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.

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.

His Pursuit part 2

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To share my experience meeting God or like we church folk like to call it, my testimony, has been intimidating. Most of the changes that happened in my life took place at the core of who I am. Those changes have led me to find peace. This is the second part of what I’ve called His Pursuit. 

I did not grow up in the church. Although like I mentioned before I was raised with customs and traditions of the Catholic Church, in my home rarely did we discussed things of the spirit. The idea of God had a more superstitious tint and I preferred more logical matters.

Why would then God be after me?

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 NIV

The experience at the church changed me profoundly. I was not ready to give my life to Jesus, but in my mind for the first time I accepted the possibility of the existence of a Supreme Being that not only created me, but also was seeking after me.

At around the same time, I met Danny. Danny was this very cute 18-year-old that simply swept me off my feet. Although we had nothing in common except for a strong attraction to each other, we began hanging out.

He invited me to his church (yes he was a friend of my “churchy” cousin).  And since the prospect of going to church with a guy I really liked sounded better than going back to attending Catholic mass, I joined him.

Again I had a hard time following the sermons at church, but it didn’t matter. Next to me stood a very cute boy who was crazy for me.  Then we would spend the rest of the day together. He would hang on every heavily accented word I would say. We talked for hours although mostly it was because it took hours to put a couple of sentences together reading them from our not always reliable Franklin translator.

If only we had Google translate in our phones back then (You new international couples don’t know how good you have it). But we didn’t even have cell phones. We paged each other and with that we created our own unique language.

He wanted to join the military to get money for school. I hated war, and distrusted American Interventionism. He read J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. I preferred Marquez and Kundera. He was a Christian boy. I was a Humanist. He was a “gringo” about to go to basic training. I was a Mexican girl with a looming expiration date in my Visa stamp. He liked Metallica. I was a Nirvana fan. Yet, we both enjoyed playing GoldenEye 007 in my cousins Nintendo 64.

And at that age, it was enough for each other. I fell in love with his laid back personality, he, with my fiery eyes (his words not mine). We laughed. We played. We attempted to dance.

But deep down I was mostly attracted to something that I could not put my finger on. It was not the sexual “je ne sais quoi” that makes you attracted to the unexpected and sometimes ugly guy (inside and out). If I had to give it a name it was an aura of goodness. The only other person I had met with this attractive energy was my best friend Katia back home, who was the only Christian I’ve met before coming to the States.

When he invited me to dinner with his family. They all had this energy. Maybe because I was not fluent in English, I was more aware of what people put out. Their intentions somehow became transparent. They were free. When I returned to my uncle’s home, I started noticing that everyone under his roof had it as well.

By no means were they perfect people. But for the first time I noticed that having God in your life meant peace, a contagious peace, and an attracting force beyond evangelical words. I began putting attention.

His Pursuit part 1

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A couple of weeks ago I was prompted to write “my testimony.” When I finished it, I immediately began questioning whether it served any purpose to the goals of this blog, and whether I wanted to get this personal. While my life prior my conversion was not outwardly messy, it was inwardly dark. So I’ve been sitting on my story for a while, but like many things in a faith led life sometimes you just have to obey and let God do the rest. If nothing else for freedom’s sake. So with much love here it is part of my story which I’ve divided it in three installments.  

About 13 years ago I came to United States. I spoke not a coherent word in English and I could barely put the words together to understand anyone trying to communicate with me.

I was living at my step-uncle’s house in Southern California. Although he is a Christian man he felt compelled to take me to a Catholic service on Sundays. Like he put it, I didn’t have to go to his church but I had to go to church. He assumed since I was Mexican, my faith was Catholic.

I never had the heart to tell him not only that I wasn’t a Christian, but also that I wasn’t a believer of any sorts. My heart had been hardened, a learned mechanism of protection from the loneliness, fear and the anger accumulated from my childhood. I became skeptical of anything but things I could see, hear and witness in the physical world. I didn’t need things of the heart or spirit for I had a sound and brilliant mind.

