Living the Forrest Gumpy Life

Yesterday was my first day on my own negotiating the streets of Tijuana, with only a hiking GPS and my instincts to direct me to which path to take.

I knew the day would come, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. My mission yesterday was to gather information about  the families that Casa de Amor sponsors. Like my past visits to TJ, I expected to go with a chaperone/driver. But my ride to Tijuana had meetings all day, so I decided it was time to go on my own. After all how hard could’ve been right? I mean, I know how to drive (in a straight line); I had a GPS (the old hiking kind); and I could ask for directions without a language barrier (following those directions a little bit more tricky).

It took me 45 minutes to find the first home in one of the most challenging neighborhoods in Tijuana (unfortunately I’ve been told there are worse ones). The worst part was figuring out if what laid before me was an attempt of a dirt road, or a path created by surface runoff. I’m not a very confident driver, but when I saw a truck making it through the treacherous road, I had to trust that it was intended for driving and that all I needed was to follow the way the other driver had taken.

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The experience got me thinking of how life is a bigger version of those 45 minutes (I had a lot of time to think on my two hour border wait on the way back to the States).

In life, we don’t always know what’s around the corner or like an even more cliché yet fabulous metaphor: “Life is Box of Chocolates. You Never Know What You are Going to Get,” Forrest Gump’s Mom.

Life might require course corrections, backing ups and turn arounds. Some times we get ourselves in trouble for not asking for directions or because you can’t remember if you were told whether you needed to turn right or turn left at the second tree whose leaves were facing North, or did they say South, or was it the fifth tree?. (Maybe facetious, but if you’ve been given directions in Mexico you know what I’m talking about)

Sometimes we have to deal with the blind spots, broken AC, and bad radio reception… Ok, the last two are not really metaphorical and really a little bit of a complaint of yesterday’s experience. But seriously, we have to double check the blind spots in our lives otherwise we might run over someone if we are only focusing on where we are going and not where we are.

And some times you just have to go for it. Of course it helps to find those with the experience to mentor you, in order to follow their tracks so to speak to reduce uncertainty and risk. Yet nothing is guaranteed and no one is going to make it across the ravine for you.

Of course I could’ve gotten stuck in a hole and more than once I thanked God that it wasn’t raining season, that would definately could’ve make it worse.

Our journeys in life are often times delayed by difficulty designed to make us desist in our journey (I considered re-routing to the next home in my list in an easier neighborhood or to come another day). But when you got a clear mission. In my case yesterday was to get at least five interviews. The farther you go the harder it is to quit, and in some cases even if you try there is no going back.

And even if no one would’ve been home at the time, at least I would’ve known how to get there next time.

 

 

 

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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.