Current Child Count

  • HOGAR DE AMOR I: 11 babies
  • HOGAR DE AMOR II: 6 boys
  • HOGAR DE AMOR III: 8 girls

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Special Dates

Jake arrived to Cochabamba on Friday, July 27, with mounds of luggage and his cat Rusty. No bike yet—it finally followed eight days later.
In the weeks leading up to his arrival, I had gone through different options of where he could live. Finally one Monday morning after a weekend of no results, I shared about my search with the office staff and they declared “He should just live at Casa 2”. Huh? Go from living in a cabin in the woods with no neighbors for a mile, to a house on the outskirts of a big city with 15 young children and 2 dogs?? Well. He said he wanted to visit the homes a lot and get to know the kids. This could either be really good, or really bad!
Jake’s response to my tentative inquiry was so positive it made my heart smile. We began moving things around to give him the upstairs room and office area. It was so much fun to set up! Some of the boys helped me put together the rods for his clothes and decorate with some boats and picture frames (complete with pictures) from one of the jails I regularly enter. And… It turned out to be amazing! In just a matter of days some of the kids were consistently calling Jake “papi”, and Jake wrote an article for our last newsletter talking more about his relationship with the kids. (The Father’s Love, Fall 2012)
We continued to get to know each other at every opportunity. On a holiday shortly after Jake got here, we loaded up the 13 kids of CDA II and headed to the lake. By day’s end, we sent the kids, staff, and volunteers home in our CDA bus, while we stayed back (a first for me on a big CDA outing!). We watched the sunset over the lake then had dinner, all the while talking and asking each other questions. Jake asked me where I’d want to get married if, you know, some guy came along: Texas, Tennessee, or Bolivia. I didn’t have a ready answer, but did spend some time after considering one!
Another evening we stayed with kids of CDA II while the house parents went to a marriage seminar at church. After the six kids were in bed, we talked more about Jake’s journey to this point. The beginning could be traced back to the Creation Conference in Washington and God leading him to sponsor his first child through Compassion International. When he said it was eight years back, I asked him for a month and day. After a little bit of calculating, we realized it was probably the weekend right after I moved to Bolivia—the same July 2004! Wow. To think that God set us both on the path that led to us meeting, on the very same week, eight years back…
Between July and September, four of our kids at CDA II turned 9 years old. We started taking them out for birthday dinners. One night Jake was chuckling to himself as he got back into the driver’s seat of my car with a load full of kids in the back and a two year old in front with me. What’s so funny? I asked. “We haven’t even kissed yet and we have a car FULL of kids. It’s like the ‘just add water’ family!” That became our joke when we we’re out with a lot of kids or babies: “Just add water…!” 
Even though things were going very well with us, Jake had his work cut out for him in other areas. He struggled with constant viruses from his students, figuring out how to maneuver (or not) on blockade days, communicating in Spanish, finding the right balance at the Casa de Amor homes of being the fun amigo or really a “tio” (uncle), and most of all, the challenging behaviors and lack of interest in his 90+ students at school.  Moving to a foreign country is hard. Being a teacher is hard. Learning to teach full time for the first time and in a foreign country is most definitely hard!
Finally on September 5, he thought he’d had enough and shared with me that he was pretty sure that in October, he’d go back to sea for a few months. Then he’d come back to Bolivia and live off his substantial earnings.
This was an upsetting new change of plans, even more than I could have foreseen. Although he assures me this declaration was not meant as a test, it turned out to be a good one. Within 24 hours he realized how shaken I was over his decision and committed to stick it out at Calvert, no matter how much it varied from his expectations of a rewarding experience.
On Friday, September 7 we had our first counseling session with Pastor Joe Holman of our church, Cochabamba International Church. We went in calling it “pre-engagement” counseling, but Joe quickly set us straight by asking “So…does that mean you want dating advice??” Jake clarified that we were on the path to marriage but that he hadn’t asked my Dad for my hand yet, and there was no ring just yet. Of all the people in the world that we could learn from about marriage, I would choose Joe and Denise Holman. We have known the Holmans and their (now 11) children since they moved to Bolivia in 2007 a couple months after my family, and anyone who knows them would agree they have much wisdom in the area of marriage and family.
In addition, we dug around for anything that could support our goal of getting to know each other better. I found a 22 page “pre-marriage inventory” and we began going through those questions every Sunday. Sometimes we’d only get through 3 or 4 questions, and sometimes we’d get through nearly two sections, depending on how many rabbit trails we took. (The rabbit trails were great!)