Skepticism was a form of life. Very early on I learned how religion was used to subjugate entire societies. I was an avid reader.  My morality: I believed in personal consequences, a loose understanding of karma, if you will, heaven and hell here on earth. The world, the universe was random chaos, no divine justice or intervention. Religions were lies given by churches, monasteries and mosques around the world to the weak-minded to control them, and I was not going to let anyone, or anything control my life or choose my destiny.

Because I was not ready to have those conversations with my uncle, more out of the fact that I could barely ask for salt at the dinner table, I began attending Catholic services on Sundays and it quickly became my weekly break from the English bombardment at home. It was a time for me to turn off my mind through the predictable movements of Mass, which despite being held in English I could follow: Kneel; stand up; Padre Nuestro (it has the exact same rhythm in both languages); now someone is going to read from the Book that I never put much attention, Credo, line up to eat the ostia (you don’t want to let everyone think you carry an unforgivable sin if you don’t partake), etc..

One Sunday morning, during my cousin’s leave after he graduated from Boot Camp, he invited me to join him with the rest of the family for a service at their Southern Baptist Church. That week I had been feeling particularly lonely and homesick so I decided to join them.

The first thing I noticed was the dozens of cute American “churchy” kids about my age. I joined them to their College group, which it was held in a classroom. It felt like Catechism class all over again, yet instead of stories of mythical gardens, giants and endless repetitions of prayers they were having a conversation in History, Theology and Geography. It went right over my head. I only sat there and smiled, with a little bit of pity for their little minds being brain washed while they felt so academic and important.

Then we went to the main sanctuary where for the first time in my life since I can remember my heart was stirred to be connected to something more, at that moment, God began His relentless pursuit for my heart. (I suspect the pursuit might’ve started long before, but my heart needed to be completely broken until I could let Him in).

My command of English was very limited; the only things I could watch in T.V. were reruns of “Friends” because I knew many of the episodes in Spanish. But during worship, for reasons I could not explain I began crying. Maybe I was tired, but I didn’t feel embarrassed to cry in front of everyone. No one minded. Then the pastor began speaking and I could understand every word. I heard the words as clear as any I have ever heard in my native language. It was freaky, but I figured the sermon was to be understood by the masses so the message had to be a simple one– one that I could understand.

Then I heard “for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6b) No sentence ever spoken before by anyone ever felt that personal. I knew he was speaking about the loneliness I was feeling at that moment. It was directed at me as if preceded by “Fabiola… For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” I can’t explain it: open ears, open heart. It was a promise for things yet to come. Then I felt warmth in my heart, literally like falling in love. 

When the service was over I didn’t share the experience with anyone and I was shocked when in the van on our way home, everyone’s voices became muffled. Their language undecipherable as usual, I wanted to demand them to speak with the speaker’s voice. “Enunciate,” like my uncle repeated it when I tried out his language in my mouth. Staring out of the window His promise “I will never leave you nor forsake you” began circling in my mind. Could it be true that the Creator of the Universe was after me?

Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

coffee cupI have great news! Amor has decided to sponsor me with 50%! Their generosity has overwhelmed me. Some of the funds will have to be diverted from elsewhere including staff support. I was supposed to raise 100% of my salary. All new staff members in new created positions are expected to do so. And I’ve been working towards that end since February.

Last Friday I had a meeting with Gayla  Cooper Congdon,  co-founder of Amor Ministries to discuss  my fundraising strategy .  I was supposed to start working for Amor on March , so she wanted to see how to help me formulate a fundraising strategy to get me on board as soon as possible. Our meeting rather became a heart-to-heart. She introduced me to Amy, a friend of hers from her college years who coordinates family and group camps. We shared about the joys of raising kids and the ministry . She shared with me of how God had met the organization’s needs after the rise of violence in Mexico made them lose HALF their volunteers. It’s not an easy task for any company to survive after losing half their clients, but Amor did.

