Certain Kind of Life (photos from Shicali)

“A vocation or calling is a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God for the common good. The author of every calling is God himself…every man is to live as he is called of God.” — William Perkins

Shicali pottery on the wheel, El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 18, 2013) — “You’ve got to use the life you’ve been given to give others life.

“You’ve got gifts that weren’t given to line your life with; they were given to be a lifeline to others — or your lose your life.

“It comes like an echo from God; if your gifts don’t give relief, you don’t get real life. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?

“…You’ve got to use your position inside the gate for those outside the gate — or you’re in the position of losing everything.

Potter works at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

“If you have any food in your fridge, any clothes in your closet, any small roof, rented or owned, over your head, you are richer than 75 percent of the world… if you have anything saved in the bank, any bills in your wallet, any spare change in a jar, you are one of the top 8 percent wealthiest people in the world.

“If you can read these words right now, you have a gift three billion people right now don’t. If your stomach isn’t twisted in hunger pangs, you have a gift that one billion people right now don’t. If you know Christ as the greatest Gift, you have a gift that millons of untold people don’t…

Potter's hands at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

“When you unwrap your worth in the Gift of Christ, your release your grip on all the other gifts. You are loved and carried and secure, and what else do you need when you have Him? You are free, free, to lavishly give away your gifts when all your value, worth, joy, and riches are in the greatest of gifts.

“Why, writes George Muller, would anyone inside the gate ‘seek  to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised?’

“You can see it during Advent — over on the west side, over in the slum, over the backyard fence — the way someone reaches out a hand and someone weak grabs hold. And all the gates give way to God, for such a time as this.”

– Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

Finished pottery at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

Finished pottery at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

Shicali is the retail and pottery shop for ACOGIPRI in El Salvador, a co-op of independent disabled individuals – Cooperative Association of the Integral Pro-Rehabilitation Independent Group — that works with the disabled. With no social programs, education system, or economic support for those with special needs in that country, ACOGIPRI is working to change that by providing jobs for deaf pottery artisans. The group provides training and workshop space while marketing and selling the finished products. It was amazing to see the beautiful work produced by these incredible artists during my visit to El Salvador with Joni & Friends. You can read more about Shicali on their website.

Crossing Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 7, 2013) — I’m obsessed with the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. It brings a great sense of peace, but not out of spineless acquiescence. The lyrics call for such faith, such trust. I know I don’t have that now.

Ocean Quote

I’ve always been in love with the ocean, probably because I grew up going to Lake Michigan as a child in the Chicago suburbs, and when you’re three or four or even 10 or, heck, 27, Lake Michigan might as well be an ocean. It took a while for me to figure out that every time I visited somewhere with a coastline, there was a common denominator; I actually could feel the calm descend inside my soul. I can name all the places — Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine, Shackleford Banks in North Carolina, Manhattan Beach in Southern California, more — where unintentionally, I have been drawn to the water and found myself at peace.

Shackleford Banks, N.C., 2012

Shackleford Banks, N.C., 2012

But last month when I was watching the towering waves break in Costa Del Sol, I think I realized for the first time how much that heaving, brutal water thrills yet frightens me, how much I want to be in the surf and on the sand but not too far out, not too risky. And then the other things I love came to mind, like riding horses, galloping cross-country and jumping with a 1,200-pound animal with a mind of its’ own, no problem, because everything else fades away and when you jump just right and you and your horse are in that perfect rhythm, it feels better than flying;  like driving too fast because it’s fun and thank God there are no autobahns in North America; like traveling at the drop of a hat to places I’ve never been to explore cultures I know nothing about, distance never an issue, here or on another continent, wherever there’s adventure.

I do these things wholeheartedly, and I rarely think twice about the danger. I enjoy the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the experience. The risks are worth the rewards.

And then, the ocean.