Another good time for deep conversation was as we ate the dinners I prepared every weekend. His answers often blew me away, and vice versa. We were discovering that we clearly seemed made for each other! To give just one example, one evening I took a deep breath and finally asked, “So, how would you like your kids to be educated?” He apologized afterwards for the long-winded answer, but I clung to every word and was speechless by the end. I couldn’t have worded my own beliefs more perfectly myself! It was literally such a neat answer I wondered if someone could have told him my beliefs, but who? Only God could orchestrate something like this. 
And speaking of kids, his desire for a large family, including adoption of older kids, seemed absolutely too good to be true! But it was obviously part of who he was, no show put on for me, or to give the “right answer”.
Then at dusk on September 25, we were heading to the Cancha (huge outdoor market) for some purchases and stopped mid-sentence to see two police trucks in a row turn and zoom up the hill to the Coronilla, my main street group. As I wondered aloud if something had happened or if the police were heading up to cause trouble, Jake understandingly did a u-turn. The police detoured but we were already heading up to a beautiful vantage point of the city. As I mentioned it was one of my favorite views ever AND the best time of day to be there, we both grew quiet. When Jake spoke up again, his words caused me to call this his “first proposal”. As I enjoyed the cool evening breeze and the breathtaking view and the muffled sounds of the kids talking in their makeshift shelter a short way down the hill, Jake said something to the effect of “Well, now is as good a time as any, here looking over the city. I don’t know how to do this or ask this without giving it away, and you’ve been no help at all, so…. I want you to start thinking about what kind of engagement ring you’d like, because I plan on giving you one.
I can’t quite recall my reaction because the world seemed to stop on its axle. Friends have asked since if it was a total surprise. I can’t say it was, and yet it WAS! Here was the confirmation I’d been waiting for all year…all my life! I wasn’t going to end up an old maid, after all. Could it really be?! The truth was sinking in slowly, but ever so sweetly. And to a guy like JAKE? He is approximately 100 times better than I ever could have imagined.
We didn’t waste time in “just happening” to pop in to some jewelry stores. That weekend we learned that there are not a lot of real diamonds in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and no one was familiar with platinum. Jake insisted that the metal of my ring last forever, same as our marriage. Then at last, we came across a jeweler with a beautiful model that could be recreated both with diamonds AND platinum.
On Friday, October 5, Jake drove me up to “El Cristo”, a famous statue of Christ that overlooks our city from a high hill. It was dusk, our favorite time for enjoying Cochabamba’s majestic mountains. We sat on a big rock and shared our hearts with each other. After Jake knelt and slipped the ring on my finger and I said YES, two guys on a perch a bit above and behind us started cheering! Then we drove back down to the city and went to a volunteer dinner at Elena’s house.
One of the most interesting parts of being officially engaged, even when everyone assumed we were heading that way, are the reactions! The older kids are practically beside themselves with joy - I never knew our girls were so romantic at heart - and the staff has come around, too. No one wanted to lose Jake’s presence at CDA II, and I’ve had many a chat with staff at the Baby Home about how odd it will be to live elsewhere after eight years on the premises. Everyone asks if we can't just move into one of the homes together.
After a bit of deliberation, we decided to celebrate our wedding right here in Cochabamba on Friday, November 30, also Jake’s parent’s wedding anniversary. (October 6 is my parent’s wedding anniversary, almost the day of the proposal.) It’s a joy to be able to honor them in this way as they will not be able to come due to his father’s health.
Then, on January 5, we will have a US wedding in Boca Raton, Florida, where all of Jake’s immediate family, other family members, and several friends will be able to travel and join in witnessing our wedding. Of all the people to have two weddings, I never ever dreamed of that for myself! But then, I never dreamed I’d be so blessed as to be loved by someone like Jake!
Jake will continue to teach at Calvert, quite obviously his mission field, on his two year contract. I will still be the director of Casa de Amor – only now commuting to work instead of walking up one flight of stairs. Jake insists on visiting CDA II, his first home in Bolivia, as much as possible to fellowship with the kids. We will remain in contact with the street community and jails but on a modified schedule.
It is a dream come true for God to bring such a Godly man to me here in Bolivia, who wants to live in Bolivia and love all of my kids, big and small, alongside me. If anything, these ministries will only be blessed by our union. :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Whatcha Doin' in July?

