Meanwhile in Haiti…

I must admit that when I started talking to Mimi Stemkoski about going to Haiti with the Celebrant Singers, I was very apprehensive.  I had made myself a promise that I would never return to Haiti in my lifetime.  For many reason (that I will not bore you with), I did not want to go to that country.  I am glad I was wrong in that decision and God had a better idea for my life (as usual).

The journey begins in the month of November of 2012, when I contacted Celebrant Singers to go back on the road.  The last tour I had done with Celebrants was 13 years ago.  Rusty is an understatement of how I felt when I arrived to rehearsal camp in California.

A lot of obstacles where there in the natural for me to do this tour.  The first one was obvious; will my employer give me three weeks off to go do this?  To my surprise the answer was yes.  The next obstacle was my health.  I had a massive back surgery five months ago and I was not sure my back could handle the road.  Once again, even though I was in pain during the tour, God showed up and gave me the strength that I needed.  The final obstacle was to raise $2,000.00 for my missionary support.  How in the world would I do that?  All my former supporters have not heard from me in over a decade!  Support was raised by 14 people in two weeks.  Check mate.  God wins.  I am going to Haiti.

My plane to California left Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport the morning of Christmas Eve.  It was very hard to say goodbye to my beloved wife Heather.  We were going to spend Christmas and New Years apart for the first time in 12 years of marriage.  We both made a commitment to God and one another in our wedding day that was “God will always come first.”  We stayed true to that commitment as she sent me off to California.

Upon my arrival to Fresno, a familiar face was waiting for me.  My best friend Danny and his son Tyler were there.  That was refreshing for me because I knew I would be able to spend the Holidays with people I love.  We had a great time together spending Christmas.  I was made family to them during those days.  Christmas Eve I spent at Jon and Mimi’s house.  I had dinner with Mary (Jon’s mom), Michele (Jon and Mimi’s daughter) and Jon and Mimi of course.  The meal was simply delicious and we had a great time together.  Finally at 3:00 a.m., we realized that someone had to take me back to the hotel since it was late!  HA!  Christmas Day was with Danny, Jen, Tyler, Danny’s parents and Grandparents.  It was another delicious meal and time together.

On December 27, I was to report to the Celebrant Singers office to head up to rehearsal camp.  Once inside the Celebrants tour bus, is when it hit me.  I am back on the road.  The feelings were mixed to say the least.  I could not believe that after 13 years I was back in that bus heading to camp.

Rehearsal camp was at Saint Anthony’s Retreat Center.  This place is simply gorgeous!  It is up in the mountains in the city of Three Rivers California.  The facilities are beautiful and everywhere you look, there is beauty.  You get to see a lot of wild life and mountains.  Rehearsal camp is more than just rehearsals.  Granted we work our tails off to get all the music down and ensure that we are “concert ready”, but beyond that, it is a time to prepare our hearts and minds on the task ahead of us.  The team starts becoming your family for the next three weeks.  We pray together.  We talk about the country we are about to go into, etc.  Camp was exhausting for me and my back began giving me trouble during camp.  The only logical explanation for it was that since we were rehearsing so much and I was using my diaphragm to sing, my muscles started to complain.  The leadership team recognized that at times I needed to lie down and rest and they were very accommodating.

On December 31 we went down the mountain back to Visalia.  I spent the night with Danny, Jen and Tyler again and packed for Haiti as the next day we were going to start our tour.  We drove from Visalia to Los Angeles International Airport.  As usual, unpacking the bus and checking in a lot of sound equipment is a job.  Funny thing happened to me in LAX.  I was counting luggage and equipment and I turned to go talk to Nels.  When I turned, I ran into Julia Roberts.  I apologized to her for that and she didn’t even look down at me (she is tall).  I laughed it off and continued to do my job.  Once the American Airlines team (we were on two airlines) was checked in, I had to rush to go and check in the Spirit Airlines team.  That fortunately went very smooth and before we knew it, we were doing the red-eye to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to catch our connecting flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

We arrived in Haiti two hours late and the American Airlines crew was waiting for us.  After clearing immigration and customs, we took all of our equipment, luggage and team to the bus that was going to serve as our tour bus for the next ten days.  There were a lot of people willing to help us (for a fee of course) and since we didn’t have money to give them, I gathered all 20+ men there and had prayer with them.  Once inside the bus, the biggest reality check of my life was about to start.

My first impression of Haiti happened when I was 11 years old.  I was on my way to Spain to visit a family friend of ours and we were re-routed to Port-au-Prince from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic due to weather.  The airplane that was supposed to take us to Madrid had an engine issue and I spent two days in Haiti under the custody of an Iberia Airlines agent.  I slept in the airport for two days and saw a little bit of the city.  What I remembered was very vague.  Twenty three years later, I was now driving through the streets of Port-au-Prince.  Reality hit me like 1,000 buckets of ice cold water.  The poverty in Haiti is beyond what I have ever seen in my travels around the world.  Several of our team members had been in Haiti with Celebrants right after the earthquake in 2010 and they were impressed on how they were rebuilding the country.  I, on the other hand, was with my jaw dropped as I saw not only the poverty but also the amount of destruction that the country still has.  One amazing thing that struck me immediately was how the Haitian people adjust to this.  These people are incredibly nice and have a smile on their face at all times.  To a certain extent, that upset me because I realized how spoiled we are in the United States.  We have everything here.  I mean everything and yet we complain when our cable goes out or our smart phone’s Internet speed is too slow.  Haitian people do not complain and they are thankful if they get a bag of purified water to drink that day.  After a few miles, I saw the United Nations compound and the American Embassy.  A few more miles later, I saw what I was not prepared to see; the tent cities.  After the earthquake in 2010, many organizations poured into Haiti to help.  They brought food, water, medical care and tents (not your nice Coleman tent but tarps) for people to relocate temporarily after losing their home.  Well, three years later, thousands of people are still “temporarily relocated” in tents.

