Saturday, September 29, 2012

Better Than Coffee

"The best part of waking up..." Folger's tagline

I read recently that coffee is the national non-alcoholic drink of the Dominican Republic. Dominican coffee, the country's main export, is known for its rich, full flavor. The coffee, served most often in espresso cups with sugar (tons) and maybe a bit of cream, is an eager offering. Entrepreneurs set up their own versions of Starbucks at the side of the road consisting of a makeshift table or shack, thermoses, and small disposable plastic cups. A large plastic tub of sugar is readily available and quickly emptied by the spoonfuls. There are coffee machines in grocery stores and gas stations where you can purchase a mighty fine cup of joe for just over a dollar. Just hit the button marked "cafe con leche" and sip slowly. It's good stuff.

I'm not quite sure when the habit developed for me, but each morning I stumble into the kitchen in my p.j.'s, throw a couple of scoops into the filter, pour the water into the thingy, flip the switch, and wait with anticipation for the coffee to brew. The smell alone makes me happy. Some mornings, after the boys leave for school, I pour myself a second cup and take a few minutes to sip and savor. Pure joy!

Recently, while at bible study, one of the women there prayed a prayer that jolted me more than my daily shot of caffeine. "God," she said, "I want to desire you more than my morning cup of coffee." At first I thought she was joking and a quiet giggle escaped my lips. But then her words soaked in and I realized the sincerity of her prayer. I asked myself, "Do I look forward to spending time savoring God in the morning, hearing from Him, letting Him fill my cup, as much as my daily dose of coffee?" What? Of course I do! How absurd, right? Hmmm...

Ever since that morning, I still enjoy my coffee, you betcha, but lately I've been pondering my friend's prayer. It has been a good reminder to me of my true priorities and the attitude I sincerely wish to have when it comes to savoring my relationship with my God, who is truly "The best part of waking up..."

"Because of the Lord's great love...His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.'" Lamentations 3:22-24

Friday, August 17, 2012


   "It appeared as if I had invited the audience into the water with me, and it conveyed the sensation that being in there was absolutely delicious." -Esther Williams

Rob leaving on his weekly water run.
     Before I moved to the Dominican Republic I took a casual approach to water. Now, living in a developing country, I experience enough water issues on a daily basis to keep my agua antenna up. To illustrate, my 14-year old recently told me while visiting the states: "I'm really enjoying showering with my mouth open." In the Dominican it isn't safe to swallow the water so we bathe tight-lipped. We buy bottled water and use it for drinking, brushing, and washing produce. There is no such thing as drinking fountains here so while running errands I carry H2O with me...when I remember. If I ever become lazy about using purified water (say, to wash some fruit), I am quickly reminded about the realities of the water once I peer into the washing machine just before I add the soap and clothes. Often enough the water is a cloudy yellow-ish color and after a good rain it's unmistakably brown. For several days sediments remain when each load is emptied and I have to wipe down the drum with a cloth. No need for a Post-It Note reminder or a "Verboten" sign (warnings always sound most serious in German), I get the message--"Don't drink the agua!"
     Water is essential to living yet many Dominicans and Haitians on the island of Hispaniola lack access to safe drinking water. Dysentery, in fact, is the leading cause of death here and its culprit is contaminated water. G.O. Ministries is addressing this problem by helping to implement water purification systems. Playing a part in restoring communities through purification projects is just a part of the mission G.O. is involved in. Giving practical help to others in need is right and refreshing, don't you think?
     There is another kind of water essential to us experiencing the life we were created to live. Since we are more than physical beings, but spiritual as well, we need living water. Sounds mysterious and in many ways it is, yet it is just as real and needed and hydrating as H2O. When we have a relationship with Christ, we experience the refreshment of His Spirit and His grace. Also, when we absorb the Bible as it is intended--not as merely an interesting book, but as our life's manual--muddy waters are made clear. A sovereign, pure God who loves us unconditionally gifts us with this living water. By sharing it with others we not only refresh them, but redeem them for eternity. Cheers to that. Are you being satisfied by the reality of living water?

"...but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14


Saturday, June 16, 2012


"Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures." Ray Bradbury

There are many things in the Dominican Republic that I have learned to count on. I know, for example, that my favorite produce guy will have his stand set up and overflowing with fresh fruits and veggies from early in the morning until about 2:00 in the afternoon. Then, he will pack up what’s left of the picked over produce and meticulously sweep his little area of the sidewalk. I also know that I can count on the Haitian men and women, as they walk by, to stare hesitantly at me until I initiate a greeting. Then they will reciprocate my gesture by giving me a bright, charming smile and an “hola” in return. I enjoy this daily exchange.

