Cross the Line, Women’s Retreat Day 2

I wake up first thing in the morning probably because of the freezing temperatures and the sun shining through every window, so I run back to the cabin and get in the shower. The organizers have scheduled a morning praying hike.

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As I join the group I’m disappointed to find out the hike is more like a small walk around the block, still, I figure it will be a good time to meet someone new.The neighborhood is gorgeous, nested in the middle of Idyllwild. The architecture  is simply breathtaking.

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Suddenly a blue bird catches my attention. I’ve been dreaming about blue birds for a couple of weeks. It surprises me how close it lets me get.  Everyone is heading back to camp, I decide to keep on walking.

I hold back the impulse to start jogging for exercise as I want to take in the sights. The singing of the birds soothes me (by the way, I don’t normally like small birds. They eat worms and bugs, and to me they are as dirty as a rats). But in here they create an almost magical atmosphere.

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As I look into the creek, a cross shines through the lens of my camera. Another blue bird (or the same) comes to meet me. I take many pictures in an effort to journal what is happening because otherwise I might forget, when the mind begins to doubt even memory fails us.

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Suddenly, I come across a man. He’s squatting and I fear he might be hurt, but I hesitate because I fear he could hurt me. Then he turns around and gives me a gentle “shhh.” He points towards the woods. No more than 20 feet from us, a deer looks poignantly at the man. “I’m communing with it,” he says.

I walk away so I don’t disturb the man or scare away the deer. However I stay at a safe distance and take this picture.

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For the next 10 minutes, I stand with them. Neither of them move and I focus on the silence of the moment.  I decide to head back to camp as breakfast is about to be served.

By the time I show up, the dinning hall is buzzing with activity. Some women are already enjoying their hearty breakfast as I search for a spot to seat. I find one at the table of last night’s apples-to-apples gals. It feels serendipitous even though they all attend a different campus several miles away from my home.

In what it feels like a God appointment, God is answering one of my most secret prayers. I asked God for godly women who could be my mentors and friends.  To be clear the women in my life are amazing, starting with my mother, who is fabulous. And I have the friendship of several strong Christian women.

Yet, what I asked is for women who’ve walked the path God has laid out for me. Perhaps not the same, but with similar vision and inspiration. One of them, has participated in more than 10 mission trips with Amor and is encouraging me to join her during Memorial Day weekend (I’m actually getting ready for we leave this Saturday, stay tunned for an update).

After breakfast we begin with the next sessions. Both speakers captivate us with their honesty, courage and wisdom. I start noticing again women being stirred inside by the Holy Spirit as they hear convicting words of love and healing. I yearn to be broken again.

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After the conferences we go onto our body building exercises, a combination of prayer, self-reflection, art, journaling and counseling. I choose to get out of my comfort zone and I meet with a friend from my life-group to make a collage. (I guess neither of us realized we were coming to the retreat, but I’m glad we catch up with each other). The experience of two artistically challenged women trying to glue pictures on paper is entertaining. We have fun, and I actually enjoy the creative process.

At one end of the camp, a little trail destined for prayer and reflection invites me. It is quaint, and beautiful. I seat on a tree stump and read from the flash cards they gave us for the exercises:IMG_1619

 I bless you with deep heart identity as God’s very own child, securely loved in his family, calling him “Abba, Father.” I bless you with the settled assurance He has a future and a hope for you for your best interests and His ultimate glory. I bless you with the deep knowledge that your Abba nows what you need and has all the resources of the universe to meet your needs. I bless you with confidence that you lack nothing you need in any way. I bless you with certainty that you are an heir with your brother Jesus to all your Father’s treasures. I bless you in the name of Jesus!

I don’t even know what I was supposed to do with the prayer, the prayer has spoken to every cell in my body. As I seat in contemplation, I hear the singing of birds. My blue birds are everywhere. God’s presence in the midst of it all is unequivocal.

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The speakers, during the weekend also speak on the subjects of healing, forgiveness, knowledge of self, surrender, leadership, commitment, and the valiant pursuit of our God given dreams.