The tent cities do not have any of the basic human needs.  There is no running water, bathrooms, electricity or safety.  A tent city is simply a big area where you see tents all over the place.  Most of the tents have a logo on them that may say “US Aid” or “Unicef” on them.  We didn’t go into one of these cities but the description I was given by one of the people that were with us at all times was that if someone comes in with food or potable water, they will get mugged for it.  Theft, rape and lawlessness are daily occurrences apparently.  The poor people that live under these conditions live in constant fear.

We finally arrived at the house that was going to be home for the Celebrants for the next 10 days.  The house was gorgeous.  It was built by an engineer several years back and by my count it has over 6 rooms, bathrooms, living areas, etc.  Most of the bedrooms had air conditioning.  Most of the women in our team had a bed.  The guys were on the floor (amazing how some guys are so creative to make a bed out of flight packing quilts).  I had a cot that had a little bit of padding on it.  My good friend Desiree, knowing about my back situation, gave me her sleeping pad and put it on my cot so I could sleep without pain.  She then took the floor (literally) and slept for ten days on a tile floor.  Even though I objected to this, she wanted me to have it and this is the type of love that we have for one another in Celebrant Singers.  I am eternally grateful to Desiree for having such a servant’s heart.  So I want to introduce you to the amazing Celebrant Singers team I had the privilege and honor to serve with.

Jon and Mimi Stemkoski (Directors and second soprano), Nels Herring II (Assistant Director/Sound Technician/Photographer and Videographer), Barry and Rudolfina Sjostrand (Assistant Director/Drummer, Violinist), Kevin Lee (Assistant Director/baritone/bass), Esteban Blanco (Assistant Director/First Tenor), Desiree West (Hearing Impaired Signer/Tenor Sax), Brandon McDonald (Saxophone), Michele Palermo (Flute), Ruby Tapia (Clarinet), Haunnah McIntosh (Synth), Lora Ray (first soprano), Ronnie Collins (bass guitar), Todd Netland (piano), Brandon Encinas (violin), Felicity Landa (first soprano), Dottie Barsoom (alto), Sean Oliveras (Trumpet), Katie Isaac (Baritone horn), David Costello (second tenor/baritone), Dora Hall (alto) and last but not least Irene Bruno.  Irene was born in Haiti and she had not returned to her country for 25 years.  She met the Celebrant Singers at her church in Lima Ohio.  Celebrants invited her to come with us to the outreach and she did.  The blessing that Haiti received of having her there and also the blessing she received being in Haiti was enormous.  Our sponsors in Haiti were Patrick and Sonya Angus, Father (Père) Frantzy, the Pastorale Univesitaire and Jean-Marc and Stephanie Dargout.

That night we had our first concert.  We really didn’t know how we were going to make it since most of us had not slept for 24 hours and we were tired.  When we got to the concert location, it seemed like we got a “heavenly boost” of energy.  The concert was awesome.  We figured that over 500 people were there and we also realized something very special.  One of our songs from our French album is very popular in Haiti.  When we started singing this song, the place almost fell apart and the crowd sang along.  We smiled of course and we sang together.  After the concert, the church had snacks for us.  They were delicious!

Our second day we did not have a concert scheduled so Jon Stemkoski (Founder and President of Celebrant Singers) took us to the main museum in Port-au-Prince.  This museum was right next door to what used to be the presidential palace.  There we got to learn about the history of Haiti.  We saw the tools that they used to bring the slaves from Africa to Haiti.  The shackles alone weighed 50 pounds of pure steel.  It was horrific when the historian explained to us how they treated these men and women and seeing depictions of it on the walls of this museum.  Something that I personally thought was awesome was that I saw (and touched but don’t tell anyone) the anchor of Christopher Columbus’ Santa María.  That was simply amazing.  Right before my eyes was a piece of history that is simply incredible.  Once we were done with the museum, we went to look at our next concert location.  We were singing at the main Cathedral in Port-au-Prince the next day.  The place is in ruins.  All it stands there is the shell of the Cathedral.  Our concert was going to be in the make shift church that they made with the same tarps used for the tent cities.  When we got out of the bus, a group of children and women were waiting outside.  They live in the ruins of the Cathedral.  My first thought was “these poor people are going to ask us for money.”  I was wrong.  The children approached us and would point to their tummy and say “mange tanpri” which means “food please” in Haitian Creole.  I felt like someone reached into my chest, grabbed my heart and stumped all over it.  I was just devastated to see a four year old begin for food.  The women that were there were told we were missionaries and they told the children to stop asking us.  We then proceeded to spend time with all of them and had a picture taken with everyone.  It was a very special moment for me.  An old woman with a broken arm approached me and asked me to pray for her.  In my very broken French, I told her that I would pray and that God loves her.  I prayed with her and she gave me a big hug and kiss.  That was a magical moment for me.  After leaving the concert location, I began thinking about how incredibly blessed my wife and I are.  I thought of our home, our jobs, running potable water, electricity that works all the time, etc.  It started bothering me that these people had to deal with so much and yet they were so thankful for the very little that they have.  I made a commitment to myself that I would try my best to stop complaining about what I like to call “first world problems” and focus my energy in helping in any way I can and also praying for all humans living in these conditions.