Costa Del Sol, El Salvador, Nov. 13, 2013

The dangers. The unpredictability. The undertow. It’s easier to sit safely on the shore, at most to tiptoe like that old Counting Crows song, “along the edge of where the ocean meets the land, just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus.” But to feel the water, you have to step off the dry land, and to swim — to really swim — you have to walk into deep waters, and to set sail you have to brave the waves.

Design by Joshua Noom Creative, http://www.joshuanoom.com

Design: Joshua Noom Creative, www.joshuanoom.com

Maybe that’s why this song speaks to me right now, in this season, exactly where I’m at.

Pockets of Joy, Just the Beginning

COSTA DEL SOL, EL SALVADOR (Nov. 17, 2013) — The last day of Joni & Friends’ IFR is always a sad one. We say our goodbyes. We send the families on their way. There are tears and hugs, fond memories from the hours that suddenly seem to have flown by. The connection is genuine. You can’t fake unconditional love.

But even in the sorrow, we find pockets of joy.

Hugo and Claudia

Like Hugo’s kiss for Claudia

 

Like tears and encouragement shared by Mercedes and Dani's mother

Like tears and encouragement shared by Mercedes and Dani’s mother

 

Like the loving support of Eduardo's older brother

Like the loving support of Eduardo’s older brother

 

Like the farewell exchange of Antonio (seated) and a friend...

Like the farewell exchange of Antonio (seated) and a friend…

 

Like the light in Marvin's eyes.

Like the light in Marvin’s eyes.

We leave this place and we leave each other, but to each we have given of ourselves, and in return we receive. These memories go with us back into the “real world,” where the families — who through this retreat earned a fresh perspective and strength for the journey — discover not the end of their new life, but just the beginning.

A Cup of Cold Water in El Salvador

COSTA DEL SOL, EL SALVADOR (Nov. 16, 2013) — This picture. This.

Emerson and Dani

I was going to write about adventures from yesterday and this afternoon, caballos and the pool and games and the beach — la playa! I’ll still tell you about those things, but not today. Because today, in the middle of the fun and and music and Bible lessons and time together sharing God’s love for even those who are outcast by society, this action, this moment, summed it all up.

Emerson is an Olympian; a native of El Salvador and one of seven kids, he told his mom when he was five years old that he was going to see the world. He’s been to over 40 countries, and last year he competed in the London games at his specialty (speed walking!)

Dani was a “normal” kid until six months ago, when surgery to remove a tumor damaged his spinal cord. He isn’t walking any more, fast or slow.

Dani and his mom enjoy some time at the pool

Dani and his Mom enjoyed some pool time on Friday

This week, Emerson has been Dani’s STM (short-term missionary), one volunteer glued to his side, bringing his meals, pushing his wheelchair, hauling up and down stairs and around the grounds of this special resort. They even rode the horses together, Dani in the saddle and Emerson holding him up behind.

Everyone went to the beach this afternoon, and it was so hot in El Salvador (also, birds fly). So then there was this, the spirit of those who volunteer at Joni & Friends’ International Family Retreats. One action. One moment. Over in a second, but yes, it brought tears to my eyes.

“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.” — Matthew 10:41-42 

Wow. Let’s look at it again.

Emerson and Dani

El Salvador IFR, Day One

Love

This is the face of love…

 

...of excitement...

…of excitement…

...of inclusion.

…of inclusion.

 

These are the faces of new friends...

These are the faces of new friends…

...of fun times...

…of fun times…

...of buddies who are breaking barriers.

…of buddies who are breaking barriers.

Joni & Friends brought a smile to this face...

Yesterday in El Salvador, Joni & Friends brought a smile to this face…

...and this face...

…and this face…

...and this face.

…and this face…

 

...and we've only just started.

…and we’ve only just begun.

Thanks for your thoughts, prayers, and support. Yesterday on Day One of Joni & Friends’ International Family Retreat in El Salvador, you reached families who have gone through great hardship and made them feel celebrated, accepted, special. The work here is good, and God is touching lives. This is real life, and in serving others, we ourselves are blessed. Gracias!

 

– Claire