The past few months have been filled with a wide range of emotions. We find ourselves viewing our world, our lives, and our friends & family through seemingly new eyes as we are acutely aware of the fact that I am blessed to be here on this earth, and yet we also mourn the death of two of our children. And I have felt a bit like a ping-pong table as I range between extreme gratefulness and deep pain: finding myself holding my children with a refreshed sense of wonder at the gift I have been given to be a part of their lives, and yet at the exact same moment feeling the loss and seemingly obvious fact that there should be two other little bodies I am wrapping my arms around. Even as my heart has begun to heal with time, and periods when I thought I might never stop crying have become fewer and farther between, I have struggled with anxiety, fear, and sorrow that seem to sit just under the surface, threatening to break through at any moment… even moments that don’t seem to make sense or be linked to anything that should make me feel anxious. As one friend put it, we have been deeply reminded how fragile life is.

At first I remember being desperate to make sure we didn’t just try to pretend it all away (as if that could ever happen – ha) and bring life back to “the way it had been before;” now I realize that we never will be the same again… nor would I want to be. Because even though my heart will never be quite complete on this earth, this whole experience has brought Heaven close like never before! And it has burned deep into our hearts the Truth that really this earth is not our home. And I am forced to wonder… is that not maybe exactly how we should feel as we walk through life – as Hebrews says – “as foreigners and strangers” on this earth?

Because when even a glimpse of all that Heaven is comes close, every single thing that this earth offers pales in comparison… and all we want is to be with Him.

And there are moments when I even find myself thanking God for everything that we have walked through. My babies are being perfectly taken care of and are doing just what they were created to do – worshipping and communing with the One who created them. And I will see them again some day sooner than I realize. And I cannot deny that all the loneliness, anxiety, and fear draws me and pushes me to my Savior like never before… that I gulp down His Words as if my very soul will wither up and die without them.  That His completely perfect love is literally the only thing that will calm those underlying fears and anxieties that threaten to overwhelm at any given random moment. That my heart has learned to hold so much more loosely to all that this world offers… and yetin this seeming irony –  I have found that the very letting go has given me a deeper desire to love those around me and an almost desperation to be found faithful in the assignments God has given me- and only those assignments – here on this earth.

The truth is, a month fresh out of the hospital, the last thing on earth I wanted to do was dig back into this education project. And a couple months out of the hospital, tears pouring down my face, I begged God to make it clear that this was what I was supposed to be doing; that if it was, I would be faithful… but that if it wasn’t, I wanted nothing to do with it. And in a way that only God could, He lined up pieces to where that very weekend as we were in the City, a woman that Aaron met one time several months ago ended up at the exact same hotel at the exact same pool at the exact same time as us with a word from God for us. And as she humbly expressed her newness and hesitancy at speaking out the words that God lays on her heart for others, she explained that as I had walked by her chair earlier, she had felt the Spirit tell her that she needed to speak His words to us; and the words she spoke were just the confirmation that my heart needed to know that we were on the right path.

And even more-so, the words she spoke reminded us of the higher purpose that this education project holds… that one day there will be lives in Heaven because of this school! That chains will be broken off, that blind eyes will see, that dry bones will be brought back to life… because, dear friends,  is there anything on this earth greater than the fact that the Almighty Creator of ALL, the great I AM whose understanding and wisdom far surpasses the greatest minds that have ever lived still chooses daily to pursue us with a perfect, redeeming, hope-filled, heart-healing and so-much-more love and relationship? A love that has conquered even the earthly death that we all face… and a relationship that promises to not only walk through this life with us, but into eternity itself!

How often I do not realize the magnitude of the gift that we have been given… and the responsibility that comes with it.

And so we continue to move forward one step at a time, praying and trusting that God will and is changing lives here with His great love as He moves among the mundane and the difficult. As this education project has exploded beyond what we could have ever imagined (we opened up a new CNA level nursing course this year!), we are continuously aware of the critical role that you all play in this as well. For those of you involved in what God is doing here, we hope you truly understand the impact that your prayers and support are making! If you would like to be involved or are interested in knowing more, you can contact us directly at: aaronnkatie@gmail.com or check out the blog headings for more details.

For anyone interested, we also have a newsletter we are sending out roughly every two months. Please contact me by email with your address if you are interested in being placed on the mailing list!

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Gabriel was a fighter. And in his short life, Gabriel encouraged all of us to fight as well: to fight for life, to stand strong in Truth, to draw close to God, to draw close to each other… to believe that God is our strength, that He is a Mighty Warrior who does fight for us. Early on in this pregnancy, I felt God led me to stand on the verse Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” While I did not understand it all at the time, God has brought us through the promises that this verse holds throughout this pregnancy and into today.

By the third trip to the emergency room, we knew that our God was a victorious warrior who does save His people. And in choosing the name Gabriel, we spoke this promise out over both Gabriel and I.