The next day we played our concert.  In the midst of the ruins, I saw a Rosary on the ground.  That was significant because here I was standing in the middle of the ruins of the earthquake and on the ground was a crucifix.  I picked it up and cleaned it.  Later on I took it to Père Frantzy (the priest that spent all 10 days with us) and asked him to bless the Rosary (it is a common practice in the Catholic Church to do this).  After the concert I saw one of the women who was with us the day prior.  They all came to the concert!  I prayed for her and gave her the Rosary for her to keep.  With a huge smile on her face and tears she thanked me for it.  I think it meant a lot to her that someone would think of her and would give her something.

Our schedule began to pick up speed.  We knew for the rest of the time in Haiti we were going to have two concerts per day (sometimes three) and that we were going to lack sleep.  The beautiful thing was that the entire team was ready to take that task on and did not complain about the little sleep we were getting.  I on the other hand was having issues with back pain and my throat started to hurt a lot.  I had to miss one concert due to this situation.  Thankfully one of our sponsors is a doctor and he gave me an injection to get the inflammation down in both my back and throat.

I want to highlight different events that happened during our visit.  It would be hard for me to tell you everything that happened because it was so much that I frankly do not remember every one of them but I want to share the ones that marked me one way or another.

One morning we went to play at a hospital.  We parked on top of a concrete slab that was rather large.  Père Frantzy explained to Jon and later Jon told us that were we were standing was the location of the radiology department for this hospital.  It was destroyed during the earthquake and everyone inside died.  While the team was setting up for concert in this big chapel, about six of us went to visit the patients in the hospital.  I asked Mimi (who speaks French fluently) if we should ask hospital staff to provide masks for us so we didn’t get our germs on the patients, especially the babies and children.  She asked a doctor that was passing by and the doctor smiled and said no and something else I didn’t understand.  Mimi turned to me and said “Esteban, they don’t have masks.”  I thought to myself that was not good for the sake of the patients and wondered what kind of healthcare they were receiving.  My answer came sooner than later.  In the children’s wing (also destroyed by the earthquake and now a wooden structure with 30 year old beds and fans) was a doctor performing a procedure on a child that involved blood.  Once he was done, he went to a bucket of water and washed his GLOVES!  I almost passed out when I saw this!  This hospital did not have enough gloves to go around and they had to wash and disinfect the gloves to use on another patient.  We really take things for granted sometimes.  After we covered the entire hospital, we rejoined the team for prayer prior to the concert.  Jon approached me five minutes prior to concert and said “you are leading this concert.  Are you up for it?”  In my shock (since I had nothing prepared), I said yes and we went on stage.  650+ people were in attendance.  I was able to conduct and lead the concert just fine fortunately.  What shocked me was when I asked the people present “how many of you lost a loved one in the earthquake?”  Ninety percent of the people there raised their hands.  Some began to cry.  This really touched me because I could not put myself in their shoes.  I just felt pain for them.  I told them that no matter what, God loves each and every one of them.  I asked people if they wanted to receive and make a commitment to make Jesus their Lord and Savior for life.  All hands in that room went up.  They repeated the prayer of Salvation and at the end of the prayer I said “welcome to God’s family.  We love you Haiti.”  The place almost fell apart!  God had just used me to touch 650+ lives in one room!

I had the honor and privilege to lead four concerts while in Haiti.  In every concert, we had people make commitments to God and hundreds if not thousands re-dedicated their lives to Jesus.  The message of hope, love and Salvation was delivered properly.  We were simple vessels that were open to be used by God.  He was true to His promises and used each of us to touch lives in Haiti.

Two other concerts that come to mind are school concerts.  One school was were Sonya (one of our sponsors) graduated from and the other one was were Irene went to school.  In these concerts, thousands of young women received the message as well.  I am sure that in one we had over two thousand in attendance and in the other one I want to say there was over one thousand in attendance.  For Sonya and Irene, these concerts were very special because they said that the reason they are who they are today is because of the education they received and it was wonderful for them to be able to give back to the school via a concert of the Celebrant Singers.  Irene got to see her principal!  It was wonderful.

Another concert we had was at Haiti’s State run television station.  After the earthquake, a tent city was established there.  We sang the concert live so the people outside could hear it but at the same time it was being taped.  This concert is going to be played over and over on TV and we believe that thousands more will be touched by the message of hope and God’s love.

Our last concert was in the heart of Port-au-Prince in the only Cathedral left standing.  Bishop Pierre-André Dumas came to the concert and shared with us.  This was more than just a concert.  This was a memorial for the three year anniversary of the earthquake.  We shared the stage with some amazing Haitian musicians!  During the middle of the event, about 10 young men and women walked down the isle of the Cathedral with a candle in their hands.  This represented the 300,000+ people that perished after that horrible earthquake in January 12, 2010.  This moment had me with a knot in my throat.  The thought of so many people dying (mind you that Port-au-Prince’s population was just a little over 800,000 before the earthquake).  It was a wonderful finish to our tour.  We said goodbye to the Haitian people and Haiti being very grateful for everything we were allowed to experience and the blessings they gave to all of us Celebrant Singers during our stay.