It is surreal to listen to them, as for every word is a confirmation of the words being spoken into my spirit. That’s why having a tribe is so important. The more connected you are the more you’ll find how much fears and dreams are shared. You’ll find just how much alike is our struggle and how we all can help each other grow.

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Right before the last conference of the day, during worship I begin journaling; writing, in prayer, in communion. My joy now unable to be contained finds its outlet in my eyes. It takes on the liquid form coming from my tears, coming from my pen.

His purpose is opening in front of my eyes. there is no need to keep running away. Let yourself be caught. His purpose for my life is that I would be His. To have children, a loving American husband and to grow in their love. In him I find where I belong and He gave me a physical and spiritual family to call my own and with His love healed the one I came from. I might talk too much and speak too loud—He loves me. I might cry too much—He loves me. He made me spunky “Fabispunk” and loves the way I use it to connect to His creation. There is no fear. I’m called to be the building hands, the writing hands, the reaching hands. My emotions linger at the end of my fingers. Numbness that call them into action. Your will be done. Thank you.

Peace

Right after we go into the hardest session of the conference. It is tough to listen about forgiveness and about our pasts. When it is finished, we are encouraged to participate in an exercise to revisit that painful past.

Oh the temptation, the whole weekend, I’ve been wanting to experience brokeness again; sweet, sweet, pain. Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s important to connect with our pasts, to confront it, to let ourselves be vulnerable and to let God heal those areas. In fact one of the best feelings in my life has been the gentle touch of the hand of God putting my pieces together after being completely broken.

But pain can be so addictive, it can also be so paralyzing, at least for me it is. I know at least this time it’s not for me.

At God’s prompting I get up from my seat and I opt out. I want to dwell on God’s Joy for just a little bit longer, on His Peace. How wise of Him, for I would need to draw from His strength on the weeks to come.

 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve  for the joy of Lord is your strength.” Nehemia 8:10 (NIV)

Late at night, I begin laughing uninhibited with my new girlfriends, the women of Newbreak. We play games, and seat by the fireplace under the moon light (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the name of my friend seating next to me is Joy), I eat the mostly healthy leftovers snacks left on the big conference room, we talk about nothing, we simply enjoy in each other’s company.

I finally get to sleep in my bunk. The staff took care of the leaky toilet. Like a bunch of Tweens at a slumber party, my roommates and I keep each other awake, sharing life stories, making silly jokes, laughing really loud, and annoying the heck out of each other. Joy.

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Donations: It’s not all about the Economy Stupid

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Like you might know I’m in the process of raising funds to support my work with an amazing organization, Amor Ministries.

It definitely has been a journey. With its mountaintops and its valleys. At this point I’m thrilled because after a relatively long period of not being able to raise any money, money has started to come in again.

I won’t lie, it’s been a dry period and it made me question the utility of it all. I read a couple of books on fund raising, blogs and a book on giving; I’ve sent letters to friends, family and acquaintances; I contacted my church; I contacted other churches around San Diego; I prayed; and I asked for advice from elders. I reached the end of myself and I was getting tired.

Then temptation to start looking elsewhere crept in. I figured that if I was to get a “normal job” I could donate towards Amor and be more helpful. How pretentious of me. God never asked me for my money (at least not on this case. After we did our taxes last month, we realized we had not given as much as we would like). He asked me to use my God given talent and my faith.

Amor is His doing. I’m just the vehicle and I must let go, surrender.  And that was the message I got last month when I went to a women’s retreat with Newbreak. And I’m so grateful that during that trip I was without distraction to practice being in His presence. How wise was God to fill me up with His Joy. He knew I needed my vase filled up with His spirit to continue the journey.

He also asked me to take a break: To do nothing (I’ll share more about the experience in another post). How counterintuitive with our culture and my makeup is that?

Do nothing? As a wannabe athlete I’m well familiarized with the phrase “Good things come to those who work their [buttocks] off.” Maybe I should make more cold calls, follow up on my contacts (really good advice from my dad who’s been on sales most of his life), send flyers to my neighbors (I only know a handful), what about a fundraising party (please let me know if this sounds like fun and if you would like to give me advice on how to go about it), anyway you get the idea.

