Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Post -- 25/06/16

"We've got this."
"We're going it alone. We don't need your help. We spend too much money on you anyway. We want our independence back."

Such will, possibly, be my parting words on Tuesday morning to Amanda (you didn't think I was talking about something else, did you?) as Sam and I set off on something of an adventure.

Back in April, you may remember, Mother was very much left holding the baby as Father set off for a Stateside family wedding (though reinforcements were on their way). This time, the shoe is on the other foot, with the key difference that his lordship will also be travelling.

Those who have visited us here before will be aware that the timing of internal flights is not always ideal; overnight stays in one of the hub cities here are often called for. Such was the case for my Mum, who despite being due to arrive in Santa Cruz at around 8am this coming Wednesday, would be running it far too close for the day's only Trinidad flight (you don't exactly sail through customs and immigration here). And so it was incumbent upon one of us to go and meet her there, with a view to taking the Thursday morning flight back to Trinidad.

But a day in Santa Cruz, we realised, meant 24 hours less with her new grandson. "But it doesn't have to!," I reasoned. A few taps of the keyboard and clicks of the mouse later, I'd bought two airline seats to Santa Cruz, Sam's costing a mere £4 (considerably more now, of course!). What could possibly go wrong?

We have, of course, driven to Santa Cruz with Sam in the past, but any travel that involves a departure terminal is potentially problematic, as child services have offices there to ensure that no young person is being transported against their will. With that in mind, we got in touch with our lawyer over the past week to check that our documentation was in place; we are fine, though the court issued us with an updated version of the foster care ruling issued in December.

Back when I booked the flights, it all seemed considerably simpler. "He's such an easy baby," I reasoned to myself, "so wedded to his routines, and anyway, I'll have an extra pair of hands once Mum arrives." All true then; not so much now. Sam's last minor bout with illness appears increasingly to have been something of a Rubicon. Now that the snot has dried, a toddler has emerged from the pile of used tissues. This is evidenced by a propensity to unleash his lion impersonation at any given moment, to view being laid down in his crib as an invitation to use its bars to immediately propel himself to his feet again, and (making its debut this week) to give vent to righteous indignation upon his servants taking leave of him.

Also known as 'bedtime'.
Whatever happens, it promises to be an adventure and a half (oh, and we don't even know yet if he likes flying). But whether playing hide-and-seek, performing amateur acrobatics, or sitting together in the driver's seat (take that, Brussels!), Sam and I enjoy few things more than the pleasure of each other's company, so the boys will make it work, Mum. And, above all, it will surely be worth it for Grandma.

  • Pray for Craig and Sam as they travel this week.
  • Keep praying for the adoption, and a prompt resolution.
  • Pray for the implications of the referendum. In the long-run, this heterogenous family unit may now be facing even more complications when it comes to travelling back to the UK (Amanda previously lived and worked there sans-visa, on her Irish passport). More immediately, a big chunk of Fundación Totaí's support comes to us in sterling, and we all know what's happened there. By the way, if you live in the UK and are interested in supporting the work of FT, you'll find more information here
  • Amanda has had a minor dose of sickness -- possibly food-poisoning -- over the last couple of days, but is gradually getting her strength back.
  • The missions conference last week was very well executed, and well attended by our own church. It was fascinating, from an outsider's perspective, to understand the role of animistic thought in forming the worldview and behaviour of so many supposedly urbane Trinitarios (a few weeks ago, Amanda went out to get salt at night, for example, and was refused at several different shops; we learned that it is considered bad luck here!). The big take-away was how important one's worldview is in shaping one's whole identity; pray that these lessons would be helpful to us as a church.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Post -- 18/06/16

That's more like it.
We mentioned this weekend's missions conference (kicking off at 8:30am) in last week's entry, and so this will be pretty brief. 

The week's most encouraging moment came in the form of a simple WhatsApp message from our lawyer. It looks like the various agencies in town have finally submitted their reports, and a hearing on the adoption proper is due to take place the week beginning 4th of July...during which time we will have among us none other than one Ethel G. Cunningham! Two weeks out, it wouldn't entirely be a surprise if the hearing was delayed (say, because one of the agencies' representatives had a birthday party to attend), but we are just delighted that there has finally been some movement on this.