To my sponsors; your investment is very much appreciated and I am here to tell you that the return of your investment is enormous.  Thousands of lives were touched by you sending me out to Haiti.  Hundreds will be in Heaven thanks to you.  This summer, if God permits, Heather and I both will be joining the Celebrants once more this year to go to Portugal for two weeks to minister there.  I ask all of you to prayerfully consider sponsoring us one more time this year to take the Gospel to Portugal.  Europe as a whole is a continent that needs to hear the message desperately.  A lot of things are happening there politically and spiritually that we can help stir the in the right direction for the Kingdom of God.  The missionary support that Heather and I would need to raise to go to Portugal will be $4,500.  If you want more details on how you can sponsor us to go to Portugal, please contact me at eblanco@celebrants.org.  All donations for our missionary support are tax-deductible.

One more time I say to my sponsors a very heartfelt THANK YOU for sending me out to Haiti.  I pray many blessings over all of you!

In Christ’s love,

EB

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What is the secret to a happy marriage? That’s the million dollar question!

Recently I have been asked this question by different people.  How do you guys have such a happy marriage?  What is the secret?

I must admit that at this early stage of my life, I don’t feel sometimes equipped to answer such a question.  I am not an ordained minister or a marriage counselor.  I am merely married to the most wonderful woman the world could ask for.  I think that is a big part of the secret.  Being equally yoked where both of you may have different personalities but can agree to disagree and be able to allow the each other to share feelings and thoughts.

In the midst of these questions, I couple that is close to us (names will be changed for privacy of course), is going through the roughest patch of their young marriage.  George and Diane were called by God to go to Latin-American to work in full time ministry.  They left everything behind in the United States to pursue God’s calling.  For the past four years, God has done miracles in their lives.  The miracles have not only been monetarily but seeing the hand of God being used through them to bring hope, education (a school), a sports ministry and an orphanage.

About a month ago I received a call from George close to midnight one night.  When my caller ID showed his name, my hurt jumped thinking that something terrible had happened.  Indeed something bad had happened.  Diane was fine; George wasn’t.  The first words that came out of his mouth were “I want out.  I can’t take this woman anymore”.

After waking up properly and being able to listen, we began a three hour conversation that night as he poured his heart out to me and told me everything that had transpired since the day they said “I do”.  We began a process of counseling if you please were both George and Diane would speak to both me and my wife about the situation.  Diane was visiting her family in the United States when George called her from their mission field to say “I want to divorce you”.  She jumped on the first plane that she could get and headed down south to see how she could salvage the situation.

As time progressed, we were able to learn both sides of the story.  George felt that he was not appreciated and respected as a husband and Diane felt that George was not stepping up to the plate to be the “head of the household”.  During this time, George opened his heart to someone from the opposite sex and that established an affair of the heart, were George fell in love with a woman he had known for only three weeks.

The three weeks that George spent around this other woman (who by the way is married as well) were filled with confusion in his head and caused him to get to the point of no return.  Once Diane learned about the affair, she kicked him out of the house and the situation got worse.

As of last night, I was still counseling George over the phone and praying with him seeking God Almighty for help in this situation.  We were on the phone for close to four hours and part of that, like I said, was on our knees praying.

During this month, I came to realize many things that have given me a different perspective in marriage.  Things that now make a lot of sense and may explain the high divorce rate around the world.  My claim here is not that I have all the answers.  What my intention here is to share the little I learned and discerned based on this experience.

The day you become man and wife, is a day of absolute joy.  For some is an easy road to get to that altar, for others, like me, it was not an easy road due to circumstances that I am not afraid to admit I brought upon myself by showing a not so Godly character.  In that same day where you make that commitment before God, your bride or groom to be, your family and friends, you are making a covenant for life.  It is something that people out there need to take very serious because the wording during a Christian ceremony of marriage is very clear and strong.  The language used is such that it is simply a lifetime commitment you are making with another human being to be there “until death does us apart”.

I believe that a lot of young couples, walk down the aisle with the knowledge in their heads that “well if this doesn’t work there is always divorce”.  That is the most dangerous frame of mind to go with right before you get married.  That should be your first red flag that maybe you are not prepared to make this commitment.

You see, in business there is a reason why contracts are drawn during negotiations.  These include from mayor take overs of multi-billion dollar companies, to your cell phone plan.  You are penalized if you break that commitment.  In Malachi 2:16, God clearly states “I hate divorce”.  In Matthew 19:6 it talks about two becoming one.  Also in Matthew 5:32 and also 19:9, Jesus spoke about the only way out of a marriage is by one party “being unfaithful”.

Now, let’s define unfaithful here.  Most people jump automatically to infidelity and cheating.  That is not all what unfaithful means.  The Greek word for unfaithful is “Apistos” (unfaithful, faithless, (not to be trusted, perfidious).  According to the dictionary, the word means the following:

-Adulterous: engaging in sexual relations with somebody other than a spouse or partner
-Untrue to commitments: untrue to commitments, duties, beliefs, or ideals
-Not like original: not true to the original

The correlation is clearly there from our interpretation of the word unfaithful both in Greek and English.

So the first thing we see here is adultery.  It is a very clear rule in the 10 commandments (number 7 on the list).  If one party commits adultery, they can choose to walk away from the marriage without any penalty from God.  I want you to forget people here; we are talking about God and what He expects from us in marriage.  A lot of couples have survived an affair and that mistake was the thing that got them closer together.

The second one is untrue to commitments.  Here is where it gets sticky.  Some scholars will say that the only valid reason to get divorced is by infidelity.  I respectfully disagree.

