Happy, Happy Holiday Season to you all!
It could be that we take a nice family picture and send it out as an official digital Christmas card to you all in coming weeks .... or it could be that a pretty picture and a card are just another good intention that gets swept aside. So just in case, let us say it now --
We Varasos hope with all our hearts that you are enjoying this time of year --
that Thanksgiving left you steeped in gratitude,
that this advent season has you looking forward in hope for the your Savior's arrival into your most broken places,
that the fresh start of a new year reminds you of how wonderful the promise is that His mercies are new each morning.
It has been several months since we've sent out an update, so there is a lot to share, both heavy & celebratory. You may have to read this in more than one sitting, so since I'll start with the most heavy, make sure you come back for the good news too!
It's interesting that an issue that has been pushed to the forefront in the news has been an issue that has also been a major factor in the lives of people we care for here. In recent month, it seems like people are taking notice and speaking more openly about domestic violence. It's not an easy topic to talk about, and it's rarely a simple situation with a straightforward solution when you encounter it in real life. Almost exactly a year ago, I spoke frankly about it with our neighbor Priscilla who has regularly been mistreated verbally and physically by the father of two of her children. The result of that conversation was a cold shoulder and several months of her not speaking to me.
As the weather turned warm, she also began to thaw. We held events & Bible club in our yard during the summer, and after some weeks of just sending her kids to hang out, she began to come around as well. She began to believe that she and her kids deserved better treatment, and although she still let her girls' father come around to see them, she broke off any romantic connection to him. This made him increasingly angry, suspicious and controlling. As her connection with him diminished, her connection to our family strengthened. She stopped me one day to say, "If you hear any fighting or anything coming from my house, please call 911." No more than a week later, early on a Sunday morning, Frank woke me up to tell me that the girls' father was in the house attacking Priscilla who was screaming for help. I stood on the front stoop in my pajamas while two other neighbors who had also heard and called 911 stood outside and helplessly listened. One of them lives all the way up at the opposite corner, and could hear her from in his house. Frank was getting his baseball bat from our van when the police finally pulled down the block. We all were frantically waiving our arms and pointing, screaming for the police to come to the right house, pleading, "There are kids in there!!" Thank God, there were not actually kids in there. The girls had gone to spend the night with a cousin. Their father had broken in a back window. He wasn't going to stop or open the door for the police officer until the officer smashed a window. Even then, as he opened the door he threatened Priscilla under his breath, "Don't you say anything." Even though I could step over and around the broken glass in the doorway to get to Priscilla, I still had to sit on more pieces of broken glass from the table he had broken. I hugged her and let her cry and bleed on my pajama shirt. "This is the last time." I told her. He is never going to do this to you again."
Even now as I recall the day, I feel sick and shaky. But I also feel relieved. Afterwards, she said she truly believes that he would have killed her if no one would have intervened. He faces several charges, but it's unclear whether she is following through with pressing charges. For the time being she is safe from him, although his family has given her a hard time and blamed her for him being locked up. In the wake of it all, she has made some really good decisions and continued to make some poor ones. She kicked someone out of the house who was pushing the limit towards being abusive towards her children. She started working and got her electric hookup fixed to where it is now legal. But then again she got drunk the other weekend and now has a broken wrist that needs surgery to put a screw in it, so she can't work for several weeks. Her life is messy, and even at her best, it's just hard work to love and care for her. Her best is so far beyond where her family of origin started her out. But, I'm not sure how things will go, how far her good decisions will take her and how much her poor decisions will knock her back. Above all, thank God with me that she is physically safe from this life-threatening relationship she was in, that He put us here at this time & place to show her grace and love. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to really reach deep places in her heart so that she could experience the kind of joy and wholeness that she has always been longing for, and that she would really grasp Jesus and let him hold on to her. Pray that we would be patient and wise as we care for her encourage her to pursue goodness/Goodness for herself and her kids. Sometimes we give without thinking and enable her. Sometimes we give to her and it costs our time in a way that's not good for our family. Sometimes we need to give and we feel bitter and taken advantage of or taken for granted. Pray that God is our source so that we always have what she and her girls need.
Priscilla is not the only young mother on our block who has had to file a restraining order and assault charges against her child's father in these past few months. We've asked you before to pray for our neighbor Kim who has been battling cancer, and has an ongoing battle with schizophrenia. Kim's daughter Cassie lives in her home, along with her 3 year old daughter Makayla. Cassie heeded wise words from other caring women who spoke about the problems and abuse in her relationship with Makayla's father. He had been living with them until the end of the summer when she told him he had to leave. He would still come over to see and babysit Makayla, especially when Kim had to go for her chemotherapy appointments. However, bad turned to worse this fall, and Makayla's father tried to choke Cassie in front of her mother & daughter. The police were called, an order of protection was filed and charges have been pressed.
I'm so proud of these young women who are able to stand up for themselves and their daughters in these ugly circumstances. Life after an abusive relationship isn't easy though. Abusive fathers leave a void, even if it's child care or food stamp money ... and what about the hearts of these girls who don't have a a loving, protective father in their lives? So pray for Kim and Cassie and Makayla too. Makayla has been coming to spend the day with us when Kim has chemo, and the preschool that our littles go to has generously offered her a spot to come for free two mornings a week.