Staying with his lordship, Sam's condition has improved considerably following a check-up with the paediatrician on Monday. He is back to his usual, noisy self, and evidence mounts by the day that a Rubicon -- dividing the territories of 'baby' and 'toddler' -- has been crossed.

Caught in the act of raiding the DVD/games cupboard
(one of his favourite haunts; those Wii nunchucks
aren't half chewy)
More encouragement came in the shape of the English class, where the Intermediate level began. We are primarily running the classes this year to raise funds for the general work of Fundación Totaí, and there was plenty of space for more students by the time the Basic class had ended, so I (Craig) had tried to get the word out to anyone with a decent base of English who was interested in progressing further. It seems to have paid off, with six new students in attendance this week. If you've been with us a while, you'll know that the Intermediate level sees the introduction of a weekly reading class, in which we use an evangelistic text written in easy-to-understand English. The class responded really positively to the first reading lesson on Thursday.

Finally, another newcomer this week was, of course, Taylor, who has settled in well in her first week here, and we have enjoyed getting to know her, not least last night when we had her over to the house with another couple with whom we are friendly. During a vastly enjoyable game of Ticket to Ride, she was to bear witness to a rare board-game feat in Casa Cunningham: my consummate thrashing of Amanda. 

The perfect end to a great week.

  • Keep the prayers coming on the adoption. It would be a particular thrill to have confirmation in the same week as a family visit; pray that any delays would be minimal in any case.
  • For the English students over the next few months as they study the reading text (called 'What Christians Believe'), that they would be able to take a few steps back from the 'trees' of all the new words and phrases, and be equipped to see the gospel 'forest'.
  • Pray for the missions conference taking place today and tomorrow. It appears there will be a big focus on animism, the religious framework adopted by many tribes, of which we have hundreds in the Beni region alone. So it promises to be nothing if not practical and relevant. Pray for the participants from our own church in particular, that they would see that missions is not just the field of boring white people.
  • For the adoption news, naturally.
  • For Sam's recovery.
  • For Taylor's safe arrival and positive first week.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saturday Post - 11/06/16

I (Amanda) have never really fasted before. I think I tried it once when I was younger and I got to lunch time and decided that the hunger headache I had constituted a medical emergency.  I thought that I must be one of those people who just couldn't fast; it was just too dangerous. My parents never did it, my church tradition generally didn't do it, and it wasn't until I became exposed to other denominations and met various other Christian at University that I realised that fasting is something people really still did. I never really understood it though; I guess I understood that it was supposed to be a spiritual experience because one became more dependent on God in their hunger, but it was all conceptual to me. 

However, about two weeks ago I started a daily devotional on YouVersion about Easter and Lent (I know, I'm late) and the first day dealt with the concept of fasting. It highlighted that fasting is not about reaching a target, it's not about saying, "I did it" or "Done!" at the end of it, and it also doesn't work like a magic wand to become more spiritual; you don't get to reach a new step in your relationship with God just by completing the fast. The word that they used and which touched my heart is 'sojourn'. A fast is a sojourn with God. It's not about the destination, it's not about doing it perfectly, it's about an opportunity to journey with God. And when I read that I thought, "That sounds wonderful. I would really love to journey with God. I feel like I haven't gone anywhere with God in a while." And it has been wonderful. I believe there is a Kearon gene that turns us into bears when we don't eat, plus I was adamant that I physically couldn't get up with Sam so early if I couldn't eat, so I decided to give something else up and it really has been wonderful. Think about the word 'sojourn' and then think about how much you would love to journey with God for a while. Don't worry about doing it right, or getting it perfect. It doesn't matter if you mess up or skip some days, just get excited about going on the sojourn with God.