Something else I’ve learned to count on this year is not being able to count on the trash man. We never have a clue as to when the truck will come by to pick up our debris. At the time of this writing, it has been a couple of weeks or so since the trash crew has blessed us with their presence. It is currently 95 degrees outside and has been for some time now. Last night it rained. We share our trash area (pictured above), which is just outside of our house, with our downstairs neighbors. In addition to your “basic” garbage, they have a baby, which means diapers. We have cats, which means liter box debris. Take a deep breath and try not to choke. Stink happens.

A similar stench happens in our spiritual lives when we let unconfessed sin pile up. We may gossip, become greedy, lie, covet, go too far, lash out, etc.…and, if we are satisfied with our wrong actions or ignore them, our lives begin to take on a foul odor. Taking stock of our choices daily, and then coming before the Lord, acknowledging our sin and asking for forgiveness is like gathering the trash, taking it out, and giving God the opportunity to haul it away—as far as the east is from the west. The fragrance of forgiveness is sweet and that’s something we can count on daily.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Monday, April 23, 2012


"I am a thing of beauty." Frank Sinatra

     I have had numerous conversations about hair with my friend and Spanish tutor pictured right. She, along with other Dominican friends, have let me know that straight hair is "good and pretty" hair. Curly, wavy, and, heaven forbid, frizzy hair is "bad" hair and must be forced into submission. Now most Dominican women are born with hair that is not straight and frizz-free. So, many spend time each week at one of the numerous salons here having it washed and straightened. I have been to a salon twice in my nine months of living here. (Three times if you count the time I went in for a wash only. I had been without water for three days and it was my best option besides my neighbor's backyard hose.) This is how it goes down at the salon:

     Hair is first washed and conditioned, then rinsed with freezing cold water. From there it is trimmed, (long hair is preferred so they don't cut off too much), dried, and straightened. A heated straightener is not used, only a blowdryer, a large brush, and a no-nonsense stylist. Two hours later, I emerge looking like a different woman. It is nothing short of a miracle how straight and perfect my hair becomes when a Dominican stylist gets ahold of it. Women here then wrap it in a "tubie"(sort of swirled around the head--it's brilliant) and a crocheted black net is placed over it. This keeps a woman's locks from getting frizzy or going into curly mode for a week before they go back to the salon. Dominican women sleep in their nets and some wear them around town if they're not doing or going anywhere special. When they are, they simply take off the net, shake their head, and their hair seductively swirls around them before lying perfectly down their back. It's a scene to behold.

     Going to the salon here is much cheaper than in the states. The most I've paid is the equivalent of $15, including tip. Both times I've had it styled, though, for several days my neck and shoulder ache from having to keep my head steady while the stylist straightens my hair with great force! (What I saved in salon fees, I spent on Tylenol.) I realized, too, that something else ached in me after getting my hair done--my self-esteem.

     While I do wear some make-up and dye my hair, I have felt pressure here to not have "bad" hair, but do all that I need to do to make it "good." But I don't want to spend so much time in a salon. I don't want my neck to be in pain. I just don't want to put so much effort fighting my curls and frizzies. It has taken a while, but my rebellion has actually resulted in me embracing how God made me. My white skin, German nose, and crazy hair stand out here. I do not look exotic like the women around me, and yet I am "fearfully and wonderfully made." How many times have I read that verse in Psalm 139! And now, at nearly age 48, a lightbulb has gone on in me about my looks. I'm sure I'll have my days, but I've gained a peace I haven't experienced before and I'm thankful for it.

     How are YOU feeling about you?

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.....Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in my, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139: 14, 23 & 24


Saturday, March 24, 2012


"Don't matter how much money you got, there's only two kinds of people: there's saved people and there's lost people." Bob Dylan

I know that many people in the Dominican Republic love their pets--they must because pet stores and vet offices are as numerous here as Starbucks coffee shops are in California. Yet, there is an enormous population in this country of stray dogs and cats. Every day, as I walk in my neighborhood or run errands in my car, I see a pound-full of strays. Many of the dogs are limping from being hit by cars. Daily they dig through trash and more than once I've seen people throw rocks at them. And the cats--they're often a sorry bunch as well. So, when my husband discovered a small kitten stuck in the drainpipe next to our carport, my compassion went into overdrive.

(Yes, this is a cat story. But it's more, I promise....)

After several hours and some gentle prodding with a stick, the fur ball inside of our drain revealed himself. He was scared, injured and barely able to walk due, it appeared, to being hit by a car or motorcycle. He was also hungry, dirty, severely dehydrated, and covered with fleas. And, oh yes, his belly was full of parasites. How could we ignore such a mess? He needed medical help, food, shelter, and love so my family sprung in to action. My husband Rob took him to the vet (the bill came to $15--about the price of two lattes and a couple of scones), I gave him medicine and treatments for the fleas and parasites and we all took turns feeding and holding him. Almost immediately, the kitten--we named him "Bo"--responded. He began to heal, and grow stronger. The more he trusted us, the more relaxed and content he became. We adopted him and he joined our family. And soon, the REAL Bo emerged. It turns out he's not mellow and shy, but rather full of energy and extremely friendly. In the process of helping Bo, and it was a process, we were given a living illustration of God's love for us.