If you are in an abusive relationship, and after seeking professional Godly counseling you are still in that same situation, then in my book and based on what the Bible says, you should be able to walk away.  Part of the commitment of marriage is for the woman to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.  Unfortunately, that is where many men stop listening.  They think that now, as the head of the household, his wife should submit to him no matter what.  The problem with that is, that in the very same vein of that scripture (keep reading past Ephesians 5:22 to 5:25), you will see that it says “husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.  Wow.  That is a high calling.

If a husband or a wife is being mentally or physically abusive to you, they have failed to be faithful to you (see the second part of the definition).  You committed yourself to faithfully respect and love one another. That is a duty and part of your job. If abuse is happening in the relationship and all avenues to get help have been exhausted, then it is time to walk away.  Your sanity and frame of mind are important, especially if children see this behavior of abuse.  I won’t bore you with statistics on how broken homes affect humans when they get to that point in their lives to make that commitment.  Also in the third part of that definition, it talks about how someone is unfaithful by changing and not being the same.  In my mind, if you get married under the pretense that your husband or your wife are not abusing drugs or alcohol and two years into the marriage this behavior begins, then you have been unfaithful because you changed in a negative manner and your spouse, after seeking counsel is not able to maintain, then the spouse should be able to walk away.  I want to clarify that I do not like or promote divorce.  This is totally the opposite.  I am promoting definitions of what I think and how I interpret the Bible to say regarding this topic.  Divorce should be the last option in a marriage and the word should not even be part of your vocabulary.

Going back to the point of loving as Christ loved us.  Christ came to this world for one purpose and one purpose only; eternal Salvation through the sacrifice He did on that cross over two thousand years ago.  Christ was willing to die for you and me so our sins could be forgiven.

So what does this mean to husbands then?  This means that the calling of the man is to be the head of the household by leading your wife and family like Christ did.  Christ operated out of pure love, by being a servant to all those who were with and around him, by healing, by being an example of what God wants us to be and finally by giving his life for us.  The easy translation then is that we, as men, are called to love, serve, and lead and also be willing to give everything for your spouse and family including your life.

You see, the way God created us is perfect.  We come with an instructional manual called the Bible.  We cannot excuse our bad past relationships or problems in your marriage because of “that what you saw growing up”.  You have a choice as an adult to pick up that Bible and read what God expects of you as a human and also as a husband.  My job as a husband is to make my wife as comfortable as possible so she can support me, pray for me, discuss important decisions with me, have a say in how money is spent or how to raise the children.  I believe that part of that job and commitment you made as a husband is to take care of finances at home for example.  That implies that you are responsible for the money God has provided through hard work and that you are accountable to God your wife if that check bounces.  You, as a man, you are called to be the provider and bread winner (I have no problem with working wives by the way), but ultimately, the responsibility rests on your shoulders to have a household in order.

This also means that, even when you come home from work tired and just wanting to watch Monday Night Football, whether your wife is a home maker (hardest job out there if you ask me) or she works full time, is to see what you can do around the house to serve her.  Stay with me here men, I have a good point to make.  The results of being that “servant leader” are so positive, that you will realize how quickly your wife will submit and respect you.

The way women were created by God is perfect as well.  He created them so strong physically and emotionally so they could be a support to us men and the children.  For those of you who have children and have seen your wife give birth (I don’t have children but I have been told), 99% of Christian husbands gain a new found respect for their wives when they see how brave and strong that woman is.  It is like clock-work.  So as time progresses in your marriage, you can begin a journey as a couple to out serve each other.  Make it almost like a fun competition.  If she prepared you for example a nice dinner, then do the dishes, clean the kitchen and rub her feet to show your appreciation for her work.  The result to that will be, that not only your wife will respect you and fall in love even more with you; she will be a submissive wife by instinct and God’s design.

This is what I saw for George and Diane.  George came into the relationship not being prepared to take that calling and take the household by the horns if you please.  Diane’s frustration grew and grew as she had to not only work full time but also do everything around the house and lead spiritually and in other circumstances like the financial aspect.  Her mistake was that she didn’t communicate this IN LOVE to George.  The only thing she knew to do was to put George down, tell George how in-efficient he was and how she had no respect for him.  By design, men need to feel respected.  His needs are not being met because HE had failed on meeting HER needs and she took on a job she was not designed to do. Does that make sense?

Most marriages could be solved and saved by two simple concepts.  Expressing and setting expectations for one another and by following God’s design for marriage in loving and respecting one another.  Diane was not designed to be the head of the household.  That is George’s job.  George was designed to love her unconditionally and serve her like Christ did for us.  The expectations that Diane had for her marriage were not met, which consequently caused for George to feel that she was the enemy.  Both of them share an equal amount of responsibility and accountability for being unfaithful to one another.

Simple rules to follow for a happy marriage:
1. Arguments.  In an argument, do not raise your voice at each other.  Be respectful and civil.

2. Cómo se dice?  Do not use the words “never” or “always” during an argument.  These words are definitive words that are simply not true.  Using a sentence like “you never do this” or “you always do that” will never help the situation at all and will always bring more trouble (see what I did there).  J

3. Anger management.  If you are upset at each other, give yourselves some distance.  One of you go out for a walk and pray while the other one stays home and prays.  Once both of you are calm, come back and pray together before discussing what frustrated the two of you.  Follow rules one and two while discussing.

4. God and you.  Make God the center of your life and marriage.  This is by far the most important of all of them.  You must have a close relationship with God individually so you can put Him in the center of your marriage.  This is the key to a successful marriage.  Remember that you will be answering to God alone and not with your spouse next to you defending you.  Once the two of you have that relationship with your Father in Heaven down, then having a Christ centered marriage falls into place.  Why?  Simple.  Because the closer you get to God and the closer you are to His commandments and ways, the closer you show Christ in your life.  The more you show in your life that He is the center and your all, everything else comes with it in a beautiful package.