The timing of this has been interesting in our lives. Sam is sick again. Children here get sick all the time. However, I am told that children everywhere get sick all the time, so maybe Sam doesn't get sick more than other children. or maybe he does. I honestly have nothing to compare him to. The weather has been low the last three weeks or so. By low, I mean 16-22 degrees Celsius. For most people back home that means shorts and T-shirt weather, but for people here who are used to 30 degrees, well essentially the world is ending just now.  It affects everything; our patient numbers at the Foundation are down, no one can get laundry done so people run out of clothes, even my very Canadian self is sleeping under a mountain of blankets at night. And, of course, all the children get sick. The cold here is a damp cold, more like Scotland than Canada. And the cold damp gets into the children's lungs and does evil things. Sam, on top of just experiencing this evil, also has weaker lungs from having been born premature, so one day he could be fine and the next day his lungs are closing up and he is struggling to breathe. It happens so fast it is unbelievable and watching it happen just breaks my heart. So here we are again with his inhaler and steroids, fighting to get his lungs to open up. The paediatrician said it wasn't an overly serious case and we didn't have to worry about admitting him to hospital, which was an encouragement. Our GP in the mornings at the Foundation had his six-month-old baby admitted for the same thing last week because he became cyanotic really fast despite his medication. So, I'm sojourning with God while dealing with one of my biggest struggles.

Some might remember that Sam came to us sick. He had some type of intestinal infection and was struggling with this lungs at the same time, and he was kind of dropped in our laps like; I was a wreck that first week or so. The experience was so traumatic that it triggered my own anxiety disorder and now my anxiety spikes as a conditioned response to coughing. It's so extreme that it doesn't even have to be Sam coughing, it can be anyone. I can be at work and not even in the same building as Sam and my anxiety will spike. Sometimes I'll be two rooms over and I can still hear it, "Someone, somewhere is coughing." Except for Craig whose coughing seems to still elicit a different response from me, "Just rub some dirt in it. You'll be fine." 

My friend told me about her experience with phantom crying with her firstborn; well, I have phantom coughing. I am permanently angry at all the dogs, including ours, in the neighbourhood who make me unnecessarily anxious when I confuse their barks with coughing. We had a youth group planning meeting at our house this past Tuesday night and one of the couples brought their three year old son, and he spent the whole night coughing. Sam was in bed and he hadn't fallen sick yet so I wasn't overwrought, but I spent the night amazed at how calm his parents were. They had given him his medicine and realised there was nothing else they could do about it just now, so they didn't worry. 

I have an anxiety problem when it comes to Sam being sick. Some days my anxiety is so bad that I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with one more episode like this, and think I might not be able to go on. I pray for Sam's recovery not for his sake, but for mine. And sometimes I fear him; I fear walking into his room at night because I don't want to have to deal with and process a new wave of fear upon seeing him possibly worse.

I've not had my normal coping mechanism with me this time either, because I gave it up a couple of weeks ago. I thought saying to God, "Sorry, we have to interrupt our sojourn because my son is sick and I need my coping mechanism back to get through it", would defeat the whole point of the exercise, although there was temptation there. However, through my sojourn and struggles with heightened, and what sometimes feels like debilitating anxiety, God has taught me about grace. Sunday school definition of grace = God giving us what we don't deserve; I had that down pat. I could also identify grace in my life. I could look at a situation and say that I survived it only through God's grace. But I was struggling with knowing what grace was. I knew I received it undeservedly, but what was "it"? I would have defined grace in my life as the ability to reach the end of the day, but that didn't sound quite theological enough. So, as everyone does in my generation, I googled it - "Biblical definition of grace". Craig has spent a pretty penny over the years on Bible study resources for teaching and prepping sermons, which I have full access to, but I chose to google it. And right at the top of Google in a highlighted box it said, "God's unmerited favour". Oh...the word I've been looking for is favour. And it all made sense. And God shows me his unmerited favour because God is innately good.