No matter our backgrounds and whether we realized it at the time or not, before knowing Christ we were a mess like Bo. We were in need of a Heavenly Father who would accept us in our "yuckiness" and take us in. We were and are given on-going love and attention and, because we are human and in need of it, forgiveness. When we received Christ we were given the gift of comfort from the Holy Spirit. God continues to strengthen us (Isaiah 40:31) and has given us a "future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). In Christ, we have a Savior.

That's truth to bask Bo at the moment, asleep on my couch in the patch of sunlight shining on him through the window. Content to be saved.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation..."
2 Corinthians 5:17a & 18a

Sunday, February 19, 2012


“Grace is love that cares, and stoops, and rescues.” John R.W. Stott

I first met Moises (he's the one in the middle--my husband is on the left, Moises' stepson is on the right) a couple years ago during a week-long mission trip to the Dominican Republic. We were at a church and the pastor asked the guitar player in the worship band to be his interpreter. Moises, in a Jersey accent, translated the sermon into English for us gringos and afterward my husband and I shook his hand and thanked him. He was humble, but friendly and quite American. I left curious about his story and God wouldn’t let me fah-getta-bout-it.

About a year later, not long after we moved to the DR, my husband became friends with Moises and I had the opportunity to interview him. His story could be a movie on the big screen and Mark Wahlberg would be my pick to play Moises, if anyone wants to know. In a nutshell: He was born in the Dominican Republic, but his family moved to the Bronx when he was six and later to New Jersey. It was there, at age 13, that life took a messy turn when Moises discovered drugs. By age 16 his parents divorced, he became a high school dropout and, not long after that, an addict. Years later, at age 38 and after several run-ins with the law, Moises was deported back to the D.R. (He hadn’t been there for 32 years!) He says when he got off the plane he thought to himself, “Where the ---- am I? Africa or somethin’?” For months he roamed the streets of Santiago stoned out of his mind until finally he sought help and went to rehab. There he was reintroduced to Jesus and decided to surrender to Him.

Moises grew up in a Christian home, in fact his dad was a pastor, but it wasn’t until he was in his late 30’s that he acknowledged God and gave Him his life. The Lord was faithful to pursue Moises even while in his lowest state. And now, because of the Lord, bada-bing, bada-boom, Moises has been drug free for 10 years. He serves God through G.O. Ministries, in his community, and as a husband and stepfather.

I’ve interviewed many people here with amazing and often heartbreaking stories like Moises’. Hearing their testimonies, I see God’s hand—His persistent hand—and it moves me to pray for the “impossible.” Jesus is big enough, loving enough and faithful enough to woo and pursue those we love who need Him, no matter what shape their life is in.

"For nothing is impossible with God." Luke 1:37

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Piece of Quiet

”In the quiet, in the stillness I know that You are God.
In the secret of your presence I know there I am restored. So when you call I won’t refuse. Each new day again I’ll choose. There is no one else for me. None but Jesus…”

Santiago is generally not a quiet place. There are gorgeous, peaceful mountains nearby and serene hills in shades of green that would take your breath away, but I live in the burbs and my neighborhood likes to party. The 172 dogs that live on my block have formed a barking chorus and they practice throughout the day. The roosters crow like there’s no tomorrow morning. People greet one another and get their point across by using full, boisterous voices. Horns, merengue music, car alarms, and more horns and more music...

Yet, my soul is refreshed by quiet. Sometimes I ache for it.

Today, in my slice of the Dominican Republic, it rained most of the day. I first heard it early in the morning when I was still mostly asleep. It was not a storm. There was no lightening or thunder or even wind. It was a steady, rhythmic downpour. By the time I got out of bed to start the laundry and the oatmeal the downpour turned into soft, silent rain. As the morning continued on and I sat down to work, it hit me that I was not on edge. I was mellow like Jello and here’s why: My neighborhood was quiet. The rain brought a hush to Calle 3 and the area of Las Damas II and covered me with good vibrations. Quiet ones.

For several hours today God gave me the gift of quiet and I reverently expressed my gratitude. It also was a reminder to me that while I can not control the neighborhood noise, I need to give over to the Lord the “noise” going on in my head and there's plenty of it. The what-if’s and over-the-top to-do lists can be deafening. Too often I am the one who sabotages the peace God intends for me to experience each day by filling my mind with worry. I need His help to change my ways, quieting my brain and remembering who He is and who I am in light of His grace. Then peace and quiet will be mine no matter how loud it is outside.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10