach me, but my frustrating personality keeps getting in the way. Because every time I try to change something it becomes another thing on the to-do list to try and achieve by myself. Resting becomes something to tick off my list once done, not an attitude to apply to my whole life. And to be completely honest, I am not quite sure how to go about changing that quite yet. I am not there. To be fair, due to my extensive self-reflection I can say with confidence that I have identified the problems (1. incorrect perception of the role of rest in my life, 2. unhealthy fixation on my inadequacies), but I don't know how to fix it. How do I rest more without becoming lazy and still be as productive as I need to be? How do I love myself more? How do I live in the light of God's love for me when I can't comprehend truly that He loves me? I know God loves me, but I don't think I let it truly affect how I live. 

These have been my swirling thoughts and struggles this week in the midst of HR work, volunteers leaving (Bye Brittany, Hayley and Juliana), correspondence, youth group meetings, Bible studies, discipleship and good old housework...and when the car wouldn't start and then miraculously did again. Craig has been a solid rock this week as he's helped me cope with, let's be honest, slightly hormonal ravings and some tears. But life keeps going regardless of one's inward struggles and we have both seen many blessings this week and are grateful to God for the all the ways He upholds us. 

  • Wisdom for Craig in his role as a leader of our church. This coming Wednesday is the next leader's meeting and they will be dealing with some logistical as well as personal issues in our church.
  • Hayley, Brittany and Juliana as they settle back into University life in Seattle. 
  • Patience as we wait on God's timing for a child.
  • Peace in Amanda's life as she works through a lot of the above struggles.
  • Craig as he preaches tomorrow on 1 Kings 8:54 - 9:9.
  • For the time we spent getting to now the three volunteers from the States. We are grateful for their friendship and efforts they showed here while working with us.
  • For the encouragement that the Dig Deeper study has been in the church.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig and Amanda

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saturday Post -- 15/08/15

Amanda in mid-potato-peel last night, getting ready for the big food-sale
fundraiser for the church's AWANA children's group this lunchtime.
As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17

Looking back over the last seven days, iron-sharpening has certainly been the order of the week for me (Craig), both in my formal and informal ministry.

Having not managed to meet up with any of my discipleship charges the first couple of weeks back (in the first week Amanda and I were finding our feet again; in the second the independence day holiday and its attendant festivities got in the way), it was a joy to start where I'd left off with all four guys: Diego (19), Daniel (16), Yonatán (18) and Daniel (26). You may remember that the younger Daniel and Yonatán are serving in the youth group this year, Diego is Daniel's older brother and the erstwhile piano-player in the church music group, and the elder Daniel hails from Cuba, and is married to FT doctor Romina. All four guys face a varied set of challenges in their day-to-day lives, so it's important that they get a wider perspective on things once a week. To do that, I've been working through Vaughan Roberts' God's Big Picture with all four, a book that certainly raises the affections to things of God.

These days, I have a couple of bonus one-on-one appointments in my working week owing to the presence of volunteers Tom and Josh. Now about halfway into their two-month stint here, the brothers have demonstrated real maturity in their servant-like attitudes and the time they are taking while here to go deeper into God's word. Though usually (indeed, inevitably!) younger than ourselves, it's amazing how often God uses visiting volunteers to challenge our own way of doing things, and that's certainly been the case with the brothers Pike.

Last night (Friday), I made an appearance at the church men's group, and at the previous meeting, one of the guys had randomly asked when we could get together to watch The Godfather (a picture for which, if you've known me for five minutes, you'll be aware I have abiding affection). So an impromptu screening was arranged at our house mid-week, and I looked on with no shortage of envy as five blokes were acquainted for the first time with equine heads, taking the cannoli, and another invaluable contribution to the infant baptism debate. 

Just as pleasing -- and almost certainly more edifying -- was my FaceTime session the following evening with Alex Wann, our old friend from Wyoming who was here a couple of years ago with Samaritan's Purse, and is now based out in La Paz. In the end, our time in Trinidad overlapped by only four months, but he arrived at a point where I was seriously lacking male fellowship. He and I have kept in regular contact since, including those occasional -- but really valuable -- audio sessions. Alex is due to be in Bolivia for at least another year, and we'd love to get out and see him before he moves on.

Quite a catch.
And as if things couldn't have got any more testosterone-fuelled...I even managed to sneak in a few hours' fishing on my birthday (Monday) with my younger friends from Cochabamba, who are visiting for the university break. Being my birthday, Amanda even made an appearance. A good job, too; that was about the last time I saw her this week. And I suppose things will be necessarily equalised this week. I'm guessing next week's movie night will be more along the lines of Pride & Prejudice (the BBC one, naturally). Brood, Colin. Brood.