As Gabriel and I carried on in the maternity ward, God did bring us a joy… He quieted many many fears with His great love. He flung wide open opportunities to build relationships and testify these Truths to those around us – that indeed our great God does save us, He does rejoice in us, and He does quiet us with His great love. Even after the c-section and my recovery in the ICU, God continued to speak and move and comfort and love us in depths that are impossible to put into words. My healing has pretty much been dubbed a miracle by the staff as they watched x-rays that continued to only get worse suddenly clear to the point that the doctor thought he was looking at a new patient’s x-ray instead of mine! And God was the only explanation. As I sit here right now writing this and waiting for my discharge I have had every doctor and many nurses that are a part of this come by, most with tears in their eyes, as they speak not of the death of little Gabriel, but of the testimony that his life brought!! The importance of life that we all were able to testify to as  we ALL stood for life, as we all learned alongside of each other as a team, as we all fought and gave all we had… as Gabriel also held on and gave all he had.

It would be so so easy to look at the outcome of this situation as a failure, but that would also be a complete tragedy and untruth

The afternoon after the c-section, I lay in my ICU bed, struggling to breathe, struggling to grasp all that had happened, in pain… and looking to God for anything. And He gave me a picture/vision so real that I felt like I could have reached out and touched Him right there in that room… something I have never experienced so vividly in my life before. And I don’t know how to put into words what that vision was like, but I so desperately wish I could take each of you to that exact place so that you too could experience it as I watched our God as a joyous Father gaze down – proudly, with a pure perfect love that far surpassed even the love that we as parents feel for our precious children –  at little 26 week old Gabriel who slept soundly in the crook of His arm. Oh, friends, I cannot express in words the JOY that flowed from HIs face over one little baby that had come home!! Gabriel was delighted in as if he was the only baby that had ever been created… and some of you need to hear this for your own little ones that have gone on before you! And then I turned and followed His gaze as He proudly showed our baby off to a whole chorus of angels rejoicing and rejoicing, praising God, singing out songs of victory and joy. And there in the crook of God’s other arm, lay Gabriel’s little twin, perfect, beautiful, soundly and peacefully sleeping.

As Zephaniah 3:17 says, our Mighty, Good, Victorious, Warrior King who won the victory in this long battle was rejoicing over our little babies with nothing but pure, proud, gentle, perfect, joy and love.

I shouldn’t be alive… but I am. Life saved a few times. And I shouldn’t be leaving yet… but I am. Miraculous recovery as God reminds me that He loves us fiercely and deeply and intimately. He didn’t have to send me a vision… but He did. Empty arms and aching heart filled with the promise that one day, we will be united again.. and that until then, these two little babies will hold the hands of the most perfect Father that could ever raise them.

And He didn’t have to send His one and only son… but He did. A little baby boy who quietly entered the world, unnoticed by most, Holiness born in a smelly barn with a purpose much greater than the world ever would have thought at first sight… sent to save each of us from the stench and bondage that we can also be lifted up from into His loving arms… if only we will turn to Him, gaze into His loving eyes, take His strong hand in ours, acknowledge and turn away from our pain and sin, and start walking with Him each day. Hope and Love and Freedom and Healing in exchange for despair and hate and bondage and pain.

You see, just as we wrote in the beginning of this journey with Gabriel, there was no way for this story to end badly. Love… True love… always wins. It won thousands of years ago in a manger, on a cross… and it continues to still win every. single. day.

Today, we do not ultimately mourn the death of little Gabriel… we celebrate his life. This Christmas, we raise our voices with the angels, and we celebrate victory. God has won! Oh, friends, God has won! A situation that would be looked at as a failure with human eyes is instead a great victory in Heaven today.

And God, our great God, mighty to save always… He is once again lovingly, purely, and abundantly rejoicing over the life of a little baby boy…

much like He did in a much greater measure  thousands of years ago over a little barn in Bethlehem.

 

Merry Christmas, and Happy 2016. May you rejoice and be rejoiced over!

in His loving arms

On Thursday, December 10, 2015 little Gabriel Ficker joined his little twin sibling in his Father’s joyous arms in Heaven at almost 26 weeks of life. While our arms still ache to hold our little fighter that held on inside for so long, we truly thank God that Gabriel did not suffer on this earth, and we rest in the peace of knowing that he and his sibling are both being held and delighted over by the most loving Father of all.

The final hemorrhage on Thursday was much more serious than the previous ones had been, and an emergency c-section to stop the bleeding became imperative; little Gabriel also passed away somewhere on the way to the operating room, and while he was perfect in our eyes, there were already signs that even if he had been born with a heartbeat, he had already undergone a period of stress inside the womb that would have made life on earth a challenge at best, but most likely an impossibility. These hours surrounding the operation were probably the scariest hours of our lives, and there are not words enough truly to thank you all for the outpouring of prayers and support and blood donor connections as Katie continued to battle in the operating room and in the days after. Between the c-section and the post-operative period, every last drop of donated blood was used to keep her alive as well as as many liters of fluid they could get in her. After the c-section, Katie was brought to the ICU with the risk of DIC hanging over everyone’s heads as we and you all prayed for her to make it through the next 12 hours. As we have written times before in this, while we are beyond thankful for a skilled and united medical team of doctors and support staff that has stood by us on this whole journey, we have no doubt that our loving God and your faithful outpouring of prayers are the reason she is still here. Despite a difficult first few days in the ICU, her recovery speed has also been completely a miracle, and we anticipate her to be able to go home in the next few days with almost complete physical recovery.

As we move into a season of healing as a family, we have already been comforted many times in the last few days as God has reminded us in a variety of ways that He is always good, and that even in the midst of questions and pain, He is still moving, still loving us, still drawing us unto Him. We also just want to thank you all again. We have been beyond humbled by the love that has poured out of you all and the true beauty of the body of Christ that truly knows no bounds. Thank you, and we love you.

Gabriel

It’s a boy! And we have decided to name him Gabriel. Hebrew in its origin, it means “God is my strength” or some translations also say, “Mighty Warrior of God.” And that is what this little boy has been – a mighty warrior who will testify forever of the strength of his God.

I have been in the hospital for 5 weeks straight now, starting with our second stormy, dark, rainy, middle-of-the-night flight into the City and the emergency room on November 3. It has been a series of ups and downs, to say the least. When we arrived at the ER on the 3rd,  I was prepped immediately for a blood transfusion and emergency operation to stop the bleeding. I was sure we had lost our little guy, especially as I had felt no movement for hours and I had had so much bleeding and so many contractions. However, we instead found him doing somersaults (literally) on the ultrasound while they pushed  tocolytics (meds to stop the contractions) and started running the blood tansfusion. As we started to realize the gravity of the bleeding aspect of the situation, we also were amazed at the miracle that found this little man so incredibly unaffected by the situation he was living in the midst of! They left me NPO (I couldn’t eat anything -only jello and juices in case there was still a need for an operation) for a couple days to ensure that the contractions and bleeding stopped (which they did!), and over the next week, we talked to three different specialties about the implications/dangers of this pregnancy on mine and Gabriel’s health and created a “plan”  in which I would stay in the hospital for monitoring and care while Aaron and the kids returned to Canilla. (Yes, in this update, the word “plan” will always be found in quotation marks as it has become much more fluid in its meaning in our usage of it in this pregnancy!) Right before Thanksgiving, things had seemed to somewhat stabilize, and we discussed what a “plan” to go home for a bit could look like… but then I started hemorrhaging again, my hemoglobin dropped, I once again discovered all the fun symptoms that come with severe anemia, and my Thanksgiving dinner this year looked a second blood transfusion 🙂 To further complicate the matter, my blood type is A-… an already rare blood type, but very hard to find in this country where almost everyone is a positive type. They have also now put me on complete bedrest, a low-dose blood thinner to prevent blood clots, and physical therapy. While this is not normal protocol necessarily in a case like this, and while again no one can exactly figure out why, the movement does seem linked to the times of more severe hemorrhaging. (With this particular bleed, I had gotten into a wheelchair and ridden up to the lobby to see my visiting nieces for 15 minutes before being wheeled back down to my room.) It has been quite the challenge for my “do-er” personality!!

During Thanksgiving week, we also discovered that Gabriel’s amniotic fluid had dropped to almost nothing, which brought a whole new aspect to the situation as now we were dealing with not only the risk of a premature delivery due to bleeding, but now also the risk of the need for a premature delivery due to Gabriel’s health. We talked to the neonatologists (“newborn specialists”) and perinatologists (“mom and unborn baby specialists”) about the complications and ethical decisions that all need to be weighed out when dealing with a premature baby (I am at a little over 25 weeks right now; these conversations started at a little before 24 weeks) and what the beginnings of a “plan” would look like… and then watched his fluid come back up again (praise God!) to where it is hanging out at almost normal and set a new “plan” of how to make it to at least 28 weeks when Gabriel’s chance of survival outside of the womb will start to be much better.

On this ultrasound we also discovered that the previous “blood clot” we have always seen on ultrasound is no longer visible… which fit in line with the fact that a pathology report confirmed that in my second week here in the hospital after another strong contraction and the passage of a few pretty good sized “masses,” I seemed to have also passed the final remnants of placental tissue and uterine lining which at times are expelled after a birth or miscarriage. Again, this all happened without seeming to affect Gabriel at all!

While no one can find an exact cause for the bleeding with the diagnostic tools they have used, the general thought is that the twin that passed away had some kind of placental defect (like an AVM, for the medical people reading this) that is causing the severe bleeding. While these can still be complicated cases in and of themselves at times in a single pregnancy, the complication in this one is that the AVM’s generally carry their highest level of risk at or after birth (which is where we are at with the twin that passed away), however because we have another baby in there that has been miraculously almost completely unaffected by the bleeding, (and because the doctors have been unable to identify and locate the actual defect),  there is little that they can do here and at this point without affecting Gabriel’s life. And so on this one, we can barely even create a “plan,” although we can hope! The goal is to use support measures for me to counteract the effects of the bleeding for as long as possible to give little Gabriel a better chance of life outside of the womb. Again, while the base goal is 28 weeks, I am learning a lot about embryonic development as it is highlighted just how much even a day inside of mommy counts for these little ones as they develop at this stage. (Pretty amazing.) So, if we can keep ahead of the blood loss, and if the amniotic fluid continues to maintain itself (or increase!), we will go as long as we can.

And in the midst of all of this, God has once again held us in His hand and woven His threads of power and grace throughout the tapestry of medical facts, opinions and decisions, physical challenges, difficult family good-byes, and just a general exhaustion and weariness. And we have witnessed the beauty of the body of Christ like never before in our lives… a body that even knows no geographical bounds.

As we initially wrestled with the decision to stay here in Guatemala or return to the States for the remainder of this pregnancy, people from both countries came around us in beautiful ways, offering support and help without even a thought to themselves. After deciding and feeling a peace that the best option for me, Gabriel, and our family was for me to stay here in the hospital and Aaron and the kids to be at home, we have been floored at the individualized care and concern and compassion that the staff here in the hospital has surrounded and supported us with. Back home, meals and laundry and babysitting have been taken care of on pretty much a daily basis… another real-life example of the beauty of community and the body of Jesus. People here in the City have also come and prayed and visited me here in the hospital – some of them people that I have never even met before!  And friends and family from the States and around the world continue to check in on us and surround us in prayer… something that we have absolutely no doubt is directly connected to the protection and peace we have experienced throughout this whole process.

When my hemoglobin dropped during Thanksgiving week, friends from Canilla immediately contacted the missionary community throughout Guatemala as well as other friends and organizations, and the response was immediate and amazing as negative and positive blood-typed people came into the City to donate or put themselves on the “reserve” list for probable future transfusions! The love of Jesus in action.

When Gabriel’s amniotic fluid level dropped, friends from all over the world once again gathered together to surround us all in prayer – and less than one week later, we lifted tear-stained faces to praise God as we watched him once again kick around in the midst of more fluid! The thought/assumption now is also that these two little babies were in separate sacs with separate placentas, and we are all aware of how differently this could have affected Gabriel’s life if he and his twin had shared a placenta… Another covering over his little life in this whole pregnancy.

And we are watching our family grow stronger too. As a mother, one of my greatest challenges and fears from the beginning has been for my children – all of them, both in and outside of me! And yet, even as we have experienced geographical separation during this time, God’s grace has been there. Aaron and I have both marveled over the way that our kids have stepped up (even at their young ages) with basic household chores and taking care of each other, and how they have actually thrived in this and pulled together in a beautiful way. I have also worried about how their little hearts will fare, but despite the newness of hospitals and IV’s and hellos and good-byes,  even they are seeing God’s love and power in the midst of this and realizing the beauty of a community that loves Jesus and each other… not  in a “read it in a book” kind of way, but just in a “this is how life is” kind of way… the kind of way that just grows us deep in our faith and in unity as we walk through hard things together.

And again, God has surrounded us with Himself… His peace and His power and His blessings. It is impossible to count our blessings in all of this without being acutely aware of the fact that mine and Gabriel’s life have already been spared a few times – a blessing that most people in our area would not have had. As we have walked through decisions and new situations and challenges, we have also been amazed as God’s peace and strength has always been there… not usually in glamorous, miraculous, over-blown ways… but always with a quiet, still small voice that has comforted and guided and drawn us a little deeper into Him… His beauty, His grace, His mercy… His goodness.

Thank you so so much to the people who are walking through this with us! We appreciate it and feel it more than we could express in words. We are blessed to be loved by you all!

Sorry for the poor quality on these! But, you can see that Levi needs a haircut desperately :), an Ethan and mommy hospital selfie, Anna on an airplane ride back after a hospital visit, and some room decorations! With snowflakes, trees, and pictures of and cards from loved ones, it even feels a little like December and Christmas here in the hospital room!

 

Love Always Wins

I have a wonderful husband. I have three gorgeous little children. I love Jesus Christ with my whole heart, and I seek to follow the voice of our loving God daily. Two years ago, this same loving God made it evident that my husband and I were to start and lead a school system including a STEM school, Language school, and a university level nursing program where we live here in the rural highlands of Guatemala. God’s hand of provision has been over this in amazing ways since its beginning days, and it has been one of the greatest adventures my husband and I have been able to join in on. But to say that these past couple years have been overwhelming would be a massive understatement.

When we found out we were expecting a fourth baby, I entered into the pregnancy with another set of overwhelmed mixed emotions. I love my children. I strongly believe that children are a blessing from God, and motherhood has been one of the best gifts God has given me. I believe that they are the greatest legacies we will leave behind… and yet, how in the world do I add another legacy and blessing to a plate that is already overflowing with responsibilities I am doing poorly at best?

When we found out a few weeks later that we were having twins, overwhelmed took on a whole new level. One sac didn’t seem to be forming as well as the other, but the little life inside had a strong little heart beat. So, we laid ourselves before the loving Creator of all, and prayed His grace and healing over the life of our little baby. It was with heavy hearts and tear-stained faces that a short week and a half later we said good-bye to this little life here on earth. A week after that, the pain and bleeding started.

Being a nurse, there was a medical side of my brain that was already preparing my heart to not get too attached. While we followed our doctor’s orders to do anything to help this little healthy life along, I know that there are very few things you can do to prevent first and early second trimester miscarriages if they are going to happen. And the bleeding and pain continued, coming every few days/each week in random spurts. I started to lose heart, waiting for the contractions to start consistently and this life to pass on to its heavenly Father’s waiting arms with its precious sibling. But this little baby has held on too.

One evening at a little over 15 weeks, I had a strong right-sided pain and contraction that didn’t let up. With it came the bleeding… which also didn’t let up. As we watched this blood pour out and everywhere for the next few hours, we were all imminently aware of the fact that the nearest hospital in good weather conditions is a 2.5 hour drive to a poorly equipped government facility or at least a 5 hour drive/25 minute flight to a private hospital in Guatemala City. And yet here we were: in a small valley whose tall mountains make flying a challenge in good conditions, in the middle of the night, in the height of this country’s rainy season with rains pouring down around us, a muddy runway, and roads that were currently impassable due to the heavy rains. And so we prayed. And called our doctor. And prayed.

And the rains let up. And mountaintops floated in and out of visibility. And Guatemala City (one of only two lit runways in the entire country – and therefore the only option for a landing once we left our little remote dirt airstrip in the middle of the night) said that they thought the cloud layer was high enough that we could fly down through it and land. And so we took off. On normal flights, I am not the calmest of people, but on a flight that should have been one of the scariest of my life, the presence of God filled every space, and a peace that passes all understanding carried that small plane high over the mountaintops, through the clouds and down into heavily lit Guatemala City where we were able to land in full visibility.

We made it to the hospital, where they were able to stop the bleeding and admitted me for monitoring. The baby looks great, and the doctor was able to determine that it looks like my body is naturally trying to pass the baby that passed away… at risk to the baby that is fighting to stay inside and alive. After a few days, we left the hospital with orders and medication to help keep my body from trying to abort this baby. And lots of prayer. This was two weeks ago. And we are now playing a waiting game, doing what we can, and more than anything praying that God’s hand will remain over this baby and that His will be done in this situation… whatever that is.

I say none of this to be overly dramatic. There are people in much harder situations than this. And I have been very blessed to have an amazing, supportive network of family and friends that have poured into us in a variety of ways at this time. But, I say this simply to say that I know…

I know what it is to feel like a pregnancy came at a very poor timing. I know what it is to pray and cry out to God for the life of my unborn child in one breath… and in the next breath, my strong-willed and yet oh-so-weak, tired, and scared flesh cries out for this to all be over. I know what it is to realize that this would be so much easier if it all just went away… which in our blessed United States, it so easily could… legally, whole-heartedly, and cheaply. I know what it is to be petrified as blood pours out and the most intense physical pain pours down… a type of pain not even felt during three medicated-free natural births… and I know something is not right. I know what it is to look at my husband and other three children and see the confusion in their eyes, see the tears pour down their faces… to realize that they are sacrificing too… that this is hard on them too. And to have my heart ripped out by that fact.  I know what it is to lie awake at night wondering how we will feed another mouth… and now wonder how we will pay for hospital stays and trips in and out of the City with a God-sent, yet quite expensive doctor. I know what it is to wonder if we are fighting and sacrificing and using valuable resources for a life that might not make it anyway… for a life that technically isn’t viable outside of the womb anywhere in the world right now.  I know what it is to feel selfish and guilty that God has provided resources for me to be able to fight for this baby while I am surrounded by people who never would have even made it in to a hospital on a dark stormy September night.

After a life-changing summer in Africa, I changed my college major to nursing, praying that God would use this tool as a way to help end suffering and pain and reach people with His love. Ironically, as a senior university student studying my bachelor’s of science of nursing, I wrote an ethical paper on situations exactly like this. I had no idea what it was to sit in one of these situations myself, but I had experienced the reality of it on the maternity floor I had worked on the summer before and had my heart torn in two as I heard, read and watched the stories of those who had walked through it… the fear as prognoses and statistics are rattled off by specialists, the pain and confusion of the life and death decisions to be made, the form of a too-tiny baby determined to have a deformity that would only cause suffering on earth now lying lifeless on a sterile hospital counter in front of my very eyes…  the tear-stained faces after the agony of a decision to end a life prematurely. And I could not imagine that God Himself would not have stood in the middle of the fear, the agony, the difficult decisions and the obstacles, and in His love not have desired to end that suffering and agony as quickly and easily as possible… especially if the little life might not make it anyway. And once I believed that, it was easy to rationalize this act with other arguments… viability of the baby, value of the mom’s life vs. the baby’s life, fetal deformities, financial deficits to care for the baby/medical bills, etc.

But I have sat in these situations personally now. And I have come to learn that there is a Truth much deeper and stronger than the fear, the agony, and the pain that grips us. That there is a voice – although you have to listen carefully – calling out to us in the midst of all the other voices. That there is a Love and a Hope and a Promise that always gets us through the circumstances… that always wins – even when the answer is a dimly lit, one-small-step-at-a-time kind of a journey in which we don’t know what the end will hold... but we come to intimately know the One who does.

You see, while I now know what it feels like to sit in the fears and emotions of these situations, I also now know some other things as well…

I now know  that God allows times of emotional pain so real that you can physically feel it so that He can pour down His love upon us and draw us in and hold us in His strong yet gentle embrace; so that He can reveal to us a new part of His very self; so that we can stand back in awe once again at His Majesty and Beauty… and yet marvel again at His intimacy.  I now know that just when we think we can’t do this one more day, He pours His healing words of Truth  and Hope over our souls if we seek out His face and His Word. I now know that when it is a dark and stormy night, He opens up holes in clouds and makes the rain stop… that just when we wonder how we will pay for that bill, He sends checks for exact amounts and reminds us that He cares about even the little moments… that when we walk through the waters, our God will be with us… that when we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us… that when we walk through the fires, we will not be burned (Isaiah 43).  I now know  that little baby’s feet that never touched this earth here are still dancing before the throne of heaven right now… that even when we face situations where we look death in the eye ourselves, our hope does not ultimately lie in what this earth offers.. that not even death itself can separate us from the love of our Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). I now know  that our God loves life and honors our choices to choose life as well;  I now know that even if He chooses to take this baby (or any one of us) home early, that will be HIS choice, and not mine. And I now know that when we are flat on our faces, too weak to even stand before Him, that when the fear, the agony, the pain, and the obstacles grip us… that in that exact moment, if we will raise our trembling hands in praise, and if we will lift our tear-stained faces in faith, He will meet us right where we are at… that a peace that passes all understanding will carry us… and a love that knows absolutely no walls too high, no boundaries, and no end will flood our hearts.

I do not know how our situation is going to end. It might still end in another death on this side of Heaven…. But I now know that even if it does, death, hurt, pain, agony, confusion… none of these can separate us from the love of Jesus. That it will always reach us right where we are at. That His love has taken care of and will continue to take care of all the details… and that His love even reaches to and beyond and covers and carries even those that I love so dearly… those that I so desperately do not want to see in pain either. I now know that His love will win.

 His Love always wins.

He who calls will be faithful to carry it out…

It has been awhile since I have sat before this blog. And as I sit here now, getting ready to write about the crazy, beautiful, overwhelming, amazing, difficult, exhausting, freeing, and over all abundant ride that has encompassed the passed year (and will continue in all its abundant glory for the next year and into eternity I am sure), the thing that I pray you all see more than anything is who God is and has been in all this. Because above all, it is a story of how He takes weak, broken vessels and still uses us to bring about His will and His glory… and if there is any human element that is worth emphasizing, it is the fact that I have leared so incredibly profoundly that the more we pour ourselves out, the more we get on our faces and confess our own inability to carry out the greatness of that which He has called us to do, and the more we wrap our arms around Him and lose ourselves in His heart, the glorious way that God will move, lining pieces up that we are not even aware of the need for to bring about that which He has called us to carry out.

In Febrary of last year, we were put in touch with a university here in Guatemala about hosting their  professional nursing program. The pro to this situation was that the people of our area would have an opportunity to study nursing with out the massive expense of travel costs. The cons were: 1. we would have no control over curriculum or teachers; 2. if the number of students dropped below 25 students, then they would all have to travel to Quiche (2 1/2 hours away) which was the very problem we were hoping to rectify by hosting the program here; 3. this school could pull out at any time leaving us and our student stranded in the middle of a three year program; and 4. there was little room for the encouragement of character development and the transformation of the students in their studies, especially to thins is school did not have this as part of their vision.

So in March, we got in touch with San Pablo Univeristy in Guatemala City that we had randomly become connected to through different members of El Shaddai church, whose pastor is also the university’s rector. This university, under the direction of Harold Caballeros (a Harvard graduate), seeks to not only educate people, but to see Guatemala and Gutemalans’ lives transformed through the love of Jesus and the tool of education; already woven into their educational programs are classes that encourage leadership development, ethical development, and higher level thinking while still maintaining a heart of service to Guatemala… In short, we fell in love with this university’s heart as well as their high educational reputation and standards. So, we set up an appointment with them to discuss the possibility of hosting a nursing program extension at our campus… and were blown away by the response we received.

San Pablo first let us know that they actually didn’t have a nursing program in place that they could offer us as an extension program, but they wanted to open this nursing program with us as their pioneers – giving us complete freedom to create the curriculum and use the teachers that we choose! Furthermore, they had decided that instead of working in extension programs, they want to work in satellite campuses – giving us complete liberty to open any programs we want in the future… all the way to a medical school (!!) which perfectly bridged the university to the hospital, which will now function as a teaching hospital and bring all learning/teaching full circle as students learn theory from the very nurses and doctors that are also training them in them practical site… again being given an amazing gift to go beyond simply filling heads with knowledge, but also investing in the transformation of these students’ lives.

God is SO amazing, and once again provided and lined up pieces that we didn’t even think or dream of asking for! And once again, the dream grew… as well as the challenge before us.

So, we got to work on the curriculum and teachers… and were not too far into it before we learned that the Ministry of Health would have to approve our curriculum, our teachers, and every little detail they wanted to. And we were very disheartened, feeling as if we were back at step one, working with the same corruption and control that had ended our auxiliary nursing program experience.

So, we got on our faces and fasted and prayed, walked and stood in the promise of God, and praised His name for 7 days. We prayed for the people of the ministy of health – for their salvation, peace, lives, redemption; for the country of Guatemela and its prosperity; for favor as we sought approval once again; for provision as the requirements seemed vast. And then we met with them. It was supposed to be an all day meeting from 8-3 in which we would discuss all the requirements on the table… and I was dreading it. We met the night before as a community and worshipped God and reminded ourselves that “He who has called us is faithful to carry it out,” and I remember flying into the City that morning with the “power of Jesus” song still floating through my head. (Okay, more accurately, I was totally belting it out in the back seat of the plane, taking full advantage of the fact that no one could hear anything over the loud hum of the engine :))

And what was supposed to be  a 7 hour meeting was 1 1/2 hours… And they approved EVERY SINGLE ONE of our requests – and even threw stuff at us to help us get this school up and running and allow it to be a place that functions differently than the normal school here in this country…

People, as I have said before in this blog in relation to the other programs under this education project, this is a COMPLETE MIRACLE!!!

There are so many details I could write in here, but for the sake of how lengthy this blog already has become, I will sum up with the amazing ability to say that tomorrow night we open doors at 5:30pm for the inauguration of the opening San Pablo Univeristy satellite campus in conjunction with Adonai Education Project! This program will function at the level of a Stateside registered nursing program (a couple levels higher than the original auxiliary nursing program we originally set out to open) and already has 30-40 students signed up! We are so excited and humbled by this amazing opportunity for the people of this area to not only study and have an opportunity for a job upon graduation, but to become transformed and be drawn into the great love and redemption that their Creator has for all of us.

Thank you for your prayers and support continuously in all of this! We know that none of this would be possible if you all were not also faithful to that which God has called you to! If your are interested in shorter more often updates and pictures, you can find me on Facebook at Katie Eleiott Ficker.

Monday and Tuesday, I was able to substitute IMG_4887teach for our English Academy’s niños group. And for someone who purposely chose nursing over teaching, I have to say, it was a lot of fun! I was impressed with how much English these kids (ages 7-10) had learned with only 4 hours a week for 4 1/2 months as I could pretty much teach and give instructions completely in English, and for the most part, they understood it without difficulty. They are still young enough that they were not embarrassed to have to repeat the same word until the pronunciation was correct, and they giggled behind cupped hands when they were wrong and beamed with pride when they were correct.

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But the really neat part came in the reminder of what a gift education is, and what an amazing opportunity it is to get into these kids’ lives and help equip them with tools that will open doors for them in many arenas as they go through life; from lessons based in Biblical values and stories to mastery of the English language, these things that feel so incredibly basic to us, truly will change their lives forever.

the beginnings part one: the bachillerato

We are at our halfway point in the first year of this education project’s existence. And we are tired. The newness is gone, the cultural and language differences are wearing, and the daily grind has been set in place. The students are tired, the staff are tired, the administrators are tired. And yet, as I have sat in the midst of this tired group of people (myself included), and turned my questions to God, I have been encouraged. Because these are the times that perseverance comes completely through a strength not our own; that this is when we hit our knees, we pull together, we release the challenges to God, and He pours His spirit and strength out upon us and allows us to become conquerors much greater than we could ever be on our own; that this is a time to speak out the vision that God has given us for this place and remember the amazing ways He has already provided and brought about that which no man could.

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One of our original Auxiliary Nursing students (now in the Bachillerato program) with her mom cooking up some food in the coffee shoppe for a party we had.

In December, as we were preparing to open doors for the Auxiliary Nursing Program in January, we learned that our teachers did not meet the requirements that are involved in opening an auxiliary program. So, we stood our ground; we fought for the program; we called in other Guatemalan friends of ours to go fight for the program as well; we had everyone interested sign a paper saying so; we prayed and prayed and prayed… and after a month and a half of this, we realized that God seemed to be shutting this door. Even more of a confirmation was that out of the 35+ people that had pre-registered for the program, we only had 4 students actually register when we opened registrations.

So, we prayed some more, and we discussed things as a team. Greg and Helaine Walton, the South African couple who had joined us here with over 15 years of education experience in rural Guatemala, encouraged us to keep seeking God out in this – that He seemed to be doing something, and that He didn’t seem to be finished yet.

In all honesty, I really half-thought “Yay! The ridiculous challenge of working with the Department of Public Health is over! I can go back to just working in the clinics and taking care of my family, and be done with this segment of my life. Sorry to all that were involved that this school didn’t happen… just doesn’t seem to be what God is doing anymore.” Thank God He has surrounded us by people much more mature and much farther along on this faith journey than we were…

because He was about to explode our world.

As we started exploring other options, Greg and Helaine explained more of the education world here in Guatemala. It is actually set up almost identically to the European system, where at 15 years old, students that would like to continue studying can decide if they would like to take more of a practical/technical degree route (like auxiliary nursing or mechanic) or if they would like to take a two year high school/college prep course with plans to continue on to study in the University afterwards (where they can study professional nursing or accounting, etc.). Greg and Helaine had already been running one of these college-prep programs – called a bachillerato (bah-chee-air-ah-toe) – and helped us look into putting one in here. Now, this program involves an insane amount of paperwork and trips to Quiche (2 hours away) just to open the doors. During a conversation with the local education director here in Canilla, he actually laughed out loud at me when I suggested that we put one of these programs in instead of the auxiliary nursing program; he then explained to me that it will take at least one year to get all the paperwork approved just to open doors! I countered with our thinking of how valuable one of these programs will be since it will not only raise the level of education here in Canilla, but also prepare students to go on to the University afterwards where they can receive a professional nursing degree and graduate with better training, better job opportunities, and better pay than the auxiliary degree would give them. A long-time friend of ours, he agreed with me, but still could not help smiling as he shook his head at my ridiculous optimism that allowed me to even consider pursuing this.

But God knew what he was doing, even if we were clueless 🙂 With the connections that Greg and Helaine had in the Department of Education here in Quiche, the excellent reputation they had built up with their school system, and the fact that they could have done this insane load of paperwork almost in their sleep, we opened doors TWO WEEKS after we submitted the original proposal!

Friends, this is a MIRACLE – especially in a country where NOTHING happens in two weeks’ time.

Our friend, the local education director? Yes, he stood in the school’s front lawn one week after we opened the doors, signing up his sister-in-law for the program. A broad smile crossed his face as he again shook his head at me… except this time, as he laughed with us, it was because he was as shocked as we were. Nobody could deny that God was moving… and little did we know, it was still just the beginning.

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Levi and our secretary Angela

Ultimately, this education project is a story of the faithfulness of our God. It is a story of faith stretched and hope renewed. It is a story of restoration and redemption. It is story where the Creator of all comes down into the mess of a physically, emotionally, and spiritually oppressed people and answers their prayers, going above and beyond what they even knew to ask… a promise that God still walks among His people, that He still sees the tears and stains, and that He still gets out His lily white cloth and washes them away.

 

And all will see… how great is our God!

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“Then everyone will stand in awe, proclaiming the mighty acts of God, realizing all the amazing things he does. The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in him. And those who do what is right will praise him.” Psalm 64:9-10

While I realize that these verses are situated in the middle of a text talking all about how God will destroy David’s enemies (which is not exactly applicable to our situation), as I read these this morning, they popped out at me as the perfect way to describe what God has done here over the past few months. Up until May, things were in such a constant state of change (good change), that I was unsure of even how to begin to post the things that were happening… even now, I am unsure of exactly how to explain it all other than to just dive in.

So, to start, please watch one of or both of these videos (a REAL video taken by a REAL videographer!), which explain so beautifully the way God has woven each thread of this tapestry, truly bringing things together in ways that NO HUMAN on earth could have ever orchestrated! This Adonai International Ministries video is 17 minutes long, but really captures the big picture and how this school fits into it. This shorter Adonai Education Project video is derived from the larger video, but focuses more specifically on the school.

Enjoy!

**A HUGE thank you to Joel Funkhouser with Enspire Media for all his hard work and then donation to us of these videos!

the midst of messes

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Nothing can bring on messes quite like having a baby… and two toddlers… all at the same time. And lately, our house has seemed to be the physical representation of the deeper churn within as I step over piles of laundry, move around dirty dishes, and strive to keep the table cleared for schoolwork and lunch… and then actually getting said lunch cooked and on the table at a reasonable hour. There have been more tears, temper tantrums, and “loud talking” than normal – and that is just from me!

Because sometimes life is messy. And I do not like it.

This year, Anna and I have been going through an Advent study beginning with the infamous Isaiah passage that starts with “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” and then goes on to slowly draw us into the beautiful description of this humble baby Warrior King that came right into the midst of very very big messes to save His people…

this same humble warrior king that is still walking right into the midst of messes to save His people.

There are people around us here in Guatemala and in each of our lives going through much bigger messes than unwashed laundry, dirty dishes, and baby spit up. People who, in the midst of this often oh-so-messy life, just need to meet their Savior… a Savior who says that they do not need to clean themselves up first… a Savior that says He will come and clean them up… He will redeem and He will restore…

a Savior that came for that very purpose.

I have been taught how to look at a problem and fix it… how to take a messy situation and clean it up… how to walk into chaos and bring order (okay… I’m not really very good at this last one…), but the overwhelmed working mother in me has found that when I am too exhausted and overwhelmed to know even how to start to bring control to the situation, He is already there working.

And while cleaning up is important, usually the best thing I can do is to drop to my knees in the midst of these life messes and call out to the only One who knows just how to slowly bring order to it…

because I have seen first-hand that He will.

Here’s to a Christmas filled with lots of laughter, family, friends…

and that deep down cleaning, fulfillment, and redemption that can only come from that little baby born in a messy stable, placed in a messy manger, found  in a messy, chaotic town situated perfectly in the midst of a messy world…

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

Isaiah 9:6-7