5. Priorities.  Set your priorities in life.  Your priorities in life should be the following:
God
Your spouse & children if you have them
Your family
Your friends
Work

If you put work first or second, trouble will follow you.  I guarantee it.  Remember that doing a good job for your employer is honoring God (by respecting your co-workers and bosses) and also following the rules set before you at your place of employment.  I don’t care if you are the president of the company or the person cleaning the toilets.  Do your job as if you were working under God’s payroll.  That is not only honoring to God but gives and incredible witness to those around you.  With this said, a job is a mean to have a paycheck to support your family and put food and a roof over your head; but it is not the most important thing in your life.  If it is, please prayerfully consider the priority list above and see if that makes more sense for you in your life.

6. Set expectations.  Statistically speaking, most relationships if not all are broken by expectations that are not met.  Be clear with your spouse of what you intended to do and how you intend to do it.  If you are running late, call or text and let them know you are running late.  If you see that you are not going to be able to meet an expectation, voice that concern so you can revise the expectation and timing of it.

7. Set a date night.  This is difficult for most couples, especially those with children.  With that said, date night is still very important.  This doesn’t mean you have to leave the house.  If you, for example decide that date night is on Wednesday, then after you put the kids to sleep, pick a movie or show to watch, make some popcorn and spend time with each other.  Dim the lights and sit there loving each other’s company.

8. Respect one another.  If you do not show respect to your spouse, you will not be able to earn their respect.  This is true with pretty much every human being I know.  Respect and admiration are earned.  Work hard for your spouse to respect you and admire you not by being fancy, but by leading by example and how you carry yourself and how you react to issues that may arise.

9. Encourage one another.  Don’t take your spouse for granted.  If your spouse cooks you dinner or cleans the toilet, a sincere thank you always comes with a smile.  Let your spouse know you admire them and you appreciate what they do for you.  Be thankful for the blessing your spouse is in your life.  I know that for me, after Salvation the greatest gift God has given me is my wife.

10. Forgive and ask for forgiveness.  What’s easier?  To win the argument or to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me”.  It takes a lot more effort and energy for you to argue the same point and try to win that argument than to let the little things go and just give in.  A sincere apology goes a long way.

While I know that I don’t have all the answers, this has been a topic I have been wanting to write about because it has been very close to my heart recently and I wanted to put in my two cents of the little knowledge I have received by observing other couples, studying the Bible in regards to marriage and finally practicing these steps and seeing positive results.

Remember that no matter how old you are or how long you have been married, you can always change if you allow God to change you.  The saying “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks” is a bunch of crap (excuse my French there).  God can re-invent you at any point of your life no matter how old you are.  If you truly surrender your life and circumstances to God Almighty, He will be faithful to begin or finish the work He started in you.

I am living proof of this.  Know that you will make mistakes and these steps are hard to follow.  Why do I say that?  Because I am learning and trying to live this way as I write this….

Cheers,

EB

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Is spiritual training important?

1 Timothy 4:8
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

When anyone signs up for the military, they begin with basic training.  During that training time, they not only show you how to fight, but more importantly, how to act during a battle and how to apply all that training in the battle field.  The same applies to Christians.

For years I have considered myself a Christian.  Since a very early age, I was taught by my parents, teachers of the church, priests, etc. that Jesus Christ was my Lord and Savior.

While I believe in my heart of hearts that, like Paul said “I am the chief of sinners”, I believe now in my thirties that God does love me and that Jesus did go to that cross to die for my sins.

Interestingly enough, my “faith boot camp” started when I joined a Christian band and sang with them for three years.  I got to travel extensively around the world and we brought hope to those who needed hope.  We brought them the good news of the Gospel to the most remote parts of the world using music as a tool.  What I didn’t know then, is that the spiritual training I was going through was to prepare me for battle.

While I said to myself that my writings would not be very deep in my personal life, I felt the need in my heart to share this.

I want to set the stage for this blog, so you, the reader, can get an insight into the whole story.  In February of 1999, a 700 pound box accidentally fell on my back in a remote village in the country of Paraguay, destroying three disks on my lower back.  We still had three more countries to tour during that time.  The physical pain I was in was very intense but I decided that taking the Gospel into South America was more important than my physical pain.

God gave me a tremendous gift by allowing me to meet and court who was to be my wife.  We have been together for over 12 years now.

Married life started normal.  We would do the walking holding hands and watch the movies together, etc.    That June afternoon, we took our vows (for richer or poor, in sickness and in health…).  We didn’t know then what was to come 10 years down the road.

My job situation (since I don’t have a college degree) started to look up and today, by God’s great mercy and grace we have great paying jobs.  I have been able to make a career in the information technology industry and my wife is a very accomplished teacher.

During these first years, we would continue the training and “spiritual boot camp”.  We moved from California to Texas to be closer to family.  We found terrific jobs here and bought our first home and everything looked great.  We were able to preach God’s love and His Gospel with little effort.

In November of 2010, I was diagnosed with a rare condition that required a surgery.  The surgery recovery time came and went.  I had regular doctor’s visits every week to check on the progress.  By October of 2011, the incision had not healed and I was taken back to the operating room once more to fix the issue.  January of 2012 came and while I was walking out of the bathroom into our bedroom, I lost all feeling on both my legs and I went down like a massive tree being cut.  My wife, sister-in-law and mother-in-law were there within seconds.  I could not get up.  That day, my back started to hurt like never before (the injury from 1999 came back to haunt me), and I was barely walking.