  • A potential adoption lead fell through this week. We continue to hear rumours and counter-rumours. Pray for patience, and for readiness when the moment comes.
  • Amanda has had a fairly testing week in her HR role at the Foundation. Pray for abundant supplies of grace there.
  • We had the opportunity to touch base with Andrew and Ruth Richards (UK), who will be joining us in October to run a marriage course (watch this space). Please pray for us as we prepare for that important week from both sides of the Atlantic.
  • For increased maturity and love for the Lord for the various men with whom Craig is working -- and, indeed, for Craig himself!
  • Craig is preaching again on 1 Kings 8:22-53 tomorrow morning...
  • ...and Amanda is taking the youth meeting tonight, where they've recently begun a new series working through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (a relatively unknown text here).
  • The American trio of volunteers leave Trinidad on Monday evening; pray for safe travels back to Seattle.
  • For many opportunities for mutual encouragement this week, for both of us.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday Post -- 8/8/15

No, not our canoe, but they were just lying around for the use of whoever
needed them. See 'Simplicity', below.
I can still remember the first time like it was yesterday. And boy, did I not enjoy it.

It was the very last morning of my first stint in Trinidad 15 years ago. My roommate and I had been asked a few days earlier if we there were any final items we’d hoped to tick off our checklist before heading home. Strangely, despite having lived in the Beni for almost a year, we had not yet been fishing, something of an aberration given the quality and quantity of the rivers which criss-cross the region.

Despite being July (the peak of the so-called ‘dry season’), we woke up that morning to the heaviest of downpours, which was not to abate (so much so that the afternoon saw another better-late-than-never moment, as I paid my first visit to a local dry-cleaners’ in a last-ditch attempt to get my sodden clothes in a suitable state for travel). For reasons I cannot now remember, our Bolivian companions reckoned our best chance of success was to be had by standing waist-deep in the river at which we eventually settled. Seemingly, piranhas don’t care one jot for limbs – it’s your digits they’re really after. Which explained the impassioned shrieks of “¡No! ¡No!” when I absentmindedly sought to recover some bait I’d dropped in the water.

Wet and miserable, we made it back to Trinidad, and I doubt we snared more than ten of the blighters between us (well, it sounds better than confessing that I personally caught none!). The smaller-than-expected breakfast was enjoyable enough, but by that point, I’d have been happy to leave any future fishing expeditions to the experts.

In fact, my piranha-yanking days had only just begun. For I was to return to live in Trinidad many years later, wife in tow, only to discover that most of the people we were getting friendly with were ardent fisher-folk. Indeed, indulging in the pastime is something of an inevitability here, given the general lack of recreational activities, and the aforementioned range of local rivers; quite frankly, I’m now somewhat staggered that I somehow went the whole of that first year without a fishing trip.

Nowadays, fishing is one of those things for me like washing my golf clubs or reading a copy of The Economist on a long-haul flight: I don’t tend to experience it all that much, but when I do, I seriously wonder why I don’t do it more.

Thursday's well-chosen spot.
Well, Thursday’s Bolivian independence day taking place in early August (i.e., with things still relatively arid and, in turn, the rivers at their most accessible), there was only one way I and a bunch of friends were going to spend our day off, in which the reminders of the joys of this very Beniano of pursuits came thick and fast.

The Economics

Permits? Schmermits! The local waterways give totally unrestricted access to whoever gets there first. Hook, line and sinkers can be acquired for under a tenner (rods are an unnecessary extravagance). And the bait comes – only, ever and always – in the form of beef, as plentiful in this corner of the world as the rain is in mine. 80p got me a more-than-sufficient quarter-kilo.

The Drive

With no need to go too far to find good casting here, even your fuel costs are relatively meagre. That said, there’s no harm in going that extra distance, as we did as the sun rose on Thursday. And to do so at that particular time of day – the best for fishing – is to buy a ticket to the nature show. And as there’s so little variety in the local foliage (it’s essentially a case of identifying the various shades of green), the golden hours are particularly vital for getting a different angle on plant-life here.

Not only that, but in the relatively shady conditions of those early daylight hours, the wildlife round these parts is usually making the most of things – even by the side of the road. And so, as well as the usual range of exotic birds, the capybaras and alligators out on their morning rounds became so ubiquitous that we eventually stopped pointing them out.

The Camaraderie/Tranquillity

The shared pursuit of that day’s lunch has a knack of bringing one’s companions together. Good-natured banter thus abounds by the shoreline. That said, with each member of the party necessarily making plenty of space for their neighbour, and minds concentrated on the task ahead, occasional solitude-seekers such as myself needn’t look far for occasional bouts of alone-time. It is at such moments, again, that nature takes centre stage (well, the audio version at least).

Happily, our old friend David McColl (right) was paying a flying visit
to Trinidad, before he finally leaves Bolivia next Friday.
The Glorious Simplicity Of It All!