But I yielded and I stopped leaning on my own understanding.  During this time I’ve shared my vase with others. I’ve been running more (super excited of reaching my personal best), gone on more outings with my kids, explored my artistic side, planned a party I hosted last week, and I’ve been more available for my friends. Doing and enjoying those things when I have something to accomplish would normally turned me into a basket case, but I actually did it, anxiety free.

Yesterday my latest numbers came in. First of all, the small recurring donations have added up, thank you very much for your faithfulness, you are bringing me closer and sustain my faith.

And secondly one person very close to me made a sacrificial donation. I know it’s sacrificial because her husband just recently lost his job. It overwhelmed me. I wanted to give it back. And then it hit me. How conceited of me. I don’t know how God plans to bless her. I know God multiplies and I can’t ask for abundance for others or me from a poverty mentality.

I know her gift has already blessed me. It reminded me, actually, for the first time it made me understand I’m not alone on this journey.

This might be a blog about the journey of how an unexceptional woman goes into joining a great non-profit to build homes to the poor, but actually this is our journey. To you who reads this and encourages me from the sidelines, to you who gave what was asked from you faithfully even when you might be scared, and to you who becomes encouraged by these lines, for these lines are my gift back to you.

It’s amazing what someone believing in you can do. I sometimes doubt myself. I don’t know how I will be able to come with the rest of the money, but I must keep putting one foot in front the other. I’ll go to battle, no matter how woefully unprepared I feel. Like for Gideon, God has a plan. And like Gideon, I’m not alone.

 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you,mighty warrior.”

 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Judges 6:12-16 NIV

I pray God’s gentle hand directs me to whatever is next.

 

Everyone at Amor has an important job for the future of the ministry. You can be part of that vision by supporting me with a monthly donation, a one-time gift or by committing to pray for me to meet my needs to continue my employment with Amor.

You can make your donation online at https://www.amor.org/give/staff, just make sure to put designation “other” and input my name in the comment box.

You can also send a check at 1664 Precision Park Lane, San Diego, CA 92173 and put my name in the memo line (FJOH).  Or call 619.662.1200 to make a donation on my behalf.

Thank you for your support and God Bless,

Cross the Line, Women’s Retreat Day 1

ImageI was afraid the experiences of the weekend at Newbreak’s women’s retreat would fade with time like it often times occurs after a sermon at church. You hear it, something stirs in you, God wants to do some work through you and by sundown the enemy stole it. You go to bed discouraged because you failed. You have the truth, but it didn’t make anything anew. And you feel grateful His mercies come with the morning. Yet, despite my many distractions, I’m sitting here because I wanted to share the experience of a weekend in a mountain with a group of women, finding a place to belong, and experiencing God’s Joy. A weekend that defined for me who I am in Him. A lasting impact.

It has been two hours and I’m nowhere near the camp. As I tightly hug another curve in the road I go back and forth in my mind assessing the terrain, “don’t let the conference be here it’s too dry,” “the woods are nice, please let it be here.”

I should’ve input the address in the van’s GPS, but I opted for the cell phone Google maps app because I wanted to take the scenic route and the maps on my van are outdated. Still, it’s not easy to check how much longer I have to go and according to the directions I scanned I should’ve been there an hour ago.

But the drive it’s so beautiful it’s almost worth the hunger and leaving my husband behind after returning from his latest business trip to the mountains of Chihuahua. Now here I am in the mountains of Southern California.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. there is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat Psalm19:1-6.

Even through the windshield I drink up all of God’s creation, surrounding me as I listen to Mumfords and Sons.

Yet, some anxiety about the weekend slowly begins to set in.

Most people who have met me would never suspect it but I have a stranger’s anxiety, mostly brought up by my public and private persona. Public Fabi is intelligent, well spoken, though with a heavy accent (my husband believes is because subconsciously I like to shout “I’m Mexican,” to my defense I don’t usually notice I have an accent until someone looks bewildered at what I’m saying) and agreeable. Private Fabi is curious, often self-deprecating, loud, with or without accent, and loves arguments. Real Fabi is probably a mix of both.

Finally I arrive to Tahquitz Pines, at the heart of Idyllwild, California. The conference has started. After a quick check-in I find an open seat in the front row. These are usually the last to be taken in the first day at a women’s conference.