On Jake’s final day in Cochabamba, he was practically offered a job—a real, paying one! In a third world country, at that!

Not knowing what to expect, we had visited Cochabamba’s Calvert Cooperative School (one of a handful of English private schools in our area) to see if there were any job openings. You know, as if it were a perfectly normal thing to quit your job, pack up, and move to a new job in a foreign country after your very first visit! To the surprise of both of us, they were very positive and invited Jake back for a more official interview.

So that’s how on the morning of Day 6 of his first Cochabamba trip, we found ourselves seated in the office of Calvert’s director as she went over his resume (which he just happened to bring on his South America trip) and listened to more details of what job teaching at Calvert would entail. I was impressed with all the expenses they cover (moving stipend, plane tickets, visa), the salary, and the health insurance coverage. Nice! I don’t even currently know a foreigner in Bolivia who has a PAYING job! How cool is that?

We walked out in kind of a daze. Jake now had to think about quitting a job he loved at the hospital in Washington, board up and leave his beloved cabin in the woods, and move his life thousands of miles south by early August.

I was trying to reign in my thoughts to not think too far down the road. By this point, I had secretely been hoping and praying for some sign of a possible step forward before Jake left. It was incredible to think that he would now be moving to my very city! This could be my greatest dream EVER coming true!!

Unbeknownst to me, Jake had been wrestling with the idea of asking me about the future, and during a chat with God reached a peace to just ask. So I had no sooner driven out of the gate of the school than Jake said he had a question for me. He reminded me of where our conversation had stopped abruptly the night before as we parted. Sensing that this was the moment, I was struggling to stay concentrated on the road! He asked slowly and deliberately, “When I’m back, and living here, how would you feel if we…kept spending time together?” As the question hung in the air, I took a deep breath and said “I think that would be…great!” And the now-famous hamburger exchange immediately followed:

Jake: I eat hamburgers, you know…
Me: I can learn to make hamburgers.
Jake: And I can learn to eat tofu.
Me: I don’t really like tofu, that’s okay!

I could tell that this information seemed to go over well, but only recently learned that Jake found it promising news indeed. He says it showed a responsiveness to him and a willingness to follow his lead. My respect for his preference led him to envision a future for us.

Jake traveled again that night—to La Paz, to Peru, then back to Chelan, Washington, with more blockades causing plan changes. It was a long three days before I heard from him again. I wondered if the past six days were only a dream! But then we struck up our long distance conversations once more.  

On the morning of April 3, I came to a decision, a decision not particularly related to this new friendship. For a couple of months my family had frequently asked me to visit Tennessee in July. My 13 year sister Emma had even sent me a postcard all the way to Bolivia, with a handwritten appeal for me to come. I had staunchly resisted any ideas of a trip, as I had just been there in August the year before. But when I got wind that Emma was not going to be sent to visit me all year (they were withholding her from me!), I recalled the 1 ½ year period not so far back when she had not come and I had not gone, and how awful that was, and I changed my tune. That morning I felt God whisper to my heart that it was just the right thing to do, to go see my family again this year even though it was “their turn” to visit me in Bolivia.

At noon on the very same day I was enjoying a long email from Jake, when I got to the bottom and my eyes suddenly widened and my heart skipped a beat and I probably gasped audibly to read, right before his sign off, “Whatcha doin' in July?” Trying to stay calm, I immediately wrote my family, demanding to know why he asked that, and if anyone had said anything about wanting me to go?! (It had only been a few hours since my change of heart—no one knew yet!)

I replied that I was thinking of going to TN for the 4th of July, which also happens to be my sister Heather’s birthday and a great time to be with the family. He replied back on April 6, describing his plans for his time leading up to moving to Bolivia: “…THAT being said, how bold can I be? Would it be okay if I was around to visit you for the 4th of July and Heather's birthday? 2nd to 6th (ish)? Texas or Tennessee? :-)”

It’s a good thing I was alone. I actually wept for joy! Every single step forward in our relationship had been initiated by Jake, and every time at the exact point when I was looking for one. If he was happy that I could defer to him on matters of food preference, I was entirely overjoyed at his clear, consistent leadership.