Before you start thinking that we are saints, just know that I didn't at all feel like answering the door when I knew Priscilla's 4 year old daughter was knocking to ask for a banana on Saturday, and I felt relief that Kim's chemo appointment was cancelled this week and we wouldn't have Makayla. I said out loud to Frank, "We are not freaking blockbuster!" when I thought another one of Priscilla's girls was knocking on the door for the 8th time in 3 days to borrow a DVD. When we write these updates, it's certainly not to tell you how great these things are that we are doing or what worthy people we are. We are broken and selfish and often jaded and tired just like everyone every other flesh & blood person walking this earth. But we serve a good God, and we have a mighty Savior and a Holy Spirit who inhabits us to enable us to do things that just don't make sense.
About a month ago I was invited to share at a women's Bible study by a friend of mine. I was by no means feeling full or holy, but rather raw and ragged. My dear friend Melanie was also sharing that morning, and I insisted she go first. I wasn't surprised that she had prepared some pictures on power-point. When she & I worked together for AIM, she was always the better & more organized half. I did not have a power point. I had however scribbled out a couple of notes on the back of a receipt that morning. Someone pointed out that it was a CVS receipt, and then I realized, "Oh, yep ... that's a receipt for my anti-anxiety prescription." I was supposed to be sharing about believing God for who he is and getting out of your comfort zone. I'm not sure if my vulnerability made them more or less comfortable! But, what I shared with those women is this -- God does really amazing things! I know, because He's done them for me. He writes great stories! He's let me be in the middle of many. He does this all best when we are incapable and we know it. Keep putting yourself in positions where you are depending on Him to show up, and you can't do it on your own. He will show up, and He will get all of the credit when things work out. It's a simple challenge, it's the challenge we're living by day-to-day and one I hope you feel excited to take on yourself.
So, after all of that heavy stuff, here are some snapshots of celebration .... places where God has shown up in our need & lack.
In our last newsletter I shared that I was really hoping to have some opportunities to teach childbirth education with my recently earned certification. I'm excited to share that I was hired to teach at Pennsylvania Hospital. It's the nation's first hospital, the busiest maternity hospital in the city and I think also it's fair to say that it's the highest regarded. They will soon be earning their Baby Friendly designation which no other Philadelphia hospitals and only 222 other hospitals in the entire US currently hold. I'm so grateful and proud to be able to teach there!
School has been going wonderfully for Selah! The whole family is adjusting well to the new routine far better than expected. The commute has not only been hassle free, but I would go so far as to say that it's enjoyable! Gas prices are down, and we have a beautiful van with a great warranty getting our big girl and another neighborhood kindergartener to and from school every day. Last year when I debated making some new year's resolutions, I realized that it didn't really matter what I worked or strived for, if I lost or gained weight or if I started making my bed ---- what I needed and what mattered was that one single thing worked out --- having peace about Selah's school situation. Here we are one year later, and peace abounds along with a whole heaping portion of joy.
One of our disappointments turned opportunities has been the sale & remodel of the house next door to ours. We thought that we really wanted to be able to buy the house and break through the wall. As the demolition and construction crew have been working so hard since early in the summer, the word I keep using to describe how it made me feel is, "sobering." Watching the amount of skilled work & materials and imagining the cost rack up for things to be done well has been so very sobering. I have said to myself many times, "what was I thinking?" Yes, it would be nice to have had double the square footage, but now that I'm seeing the costs accrue to what must be well over $150,000, I'm glad that it's not mine to be responsible for. At the same time, it does really just feel like we are finding space in our house and making it work. We had good friends - husband, wife and 2 year old son - who stayed with us for a little over a week in September. 8 people in our house totally worked! Since then we've just gotten smart about space saving and purging, and I actually feel like we are just fine in our space. The verse comes to mind that I have l claimed all along from Psalm 16 ... "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance."
Part of our home working so well for us has been the loving care and hard work of some members of one of our summer mission teams. We hosted a group who came from just a few hours away in Lewisburg PA. Not only did they pull off a couple of fix-it's while they were here that helped us tremendously (a simple re-wire that made our outdoor electric outlets work!) but they promised to come back and help us finish up our bathroom. In my naivety, I had just imagined that somehow Frank was going to have the time to close up the bathrooms walls and have them insulated before the weather turned cold. Here's another lovely example of being in a situation where we just can't do it, and God shows up --- the Lewisburg team took our need back to their church, raised funds for the materials and have come back for two weekend trips to work on our bathroom. As I type, Frank is at home painting trim that will go up on the fully built & insulated walls! We even have pocket doors which means you can use the bathroom in privacy. (well, theoretically anyway.)
The next project they are going to help us tackle will be putting in a half-bath on the first floor. One of the main reasons we so wanted more space was for hospitality. It's tricky to host ministry or social gatherings or overnight guests when the only bathroom is all the way on the other side of the kids' bedroom. If we made a week with a house full of 8 people work with only one bathroom, just think what we can do with a second bathroom! Once the half bathroom is done and we find the rest of our space saving furniture on craig's list --- watch out! Actually, don't watch out --- just come on over and stay for a while!
We are so grateful for all of you, for how you love and care for us and keep our hearts encouraged. I don't know that a lot of missionaries send out update letters that bear so many brutal confessions, but you have all made it safe for us to be ourselves and reflect our Savior's goodness in our faulty state. We pray that your hearts are encouraged and challenged to trust in Him more and more each day, and find that His grace and presence are so sweet.
Frank, Elizabeth, Selah, Callum, & Clementine