Worship is lovely and our first speaker is a dynamo. She is former Disney marketing director and now is the head of the women’s ministry. While I look around the room I see how her message is driving a point in a lot of women. I’m eager to be broken. But there are different plans for me.

As the first day closes in we are invited to stay in the conference to do a simple craft and get to know one another. Crafting scares me, while I consider myself a very creative person, it’s in the execution that most of what I’ve attempted ends up looking like this: “Nailed it.”

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I decide I have to give it a try. Already I feel like again in small ways I’m being challenged, but first I have to go meet my roommates for the weekend.

When I find my room at the bottom of the hill, I wish I had arrived earlier to secure some nearby parking. The room is a very small room, in no shape or form designed to host six women. Instantly I wish I had the extra money for a solo cabin.

My roommates had already picked the double bed, and the cot, so I take the bottom bunk bed despite being extra small. The top bunk simply represents a hazard for a nightwalker. When everyone shows up, I realize I’d be rooming in with only three other women, first pleasant surprise of the night.

We immediately begin to find common ground and we realize we all have Hispanic background and at least two of us break out speaking in Spanish, even if for only a couple sentences since I get self conscious when people don’t understand me for fear they might feel I’m talking about them. I remember being the one in the room who couldn’t follow a conversation.

We seem to hit if off right away and I am grateful that they seem at least down to earth. I’m a little disappointed when they decide not to join me in the craft room because I would be again on my own in the big room. I’m forced to decide whether to leave my roommates behind and go and try to channel my inner Martha Steward or stay in my new safe place with my “Chicas” and enjoy the rest of my weekend sans complications.

I actually surprise myself by enjoying the craft. Yes it was super easy that even my three year old could manage to complete, but I walk away feeling proud of my cute journal.

Because I’m a night owl I need to find something else to do. I already deleted all my social media apps for a disconnected weekend. So I wonder around and come across a group of women playing “Apples-to-Apples.” Do you know the feeling when you are around fun people and you simply want to join in? That’s how this group feels. Their ages range from 20 to 60 maybe more, but their energy and fun is contagious and ageless. I love them instantly.

Normally a clique of at least 6 women would have turned me off, but when I approach them it feels different, if feels like I… belong.

And that is the first time the word belonging hits me that weekend. A desire so deeply entrenched in my being, almost a secret. All my life wanting to belong.

When I return to my room I found my roommates still awake so we stay up talking and laughing, getting to know each other. The night has been a success and slowly my insecurities begin to dissipate.

I can feel the authentic me shining through and that gives me freedom. Unfortunately, sleep does not come easy for me. While I could sleep through snores and even the feeling of claustrophobia underneath the bunk bed, a leaky toilet is making me anxious. It’s the fixer in me. I feel a gentle push “sleep in your car.” And so I do.

With sleeping bag in tow and my iPod as companion I snuggle in the back of the van. I am grateful my husband forgot to change the oil in his truck and now I have the family van to get comfortable. First time since we got this thing that I really appreciated it. Despite being cold, I have the night sky over me while the sounds from the forest including the howling of wolves or more likely coyotes lulls me to sleep.

As I heard the howling of the animals in the forest in my mind’s eye I saw a picture that has been for a long time pinned at my cork board that never before until that point I gave much thought. A Wolf. The legend next to the picture reads: As a Wolf your happiness Secret: To Be a Force of Positive Change. It’s natural for rifts do develop, even in loving relationships. And according to the Cherokee Indians of the Southeast, gravitating to the wolf means that you are perfectly suited to noticing early signs of discontentment and reaching out to resolve problems. Wolves have wonderfully close-knit, supportive communities. Playing peacemaker will help produce a sense of harmony and togetherness within your circle. Image

His Pursuit part 3…

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“How long do I have to wait?”

“It says here three to five minutes.”

“What does two lines mean again?”

Silence.

We ended up taking six tests. For an unmarried 18 year-old few things are scarier than the sight of two lines on a pregnancy test. He laughed (probably from the shock). I went cold, for I had made up my mind. After all, this was the United States and I knew where to find the nearest Planned Parenthood.