Of course I had wondered how and when and where Jake might meet my family and vice versa, but I wasn’t going to pressure him to make such a big move, no matter how important it was to me. Now completely independent of me, he had figured out a time and place to meet my family before moving to Bolivia. My “dream come true” was only getting better!

And then… April hit. And May. For reasons still entirely beyond me, April and May were the most challenging, terrible months of my life, possibly ever. I was on attack from every front, with two legal cases against me and Casa de Amor at once. I defended my innocence with the help of good advisors and lawyers and very supportive staff, but it was a very draining, confusing period. There were also non-stop medical and legal issues with both my Casa de Amor kids and street and jail “big kids”. Everything just piled up at once in a way it never has. Jake asked if I attracted drama! Encouraging emails from him and my family were sometimes my only bright spot. I read and re-read the prayers he would type out for me, often using all scripture and adding my name to personalize it.

When I had spare moments during the exhausting race to keep up with everything and everyone, I read through and studied Jake’s former blog, and even those of his friend’s, endeavoring to better know and understand this person who had so quickly captured my attention. Relatively speaking, I still didn’t know him that well in spite of such consistent communication, but I never doubted moving forward. God’s peace is beyond human understanding!

On May 11, after nearly two months of uncertainty, Jake was finally officially offered a job teaching High School Science at Calvert...and he wrote me with the news first. :) 

On May 24, on what I expected to be a very low-key day, I actually had the most beautiful birthday day ever! Staff strung banners decorated by the children throughout our house, my door, and my desk. The street kids bought a huge cake and confetti and we had a party. My office staff took me out for ice cream and gifts. CDA II surprised me with a cake. And even though he wasn’t here, Jake figured out how to add a very special spark to my day. He called me from Washington, sent an email with “30 verses for 30 years”, and arranged for 30 roses in my favorite color to be left on my desk. It was almost too much to take in, and after two such very hard months, too!

Early on Sunday, July 1, my parents and I drove to the Memphis airport to pick up Jake, who had flown all night from Washington. Once again, we had six memorable days together. This time we were both travelers though, and this time we toured Memphis. This time back was different in two ways: my shortest visit ever (14 days including 3 of travel), and the first time my family halted their normal work and activities as much as possible to take off and just be with us. And then, well, of course, I’d never had a “special visitor” like this when back, either.

As I look back at the little list I kept of what we did every day, I see that we ate a lot. We also stayed up late more than once, talking and talking with Jake. I learned a lot more about him, and it was great fun to look at some of the pictures he had on his laptop of past jobs and trips, enjoying his lively commentary along with my family. My sweet family really rolled out the red carpet as we visited museums and bookstores and firework shows and ate entirely too many cookies and pretzels from my their Great American Cookie stores…all while trying to keep cool in the vicious southern summer heat. One evening we had dinner with the Whisenants, some of our first and most faithful Casa de Amor supporters as they passed through from Texas. They were very pleased to meet Jake, wondering if he’s the man they’ve been praying for so many years now.

It was all very much like a vacation, and I was so grateful for the opportunity for my family to meet Jake and to get to know him better. And happily, I trust that he’s being honest when he says he liked being with them, too. He had been warned that one “marries the mother”, so he had his own motives for the visit, ha! 

As for my family, it was unanimous approval. My Dad gave his highest praise, declaring, "Well, his head is screwed on straight."

Then Jake flew back to Washington, and the next morning I flew back to Bolivia. We both had a lot to do before living in the same country for the first time, and that was just around the corner—3 weeks away, to be exact!

Some of what I share here overlaps on Jake’s blog. Read his story about the street kids and getting the Calvert job here:

Mud Island, July 4, 2012
Exploring the Mississippi River with my family

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Week That Changed Everything

In the days leading up to Jake’s arrival in mid-March, I pondered on life as it was, and on how quickly that life could change.
Jake called from Potosi (another city in Bolivia) on March 13 to say he had a bus ticket to Cochabamba and would be here early the next morning. Later I found out that when I answered the phone he wondered why I sounded out of breath, as if I was flustered because it was him calling. I could indeed tell the number was from outside Cochabamba, and although I was just at my desk working, he was right about the flustered part! This was the first time he had called and his comment attests to the fact that I didn’t quite pull off sounding “normal”!