Swing. Hurl. Plop. Bite. Yank for one’s life. OK, it doesn’t always work out that way, but if you manage to tap into a particularly rich vein round these parts, as we did on Thursday, then the blame for any failure to pull in a haul for the ages lies squarely at the feet of the angler in question (needless to say, I finished bottom of the rankings having barely made double-figures – the horror!).


They say that, as a race, the greater the disconnect between our work and its tangible rewards has grown, the less contented we have become. I don’t know about that, but there can be few things more satisfying than shrieking, “Honey, I’m home!”, dumping the fruit of one’s labour (dare I call it that?) on the table, and savouring the day’s big meal. (As it happens, Amanda leaves the cooking to the community’s piscatorial cooking experts – typically, the morning’s participants will sample the catch as a group – but the results remain well worth the wait!)

Alan in mid-gut.
And the piranhas themselves? Keep your hands in your pockets and you’ll be just fine.

  • After a few days of readjustment to Trinidad, things are moving again on the prospective adoption. Now that we are registered, we are free to investigate any potential leads that might come up – and have been doing so already. Pray for wisdom and guidance from the LORD.
  • Keep Craig in your prayers as he continues to preach this month – tomorrow it’s 1 Kings 8:1-21.
  • Amanda and I have been involved in the volunteer programme this year, and Americans Haley, Brittany and Juliana, who arrived for a two-month stint in June, are coming into their last week here. Pray for a meaningful final few days.

  • For the rest afforded by Thursday’s day off.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saturday Post -- 01/08/15

Amanda with the other youth group leaders last Saturday night.

July, she will fly.

I shan't go into too much detail here with regard to our all-too-fleeting return to Scotland, our Facebook pages certainly providing more than enough photographic documentation. Suffice it to say, Willows were Stripped, putts were missed, and just as one sister flew the nest, another was flying into Glasgow Airport. In the week preceding the wedding, we managed to squeeze in 13 separate catch-ups over six days. Before touchdown in Scotland, we had been very much aware of our limited time; by the time we collapsed into bed on wedding's eve, we were all too aware of our limitations in general. We probably overstretched ourselves, but each meeting proved well worth it.

Writing from a dependably hot and sticky Trinidad, the whole trip already feels somewhat surreal and distant. The final goodbyes at the airport are naturally times of great sadness; this time was relatively Kleenex-free, as there was a tangible acceptance by all concerned that it was high time to return to normality. Our sojourn having been so brief, we felt none of the nerves that gripped us at the end of our 13-month sabbatical in January, just thankfulness for the opportunity to have spent any time at home at all.

Since arriving in Trinidad on Saturday, we have endeavoured to ease our way back into things ever so gradually, but only to the extent possible with a full complement of volunteers. About a week before our own return to Bolivia, Swindon's Tom and Josh Pike arrived in town, with the American trio only halfway through their own stint at that point (they leave in mid-August). Amanda has been sharing responsibility with KC for this summer's volunteer programme, and so with KC's enforced family trip to Cochabamba this week (this post is increasingly resembling an arrivals/departures board), we picked up the volunteer slack as a couple; only fair, I suppose, given KC was essentially flying solo for three weeks. That essentially meant ensuring they had enough food supplies, having them round to the house, and dealing with requests for British chocolate on a case-by-case basis.

Tom and Josh are on the right, for the avoidance of doubt.
Most importantly, we were tasked with meeting with the volunteers individually, which Amanda will continue to do with one of the girls, and I shall, of course, be touching base with Tom and Josh during the remainder of their time here. My initial meetings were certainly encouraging, as the brothers each shared their testimonies (which I reciprocated), and I was reassured to discover rock-solid faith in ones so young.

My very first encounter with the Pikes (they used to get a lot of "Don't tell him" references at school -- see below, non-Brits) took place at the youth group's second annual friendship gala, taking place to mark International Day of Friendship (which, like most Hallmark holidays, is a surprisingly big deal here). The evening essentially resembled the usual youth group meeting, except it was a dress-up affair, food was served, it was double the length, and we had about double the attendance! Despite being a tad bleary-eyed from our journey (we'd only just arrived that morning), we had a great time, and we're hoping that a lot of the 'strays' who came back will still be around in the coming Saturdays.

That aside, it was a reassuringly normal working week, with Amanda catching up on HR tasks, and I getting warmed up for a month in which I have responsibility both for preaching in the church and the morning devotions at FT. 

It's as if we never left.

  • For Craig as he preaches and teaches all this month.
  • For the adoption process. Things necessarily took a bit of a back seat this week, but we're planning on pestering our lawyer as to the next steps in the next few days.
  • For our pentad of volunteers, that their remaining time here would be one of great growth in Christ.
  • For a hearty supply of happy memories from our time in Scotland, and safe travels there and back again.
  • For a great night with the youth group last Saturday.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda