Friday, April 24, 2020

But what can I do?

During these times of uncertainty, God is calling us to stand firm on His promises, and respond as those who love our neighbors as ourselves. Hard to do when facing the great unknown, but, really, each day we face the unknown, only this pandemic has caused us to realize how little control we really do have over our future. Today is not any different than 45 days ago when things felt normal. We cannot add a minute to our lives by our worry, so let's focus on what we can do.
If you are fortunate enough to have resources, share them. Just that. I would encourage you not to respond out of fear of not having enough. Enough for most of us in the US is way more than what we need. (I say this because I have realized how much I live like I did in the US, and have more than what I need.) God promises us our daily bread, but I have been living on cake and ice cream. I have made some changes and encourage you to consider how He might be asking you to change your lifestyle.
I know many of you are financially challenged at this time, and wondering what you can do to help others when you are struggling to care for yourselves. First, I would encourage you to ask God for direction.
Do what you can to help those around you who are struggling. If God brings someone to you, respond. He knows your needs as well as theirs.
But I caution you not to fall into the trap of thinking only about material help. Emotional support and encouragement cost nothing and are vital at this time. Look for the positive in what is happening around you, and share this with others. Let your social media posts glorify God and what He is doing, rather than predict doom. Nothing is changed by social media venting, and much damage can be done both to yourself and others. Be careful.
Take a minute to thank the person at the cash register for coming to work. If you have contact with "front line" workers, tell them they are appreciated. Look for how others are kind to you and thank them. Write notes or emails of encouragement to those who God places on your mind.
And, above all else, cover these things in prayer. Let it be said after this that those who follow Christ have brought Him honor and glory in these times. Others have before us, and let us honor them by doing the same.

Friday, February 14, 2020


If you have been following my posts on Matthew through Facebook, not much of this is new, but there are a few added details.

 This is Matthew a 20 month old who is our newest and youngest client at our center in Santo Tomas.

Matthew arrived with a variety of needs, including cerebral palsy and crossed eyes.  Born prematurely along with his brother, Jeremy (yes, the family likes North American names!), his family reports that his problems really began after he suffered respiratory arrest when he was 3 months old.  As is typical here, it is impossible to get medical records, but, whatever the cause he has significant developmental delays.

I love this picture which shows the close bond
between Matthew and his mom.
Though his mom only has a sixth grade education, she has diligently searched for help for her son.  Through the internet she has found exercises to do to help strength his muscles and stimulate his mind.  Everywhere she looked for help she was turned away.  Then she heard about our program through the city hall in Santa Lucia and was the first to see me when we opened our doors for the new year.

Our first step was to send him to Hermano Pedro to see a pediatrician and be evaluated for possible eye surgery.  This had been recommended to the family in the past, but at the cost of over $1000 was far beyond their means.  After receiving my referral, Mom and Grandma had Matthew at the doors of the clinic at 5 a.m. to make sure he could get in to see a pediatrician.

At the time we had no idea how important this connection with a doctor would be (more on that later).  The pediatrician did in fact recommend he see a neurologist at the hospital, as well as one of the ophthalmologists who would be coming down with a surgical team.  

Matthew, Jeremy, and their older sister Karen

I began working with Matthew at his home a couple of afternoons each week, since it is nearly impossible for his mom to wrangle him, his twin brother and his 7 year old sister Karen for the 3 km trip to the center in Santo Tomas.  He loved these sessions.

The whole family gets involved in Matthew's education

One of Matthew's needs was a wheelchair, since his size was making it harder and harder for his tiny mom to carry him. 

In his typical manner, Dick Rutgers was right on top of this request, and only a few days later, he and Bryan joined me in measuring Matthew for a chair.  Dick thought he had the perfect chair for Matthew in the warehouse, and the next week we were back at the house, fitting Matthew with his new wheels.

Matthew wanted to make sure Dick adjusted the
chair "just right" so decided to help him out.

The following week, Matthew saw the neurologist and was scheduled for an EEG and also a hearing test.  Matthew does not speak or imitate sounds, and mom rightly has been concerned about his hearing.

Before he could even be seen for the EEG, Matthew had the first of what would be a series of seizures.  This is where God's Providence in having us already connected with a pediatrician and neurologist was so very important.  While I don't quite understand the diagnosis of "structural epilepsy," and while no one can explain why his seizures only started now, we are grateful for these connections to help his family manage this new challenge.

As is often the case, it took a bit of trial and error, but Matthew is now on medication which is controlling his seizures.  These medications, however, make it hard for him to sleep, and he is unusually irritable.  This has been so challenging for the family, but they are hanging in there.  Just yesterday the doctor prescribed something to help him relax and hopefully the whole family will get some sleep soon.

So for now, our infant stimulation is on hold while we resolve his medical issues, though we continue to visit the family a few times a week and are in frequent phone contact.  

In the midst of all this, Karen started first grade
and we made sure she felt special with a
bright new backpack.
Eye surgery is in the distant future since his seizures need to be under control before he can undergo anesthesia.  We are praying, too, that we can find the trigger which started the seizures, but we may never know.

Please keep this family in your prayers, as well as the doctors and those working with him.  These kind of medical issues are never easy, but for me, watching Matthew and his family face this has been especially hard.  

These parents are amazingly dedicated to Matthew's care, as well as the well-being of their other two children.  They appreciate every small thing that is done for them, and, except for asking me to work with Matthew, expect nothing of us but our friendship and encouragement.  

We have chosen to help with Matthew's medical needs as much as we can.  If you would like to make a contribution to Matthew's medical care, you can donate through our Reason to Hope website, or send a check to the address on our donation page.  Please note that the donation is for Matthew's care, and we'll make sure it is directed appropriately.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Leading up to the big day

Since the beginning of Casa de Esperanza, we have had a special dinner to celebrate Christmas.  This year we would be combining two houses, so we decided to hold our feast a few days early.  We began Christmas here Dec. 23 and kept it going right through the 25th.  What a great three days.

The ladies from Hijas del Rey came to the men's house to share the meal together, and we needed three long tables put together to accommodate all of us.

Believe it or not, Dick Rutgers was home to celebrate with us.

We feasted on turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, ambrosia salad (the all time favorite) and the ever present tortillas.  No dinner at Casa de Esperanza is complete without plenty of Coca-cola.

We had a good time teasing Osmi who devoured a whole turkey leg when we were all just starting to eat.  Hard to believe we worried about malnutrition when he first came to live with us!  

While I did all the cooking, these three dear ladies did serving and all the clean-up. 
Don't tell anyone, but I'd much rather cook!

One of our goals is to teach our residents to serve as well as be served; to think of the needs of others, not just their own.  To support this effort, we adopt a family each Christmas to give gifts to show the love of Christ as we reach out to those who need a bit of help.

This year God led us to Angelica's family, who the ladies and I met at a medical clinic in Santo Tomas.  The mom, dad and special needs daughter had been in a traffic accident.  Dad had a broken leg and was out of work for quite a while, and mom lost her right hand in the accident.  Since mom was not longer able to carry Angelica she desperately needed a wheelchair.

Angelica at the medical clinic.

Thanks to Cesar Sirin, who had been one of our companion-caregivers,
Angelica received a wheelchair in short order, with the help of Dick Rutgers.

Christmas Eve, I took a turn as caregiver to our women, and one of our first activities was to make the trip to a nearby town to bring gifts to this family.  We were on our way to the men's house, so didn't stay long, but took time for a picture with Ericka, Angelica's mother, as we dropped of presents for each of the family members.  We will stay in contact with this family throughout the next year.

After playing "Secret Santa" Chepa, Caty and I (Griselda had gone home to spend Christmas with her family) headed over to Casa de Esperanza to have pizza and watch the movie Polar Express, which, unbelievably, none of them had ever seen.

Even Fidel enjoyed the movie and stayed with the group for the whole show.

The girls had decided that, since there were just two of them, they wanted to have a sleep-over at my house.  The tradition here is to stay up to midnight, set off fireworks, and eat tamales.  Caty and Chepa, though, only made it until about 9:30 and then were fast asleep. They even slept through the midnight explosion of fireworks which lasted almost a half-hour.

Not so at the men's house, however, were the guys were only too happy to contribute to the bedlam which accompanies the arrival of Christmas Day.  Here Roberto is ready to roll!

Since they had gone to bed early, the ladies awoke bright and early Christmas morning and enjoyed their tamales for breakfast, which they failed to eat them the night before.

Then they opened their gifts and we just hung out until it was time to go to dinner with Naomi Heye and her girls.

Both ladies decided that they wanted to dress up for dinner, and looked lovely.

 After another wonderful turkey dinner with all the trimmings (where I failed to take any pictures),  I dropped the the ladies and Maria, their companion-caregiver for the evening, off at their house and came home to a much needed quiet cup of coffee and video chats with my own kids and grandsons.

The Forster grandsons and cousins.
The four in the middle are my grand joys,
the two little guys on both ends are my son and daughter-in-loves nephews.

It was a busy and wonderful and fattening three days, and now I'm ready for a diet and a nap!

Hoping your Christmas was as marvelous as ours, and blessing you with all God's best in the New Year.

It looks like Christmas

Decorating is a big part of our preparation for Christmas.  It might seem insignificant, but it becomes much more important when you realize our residents may not have had the opportunity to do this before coming to live with us.  Some, because of their family's economic conditions, never had a tree. Others, living in institutions, could only enjoy trees others had decorated.  So we decorate together.

This year I was in the US when the trees went up at Casa de Esperanza and Hijas del Rey women's home.  The staff kept me well informed through pictures.  While I missed being present for these activities, I am so very pleased that they were able to carry on themselves to make the house look festive.

After years together, the men have this decorating thing down to a slick process.

With the support of our companion-caregivers, Fidel is able to fully participate, despite his physical limitations.

Now they can enjoy the fruit of their labor.

The ladies enjoyed putting together their first tree in our women's home.

Opening the large box of ornaments felt like an early Christmas morning to our women as they explored their treasures.

This is our whole crew at Hijas del Rey, ready to relax and enjoy their tree in their new home.

When I returned to Guatemala Dec. 11, one of the first things I did was to decorate my little house.  They nutcrackers are very special to me.  When I left the States to move here, one of the things I left behind was my large nutcracker collection (now in the possession of my oldest son and his family).  I am slowly rebuilding my collection, adding one new nutcracker each year.  It is a link between my two worlds that is a great comfort at Christmas-time.

While it may seem like this is a secular focus as we prepare for the Lord's coming, I recognize more each year that these traditions, repeated each Christmas, help to mold us into a family and bind us together by our common experience.  I treasure these moments.