That night at 1am, I was still doing first aid on a line of street kids in the Coronilla. I was sleepy, recalled that my car was on gas fumes, and that within 6 hours Jake would be arriving to our bus station—clearly visible and just down the hill from this street group. So….. I stayed! Everyone was SO excited. A little too much maybe, as very little sleeping was done. A wind and rain struck up, and there were fights, and visitors from other groups, and lots of chatting with the three girls I shared a tiny mattress with on top of rocks. I might have dozed from 5 till 6am.

Early in the morning, just as I wondered where Jake might be, he called. Assuming he had arrived the bus station a stone’s throw from us, it was with a strange mixture of disappoint and relief I heard him say that he was still outside the city, wondering where exactly, and if he should get off and start walking with the other bus passengers. Blockades again! (Read Jake’s blog post for the whole story of his adventure getting to Cochabamba.)

I finally went home and tried to stay focused on what else I needed to do that day. Jake, however, had quite the trek ahead of him. He had no choice but to hike and hitchhike the last 30 miles of the trip due to one of our infamous Bolivian blockades.

(My Mom’s first comment: “Oh, how ROMANTIC!!” My first thought: “Well, if this doesn’t run him off, we have a chance!”)

After several calls throughout the morning, a bit after 1pm he announced that he was in the city! I admit I thought it was pretty great that he had arrived to a seedy area in the south part of town, definitely street kid territory.  What a place to meet!

On the way there, my favorite Hillsongs United CD refused to play in my not-so-great CD player. Instead I discovered a WOW Hits CD I hadn’t listened to in a long time. By the time I pulled up to the airplane rotunda in the south of town, the second song was playing and making the moment feel even more auspicious: “There Will Be a Day”. As if I needed to be more nervous! My Mom had written me, “Can’t wait for you two to meet – hope there are fireworks visible in the whole southern hemisphere :)” Yeah, no pressure!! Then we’d barely said hi and he was thrusting flowers into my hands. I think I was repeating to myself, “Don’t faint, stay calm, don't faint…”

Within minutes of getting in the car, Jake was telling a story that sent chills up my spine and made me realize again how much God appeared to be right in the middle of this unfolding story. A pastor had accompanied Jake, providing company and help with luggage even though it meant going out of his way to do so. The pastor ran into a friend upon arrival to the city and after they chatted a bit, the man on the bike turned to Jake and confidently stated, “God has a new work for you here in Cochabamba”. What a cool thing to be told!! (Similarly, on my first trip in August 2002, a Christian doctor gave me a note saying I would be part of blessing his people.) Could I be part of his new work in Cochabamba, or could it be that Jake would be part of mine?! My mind was spinning!

In another strange (God ordained?) twist of events, Jake’s Compassion child’s birthday was wrong in the system. Jake got all the way to Potosi, Bolivia, only to find out that his little guy’s birthday was MAY 12, not MARCH 12.

Before taking Jake to New Tribe Mission’s guesthouse, we went to eat. That’s how within our first hour of meeting, Jake listened to my order and asked if I’m vegetarian. Something in his tone made me add that I’m not the sort of annoying vegetarian that judges others. This theme would come up a few days later in our most memorable conversation of the week.

The six days that Jake was here were packed! I pushed office work to the side as I showed him around my adopted city and took care of things on his list, too. We visited Compassion International’s beautiful Cochabamba offices, ate dinner with Brandon’s new adoptive family from Italy, had a newsletter stuffing night with all the CDA volunteers, enjoyed a dinner of zomerstamppot” made by our Dutch volunteer Iris, a street food dinner with all the Baby Home staff, visited a men's and women's jail, dealt with a tire blow-out on the way to hike a mountain (which then didn’t happen, but lots of laughs with the volunteers on the side of the road did!), and went to Cochabamba International Church.