I had dreams to pursue. I liked this boy all right, but not enough to give up my entire life plan. Did I?

Life Intertwined 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

 Romans 8:28 (NIV)

As we talked about our “choices,” the phone rang. His mom called to inform him that the baby she was expecting had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18.  Meanwhile, Danny’s sister was also struggling to conceive after a series of miscarriages. The irony upset me .

Their mom was willing to stand behind her baby, despite a high-risk pregnancy and little statistical probabilities for survival, for life’s sake. She was living her faith in Love. I was living life in fear and selfishness. What about MY dreams?

As I’m typing this, my stomach turns inside out as I don’t even want to consider an alternative universe where my boy didn’t exist. He has the biggest heart and a brilliant mind. He is happy, funny and sweet. Everyone who knows him knows what a blessing he is to everyone around him. But more importantly, making the choice that he would live saved my life.

Danny’s youngest sister, Kelly Marie Murdock was born months later. Her short life had the purpose of showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice while giving an opportunity for their mother to witness in my life.

Danny’s youngest sister, Kelly Marie Murdock was born months later. Her short life had the purpose of showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice while giving an opportunity for their mother to witness in my life.

After the call, Danny dropped me home and told me to think about what  I wanted to do next.

The next day he took me to Mt. Helix and proposed in one knee presenting a small heart shaped ring. The gesture meant everything to me, important people had quit on me before. Yet, he didn’t want to run away, or even if he did, he was willing to face any challenge for his baby and me.

He was asking me to change my decision from whether I would have a baby or not to whether I would do it with him by my side. Looking into his eyes I knew he loved me, but I was afraid. I didn’t want to multiply into my mistake by getting married. We had nothing going for us. Even if I was not going to have an abortion, I could go home and raise the baby on my own, or perhaps consider adoption, like my big sister had recommended on the phone.

We were both young; we were going to be parents; we came from very broken homes; we didn’t even have similar views in politics and religion; he was heading to boot camp; I didn’t have a green card; we spoke different languages (although at this point most of our conversations were Franklin free); and the worst and the most painful thing: It meant I would leave my family, my country and everything I knew for good.

Marrying him meant abandoning everything for this man and my unknown child, and giving up the life that I wanted to have for the one we would create. I told him I would think about it.

I Do

In bed at night, the words of God “I will never leave you nor forsake you” echoed in my head. For the first time, I prayed with all my heart: crying, longing for answers, wanting to believe.

Why Trisomy 18?

Why the miscarriage?

Why me?

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5   (NIV)

Next day I paged Danny 1, 4, 3. (I love you).  He called me. I said a simple “I do.” “Pick you up at 8 to go to church?” he said. “Yes,” I said.

We had guilt written all over our faces, three days have passed since we found out we were going to be parents and we had not told anyone (except for my big sister who kept it a secret). Danny was excited to give the news to his family. I was terrified to call mine back home.

During worship I felt again the warmth and love that I felt during the service at the Baptist church four months ago.

Their pastor began speaking about faith and again I knew the message was directed at me:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” This verse from Ruth to her mother in Law is a common one read at Christian weddings, yet it was the first time I heard it.

It was a confirmation that God had indeed prompted me to say yes to Danny. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God,” my fears dissipated as He held me in His hands.

For the first time I had the confirmation He was after me, and I wanted to be caught. I invited Him in.

 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:13 (NIV)

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P.S. His pursuit for my whole self from that moment on became relentless, with the culmination several years later with my surrender. We did start with a tumultuous marriage. From the brink of divorce, he restored us and renewed time and time again our love and commitment to each other. He has been transforming us and I don’t believe He is ever done. In fact in the past two months since I started Journey to Amor he has taken us to new Mountaintops and accompanied us through some very dark valleys of doubt and fear as we take on new challenges and summit our finances and career choices to His will. But in Him we find truth. Only this weekend I received His Joy, an experience that I thought beyond my possibilities and faith. I’m extremely grateful for His unending love and His continuous grace.

This is me, this past weekend at a retreat. Joyful, full of the Holy Spirit. Thankful.

This is me, this past weekend at a retreat. Joyful, full of the Holy Spirit. Thankful.