Within two months of the fall, I saw a neurologist that ordered an MRI.  The results were simply astonishing.  After a CAT scan and an Angiogram, they determined that 100% of my spinal canal was blocked.  My legs were in very bad shape and my whole body was simply in agonizing pain.  Somehow I was still walking.  Doctor’s said to me “this is anatomically impossible for you to be walking and not have extensive nerve damage”.  I knew why it was possible.

I went to see my surgeon from the previous two surgeries that were not related to my back injury and he gave me good news that day.  My incision from the original and second operation he performed was finally healed.  He was also able to point me to a fantastic neurosurgeon here in Dallas/Fort Worth to look at my case.  We went to see him that same week (on a Thursday late afternoon) and I was in the operating room having my back operated on the very next day.

The surgery was successful.  The same night/very early morning I was already walking.  I was walking with tremendous amounts of pain but I was walking.  Both legs were 100% numb but I could put one foot in front of the other with effort.  24 hours after the surgery, I was home resting.

Little did I know, that the training I had been going through for years, was to be applied in a matter of days, starting in 2012.

It is very easy for Christians to speak positively about the Lord and our belief system when things are going our way.  It is a whole other “ball of wax” when life becomes a dark valley, full of shadows were you cannot see your hand at close range.  This is when I learned how important is to train as a Christian.

While these past three years have been very difficult for me, lately I have been able to get closer to God and also give Him thanks under all circumstances.  The training received, was put to test in the spiritual battle field I have been going through.  Our marriage vows have become a very real thing, because my wife has been there for me the entire time of illness.

Sometimes during hard times (and I not out of the valley yet), we have to choose to use our training by pulling out the instruction manual (the Bible) and also choose to speak in faith.  During this time, I have been able to feel God’s presence in my life, my wife’s life and our marriage.  God has shown up and because I have chosen to give Him all glory and honor during the dark time of my life, He has been faithful to provide for everything we have needed and also He has given us peace that passes all understanding.

The battle is real.  The war has already been won by Jesus when he conquered death during his resurrection.  The problem is that a lot of Christians don’t get that the enemy is still around, with full knowledge that the war has been won, attacking and creating spiritual battles to cause confusion, kill, steal and destroy.  The enemy is a liar!

The rate of divorce in Christian homes is on the rise.  The radical belief system of many Christians has changed to allow things like abortion to be OK.  While my intention is not to begin a battle of words regarding the very sensitive topic of abortion, I feel it is important for all Christians out there to realize and open their eyes to what reality is.  Satan will be chained and tortured for eternity in hell once Jesus comes back.  His plan is to bring as many souls down with him.  Misery loves company and He knows that he can create damage by breaking up the church into pieces.  Think about it!  How many Christian denominations are out there?  We have Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Methodist, etc.  I hear the fighting between these denominations on how one doesn’t believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the other one says that Catholics worship saints and Mary (they don’t by the way).  It is crazy!  The Gospel is very simple; Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again.

Going back to the topic here.  Are you ready for battle?  Have you trained enough to be able to fight that battle in your life?  If the answer is no, then I recommend from personal experience to get to boot camp as soon as possible.  Without it, you may lose the battle and ultimately the war by not getting to spend eternity with God.

I am so thankful for those who invested in my life and Christian walk, and trained me to be able to say during this dark time “God is all I need” and “I surrender all to Jesus”.  If I had not been trained, I probably would have given up a long time ago and depression would be deep.  Instead, I have been able to find joy during this time and speaking what I believe to be true, that God will never leave me or forsake me and that He loves me beyond what I can understand.

Take courage!  It’s never too late to start training!  Get into God’s word, pray daily and thank Him for all His blessings in your life.  Count and write them down if needed.  Talk to Him like if you were sitting at a Starbucks, with an open heart.

I am so happy because I know, no matter what happens in my life, that God is holding me in His loving arms and that He is waiting at the end of the refiner’s fire to put me in cool water and heal all wounds.

Things I have learned during this time:
-Forgiveness.  How many times a day do you beat yourself up over the past?  Know that God forgives you and He remembers your sin no more.  Forgive yourself.  Also, forgive those who do wrong to you and if you have wronged someone, ask for forgiveness and humble yourself.

-Trust.  My entire life I have had a plan.  I have always known what to do in what circumstance and how to fix it.  Now that things are out of my control and only God can do it, I have learned to surrender, trust and let go.  Why in the world would I want to carry a burden that God is saying “let me have it”?  It is like having a credit card to the max with a debt of $15,000 and an APR of 14% and someone coming to you and say “I will pay this off for you” and your answer is “no, I got this”.

-Faith.  I have seen that my faith correlates with hard times.  Like I said before, it is easy to walk the walk during easy times.  Not as easy when the road is rough.  Get out of your shell and put your faith into actions by speaking truth, by loving and praising God under all circumstances.

I thank God that He knew what I needed before I knew I needed it.  I thank God that He has been here to this very second as I type this.  Is my trial over?  No.  But one thing I do know, that learning the hard way on how to love God and do what He asks of you is the best way to get closer to Him.

Get your gear out and train.  I promise you that God will show up and honor what you are doing.  Tell people about your trials and show them that you are more than talk.  Show them that you walk the walk and that you are able to be at peace during the storm.  Also, remember that it could be a lot worse and that your circumstances, even when they are valid, are not as bad as someone else.  Learn to forgive yourself and forgive others.  Acknowledge that Christ is your way to Salvation and ask God to shine and put His entire armor on you.