Every evening and some days too, there were visits to my “wild kids”—those who live on the street. You could call that the real test of fire! I have taken several people to the street with me by this point, so have seen all different reactions. It’s really where the rubber hits the road as far as showing love to those who can be, well, hard to love. I so appreciate and enjoy going with those who take a genuine interest in my group, showing respect and kindness and doing their best to communicate—even when it’s a challenge with those who are high and/or drunk.

Jake witnessed fist fights and anti-riot police trouble and nasty first aid and super tight car rides and twisting his ankle playing soccer and even fights where knives were pulled, and he was calm and a help through it all. Let’s just say that if it were a test, he passed with flying colors! EVEN with food that had chicken feet in it, prepared under very questionable hygienic circumstances. I wrote my family that night “Who else would eat soup with me in the Coronilla??? If that’s not a test, I don’t know what is. And he loved it and was given seconds, which he also lapped up, all eyes on him.”
Absolutely everywhere we went, it was assumed we were married or fast on the way to being so. I had never experienced anything like it—doubt that Jake has, either! The childcare staff had barely met him the first evening and was stage whispering to me “Is he married? What do you think? Is HE the father of our kids??” I shrugged my shoulders and pointed out I didn’t even know his age yet! When he admitted he was a bit afraid of babies, of course my kind, understanding staff thrust a baby into his arms. Baby Alex fell asleep contentedly, giving Jake the tia’s stamp of approval.

The street kids were just certain my imminent marriage was now a done deal, never mind that I’d only just met him. The very first night, barely seven hours after Jake had arrived, I was both amused and embarrassed to hear them use EVERY single word that has anything to do with boyfriend, fiancĂ©, or husband, in both regular Spanish and street slang. Even more entertaining was when Jake joined in the fun and bellowed in Spanish, when no one else could hear me over the din, “My novia [fiancĂ©/bride] says to give Cesar a seat back there!” And when they noticed the flowers (how did I forget to take them out of the car?!), that was the end of it!!

Before the end of his first night on the street, the kids were promising everything from extravagant wedding gifts to building us a shack on the Coronilla right next to theirs. Imagine that!

We went to a men’s jail and Jake was promptly asked “When is the wedding?”

Volunteers peppered Jake with questions, and kept asking if he couldn't just...stay?  
I also laughed harder than I had in a really long time. There was one particularly fun afternoon when we accompanied one of my street friends to visit her baby and family in a run down part of town. I felt like we were the neighborhood freak show as Jake got into an exchange in Quechua with an impertinent little boy, and the local women came out to just stare at Jake, working up the courage to ask (giggling) if they could come with us. It was awesome! 

In between and all mixed in were lots of conversations that left me floored at Jake’s maturity, responsibility, and most of all, his heart for the fatherless and to be a good father himself someday—both to his own biological children, and others God might bring along his path. His actions showed it wasn’t just a bunch of words or empty talk: In Washington, he looked out for a widow and her four sons, and he’d even had a stint volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center! Then his commitment to his six sponsored Compassion kids was obvious. And in spite of getting thrown up on during prayer time by one of the babies we took to church, a first as he wryly informed me (with a sparkle in his eyes), he did very well with our little ones.

Neither one of us is especially young - I would turn 30 in May and ten days after that, he would turn 34 - so I appreciated that we had all sorts of comfortable, stimulating conversation on all different topics. I already knew from our email correspondence that Jake had worked at sea for ten years, rising to the rank of captain. Since I’ve never really known a sailor, that provided plenty of discussion as I learned about this whole other world….and that in fact, Jake has been all OVER the world! As another volunteer put it, his single years have been anything but boring, and just as interesting as mine in their own unique way.

In yet ANOTHER series of events that seemed to have God's fingerprints all over it, on Day 6 of 6 of this Cochabamba trip, a door was unexpectedly thrown open for Jake.

Now some questions would have to be asked, and some decisions made...

More soon in Part III!
For Part I of our story, click here.
March 16, 2012
Visiting "El Cristo", the statue that overlooks Cochabamba from a hill, with the Coronilla street kids.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Baby Boy for the Booher Family!

I was trying to get up a picture of our new baby before traveling but the server is rejecting the picture for some reason. There will be news soon though!

Meanwhile, pray for the Boohers, a new family serving with us in Bolivia, as they adjust to their first Bolivian baby. :)