“Love grows by giving. The love we give aways is the only we keep. The only way to retain love is to give it away.” Elbert Hubbard. 

In one sweep God has taken care of half of my needs. Mark Batterson, writes in his book Draw the Circle, “Like a parent that celebrates a baby’s first step, our heavenly Father rejoices when we take the smallest of steps in the right direction. And those small steps become giant leaps in God’s kingdom. If we do little things, God will do the big things.”

They could’ve simply try to hire somebody more connected, yet they chose to take a chance on me. The feeling that someone believes in your skills, and more importantly in your dreams is overwhelming. For every generous act, whether be words of encouragement, prayer, small or big donations my heart has grown bigger, and my steps gotten lighter

Although I still have to continue raising support for the other half of my salary,  I’ve been encouraged, with my faith restored, I will continue onward until God sees me through.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”  Zechariah  4:10a.

This is just the beginning. Thank you for being part of the journey.

 “The generous will themselves be blessed for they share their food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9 NIV.

If you want to join me in this new venture,  you can make donations directly in the website under staff giving and please input my name  Fabiola Johnson in the comment section.https://www.amor.org/give/staff

All your donations are tax deductible.

If you want to read more about the work of Amor, please visit https://www.amor.org/about and subscribe to this blog as I continue my journey to Amor.  

Let’s have a light Valentine’s Day

First of all I love, Love, everything that means and I have no problems expressing it, receiving it, giving it, and living it every day. Mushy or not, it’s my favorite verb, noun and adjective.

However, Valentine’s Day the day to celebrate love can be one of the most difficult days especially for the romantic challenged. My Beau, has a terrible score with Valentine’s. Yes, I do keep score in this sort of thing. It never fails; at the end of the day he’ll walk around feeling like once again he failed to do the big romantic gesture. He got caught up with work late, he didn’t find anything to get me (it’s tough when your girl hates most jewelry, red roses and cheap chocolate), or simply he forgot until someone got flowers at work.

So I wrote him a letter, about having a “light” Valentines day, maybe someone else can relate. And if you are feeling particularly “unloved” this day, or most of the time, maybe they are simply speaking a different language.

So before you come home I release you. I release you of the obligation of having to prove that today you love me more than any man has loved any other woman. For starters, I love you and that’s enough for me. To love you has been the best decision I’ve made in my life and I hope to keep loving you for the rest of my life.

And I thank you because I know I’m loved more than all the chocolate covered strawberries in the world could convey.

You loved me when you said, “I do” even though we had nothing going for us but our faith.

You loved me when you came back to me time and time again, no matter how far you traveled and how far you stray. 

You loved me when you took charge of this family like a man even when you were just a child.

You loved me when you held our son and told me we had everything.

You loved me when you forgave the unforgivable.

You loved me when you supported me to get a degree, go to D.C., stay home, get a job, quit said job, write, get a new job, start again, plant a garden… or not, go to Mexico, paint the kitchen blue, learn to draw… or not, put my feet up for a while, run a marathon… let’s start with a 10K, have another baby, and every other whim of my heart because you love and respect my heart.

But most of all, now I know you do have pretty extraordinary moments as a romantic; I only had to learn to read between the lines.

I now now:

 You love me because you don’t leave the house without giving me a kiss.

You love me because you let it go before I can.

You love me because you smile/laugh after everything I say. I’m glad I make you happy.

You love me because you get me tea at night.

You love me because you invite me for lunch or to clean the garage when you miss me during the day.

You love me because you want to read what I read.

You love me because you can’t go to sleep until I do.

You love me because you let me sleep in.

You love me because you work hard and want to share it with me.

You love me because you ask me to dance in the kitchen when we have rough days.

And I could go on and on, but I think you got it. I know you love me and it’s OK if for today if we just watch a romantic movie and the bottle of wine I got. We can celebrate our Love without anything exceptional, because what we got is pretty sweet