So the question was “is spiritual training important”.  The simple answer is…yes.

E

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When the earth moves…

 

Yesterday, September 5, 2012, my home country of Costa Rica (for those of you who do not know where Costa Rica is, see picture below).

The earthquake was a whopping 7.6 in the Richter scale.

This type of earthquake is the ones that you hear in the news and the reports come in about hundreds or thousands of people dead or dying, trapped under a highway or buried alive.

As the situation unfolded, I was looking at the reports as they came in via the main newspaper in Costa Rica La Nación (www.nacion.com).  It was just amazing to me to see the first pictures of the earthquake and its devastation.  The incredible thing is that not ONE person perished during this event.  Costa Rica is simply blessed with a lot of things like no army, peace, a democracy that will rival every country in the world, gorgeous beaches and rain-forest and yes, solid structures and fast preparedness for earthquakes.

On April 22, 1991, Costa Rica had an earthquake that will be with me for the rest of my life.  It was a gorgeous afternoon outside.  I was thirteen years old.

My sister and I sat on the kitchen table.  She was helping me do homework and I was trying to rush so I could go play soccer with my friends.

When the clock marked 3:57 p.m., we began to feel a tremor.  I always enjoyed these because my sister back then was terrified of them.  Three seconds later, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake began.  For the 45 seconds that it shocked the nation, I have very vivid memories of going outside of the house to the backyard to be in a safe place with my mom, sister and dogs.  I looked up to the sky and I could see the sky changing colors.  My dogs were terrified and I was holding on to them.  I honestly thought the end of the world had come.  We immediately lost all power, running water and phones.  Later on I learned that is a safety system the government has that will shut these services down during the event to prevent fires and broken pipes all over the place.

I went back into the house to get my radio to start listening to the news coming in.  As I looked around the house, I could see the things that had fallen, but I was very aware that those were not important…we were alive.  My concern then turned to my dad and my brother who were not home and we had no way to get a hold of them (what did we do before cell phones)?

For the sake of safety, we stayed outside as the sun was saying goodbye to us and darkness came.  Flash lights and candles in hand, we went back inside to pick up the things that had fallen when an aftershock surprised us and we ran again outside not knowing is this was going to be another big one.

My dad showed up about 45 minutes later and my brother about 3 hours late.  He was in downtown San José in the 4th floor of the Supreme Court building and it took him that long to get on a bus and get home due to the amount of traffic.

The devastation was vast in the epicenter in the province of Limón.  Forty eight lives were claimed in Costa Rica and 75 in our brother country of Panama.  The force of nature had bent the railroads tracks in “S” shapes.  The main road to get to them was shut down.  All night long what I heard as I tried to sleep with aftershocks was helicopters that the United States Armed Forces had sent over from the Panama Canal area and from the Panamanian’s as well as they united in one to help my country.

Today, I look back at this story and I think of those who perished.  I think of those who lost everything and had to start all over again.  I think of the panic of that day and I simply give thanks to God for protecting so many millions of people from death.

At the same time, I think of those who lost everything yesterday.  When disaster happens, humans have a way of rising up and helping one another.  I think that is the very primitive instinct of survival that is embedded deep inside all of us humans.  If you are reading this and you think that you may be able to help, here is a website that will give allow you to contribute money to help Costa Rica rise back to normal and re-build those schools, roads, homes and lives. 

You will see on their page that they are still collecting money for the people in Japan.  Now it’s the time to help them.

To donate, go to http://www.cruzroja.or.cr.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you can contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) and ask how you can donate money for Costa Rica’s earthquake.

Even if it’s one dollar that you can give, that’s OK.  Everything helps right now.

E

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Stupidity and ignorance, are they the same?

Today has been a good day. 4 weeks ago today, at this hour I was in the operating room getting back surgery done. Today I am walking already 1/2 a mile virtually every day. I weighed myself also and I have lost a total of 40 pounds since last year.

The only bad thing of the day is that I had to be face to face with a very ignorant person. First thing I hear out of her mouth is “aren’t you a …

Christian”? RIGHT THERE I should have known not to open my mouth but I guess I am not that smart. I was listening to “Pride” from U2 and she said that I was listening to “satan worshipers”. I decided to let that one go. Then we were talking about Rich Mullins (my favorite Christian artist) and I said “the day Rich died was the day before he was going to convert to Catholicism”. She says: “Wow! The Lord saved him from hell!” I, once again should have kept my mouth shut but I had to open it and said “I am a Catholic”. That is when I boarded the stupidity train bound for the land of ignorance. The things this woman said to me about the Catholic Church and Catholics simply stunned me. She actually said that “the Catholic Church worships a false Jesus” and proceeded to preach to me and hammer my salvation. I looked at the other person, wondering if my ears were bleeding and asked her if she needed me there anymore, and I very politely said goodbye and left. I realized that I didn’t have the energy to try to correct her because it is impossible to correct stupid people. Once you are stupid, you remain stupid and there is nothing I can do for you. It’s like taking someone to the emergency room and they are missing their brain and heart…nothing to do there.

I believe people like this woman are the reason there are atheists in the world. People like her make non-believers run for their life because; how in the world are you going to receive the good news of a loving God and His Risen Son when you are told basically that over a billion people are going to hell?

All I can say is…WOW! But cool stuff about me feeling better yeah?

E

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