I've been trying to figure out how to get better; how to deal with a sick Sam better than I am coping right now. And through a conversation with my sister, I realised I don't have to get better. I need to accept who I am. She was telling me that in her Mommy Group all the moms commented on how they were unprepared for the levels of anxiety they experienced as first time moms. So, she said anxiety is normal with a firstborn and then this normal anxiety is triggering my anxiety disorder and amplifying it, which also makes sense in my case. So, I don't have to do better, or get better, I need to accept the situation for what it is and learn how to cope, to live through the anxiety. My anxiety is something that I had learned to accept as my thorn in the flesh a long time ago, but I hadn't connected it with dealing with Sam's struggles until now. So my epiphany went something like this: 1) I have an anxiety disorder and have had it for the last 15 years; it is not going away. 2) I love my son and he has weak lungs; these attacks are not going away any time soon. 3) I therefore have to endure the two of them together, because I neither want to run away from or ignore the situation. 4) And I do this through God's grace: His unmerited favour upon me which gives me all I need to get to the end of another day, another episode, and which will carry me through the storm when it all starts all over again.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

  • As mentioned last weekend, a new medical volunteer, Taylor, arrived today. Pray for God's blessing over her six weeks in Trinidad.
  • Keep Sam in your prayers as he deals with his illness.
  • We're due to attend a missions conference organised by a seminary in Santa Cruz next weekend (and may not be blogging as a result!). The event (which is free) is being widely promoted in our own church, and we're hoping that many of our own members would turn up and have the opportunity to think about what God is doing beyond the confines of Trinidad.
  • We had some mildly encouraging news with regard to the adoption situation this week, learning that one of the three required reports had been submitted to the judge. Pray that the other two reports would be submitted as quickly as possible; our lawyer has indicated that we might have to wait until July for the adoption to be finalised.
  • The men's and women's ministries continue every second Sunday, and last weekend saw the women begin a new study on the life of David, with our house packed out for it. The men's numbers aren't quite as high, but there is a committed group coming along every couple of weekends.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday Post -- 04/05/16

Me right now, without the glassesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
You can pretty much count on our posts being somewhat curtailed on the first Saturday of each month, as this is the day on which the Langham Trinidad group meets…at 6am! So difficult was it to find a time during sensible hours that suited everyone that the group elected to stage meetings at a time when everyone would definitely be available (if not entirely awake). Thus far, the early start has not been too much of a hindrance, and this morning we enjoyed our first such preaching class since theLevel 2 conference last month.

Regular readers will be aware that one of the strengths of the Langham Preaching programme is the frequency of visits from their national overseers (based in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba), and, not even three weeks since the retreat, we also received confirmation this week of the first such follow-up visit in October from our good friend Edwin.

My week has mostly been taken up with more administrative tasks for church, and preparation of the morning meditations at Fundación Totaí. Taking place before FT opens for ‘business’, these are an integral part of the day, an opportunity to hear from God’s word and prayerfully reflect upon it. Three of us are involved in this, taking a month each on a three month rotation. I have been slowly but steadily working through Mark’s gospel with the staff, the shortest of the four gospel accounts, yet five ‘months’ later (in reality, since May 2015), we’re only at Wednesday of Holy Week!

I’m passionate about the morning meditations, from a discipleship and evangelism standpoint, and so I’m happy to set aside the time to prepare each of them from scratch, though usually they take me around 90 minutes’ of work. With my other commitments, that requires time management; I usually do one a week, but in leaner preaching spells (such as right now) I try to get a few out of the way at once. It’s paying off, with the Christians in the group coming to a deeper appreciation of Mark’s purposes and themes, and the non-Christians reading through an entire gospel account, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Amanda, meanwhile, has had various monthly departmental meetings (another trait of the start of the month), but is also turning her attention to the summer’s volunteers. This year we do not have a team, but three individuals spread across the next few months (the third is hoping to stay on for the best part of a year). Next weekend, God-willing, the first of these three will have arrived on a medical placement from the USA, and Amanda will be charged with overseeing her time in Trinidad.

We say 'summer' volunteers, of course, when in actual fact, it's winter here, and feels like it. Hooray!
  • The adoption. You know the score. We remain answerless.
  • For Amanda as she prepares for the arrival of this summer’s volunteers.
  • For the morning meditations delivered by Craig, San and Elías (this month); that the saints would be built up, unbelievers’ hearts would be softened, and that Christ would be established at the centre of the day ahead.

  • For a great start this morning to the new year of monthly Langham meetings.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda