Posts Tagged ‘Mandy Lail’

Blessings on a Page, by Mandy Lail, Back2Back Mexico Staff

April 19, 2010

This week we had a group of college age students visit the Back2Back campus in Monterrey.  Besides having a great week serving in the children’s homes and Rio areas, this group took a particular interest in our students living here on campus, the students of the Hope Education Program.  Just today I was handed envelopes for all five boys living in my home through this program.  These envelopes were filled with journal entries/letters written by group members for my boys.  They are blessings on a page.

The transition from living in a children’s home to life on the Back2Back campus is a big one for most of our students.  One of the things many of them miss is all the fun they had with our American groups who visit!  They miss the cookouts, field trips and all the attention and love given by mission trip team members.  Some still interact with groups, but many are busy with school and work while groups are here.  Sometimes they feel a little left out.  But not this week.  This week this group went out of its way to love on our students. And while the students aren’t little any more, the attention, love, and relationship still brings a big impact.  It helps them to remember that they are loved and loveable.

For me, the best part was an hour on the couch translating the letters for one of my boys; great letters, letters in English, simple letters full of love and truth.  These letters opened the door for a great conversation with my foster son about some important spiritual truths, about who he is in Jesus and how God ‘s love for him is so deep that He will use anything and everything to get to him. Even letters from a college student he’s never met, written in a language he doesn’t really understand.  That’s how far our God will go to pursue us…with blessings on a page.

A few of the letters

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Love is a Verb, by Mandy Lail, Back2Back Mexico Staff

January 29, 2010

I love the complexity of God.  I may have charged into the city of Monterrey with great passion for changing the lives of orphans but I keep seeing God doing His work on me as well!  Right now it’s grammar lessons.

I am always fascinated with the word love.  We love to be “in love”, to feel loved, even feel love for another but that’s just one sense of the word.  I am fascinated at our preoccupation with love as a noun. It’s this wonderful, sometimes elusive thing we are constantly seeking.  But what about when love is a verb?  What about when it’s all about our actions and not our feelings?  What about when loving someone hurts? But we do it anyways but God calls us to love.  While I am sure He would be pleased if it felt good to us I believe He calls us to action with love.  He wants us to pour it out on others and pour it out and pour it out and our it out.  Regardless of how it feels.
God has called me to a complexity of love.  Parenting is love.  It about actions for sure but often we can carry those out because we FEEL so much love for our children.  We fall in love with them often early & fast and that fuels our ability to love in action. We serve & sacrifice because we feel love for them.  We tolerate a complete loss of control of our personal time, TV choices, dining choices, even sleeping arrangements in order to love/serve/parent our kiddos. It’s hard but our feelings for them keep us going.

So this I am experiencing this new level of love with my foster sons. I do feel love for them for sure but it’s not the same.  We haven’t bonded the same as my little ones.  They aren’t always wiling and open to be loved unlike my little ones. They come with other family attachments that can make it hard for them to figure out where we, their house parents, fit for them emotionally.  So it’s this new level of love for me.  I get a lot less back emotionally from my sons.  So I have to dig deeper into Jesus and into that sense of unconditional love … action love.  Sometimes I don’t want to love them like they are mine.  I want to guard my heart.  They can be hurtful at times.  I could lose one of them at any moment (should they decide to leave the program etc.) It’s so hard to love them with as much of me as I can when it doesn’t feel the same.  It doesn’t always come back to me.  This is where I am learning to lean in more to Jesus for His strength to LOVE (verb) them the best I can.

Now we are fostering a toddler son as well.  And I find this grammar lesson digging to new depths.  Again I want to guard my heart.  I don’t want to “fall in love” with him, to bond too deeply because I can only imagine how much it will hurt when he leaves.  But he needs it.  He needs my love in action.  So I am learning to lean in, to press harder into Jesus for the strength I need to love.  Learning how to rely on Jesus to give me what I need to love this boy like he is mine, to love with all I’ve got…because that’s what God wants for Him.  That’s a way God will show himself to this sweet boy.  And for me it’s a hard but important grammar lesson.  Isn’t God a God of action?  Doesn’t His immense love for us play out with His son dying on a cross? If that isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Words from Home, by Mandy Lail

September 24, 2009

Recently I received a sweet message from home.  My good friend Angel sent me a picture of herself at Casa Hogar Douglas from 1987.  When JJ (my husband) and I decided to come on staff with Back2Back in Monterrey as house parents in the Hope Program, we had been friends with Angel & Shawn for six years. We had served together at Northstar Community Church in Loveland, Ohio and enjoyed their friendship. We were so blessed when they jumped on our support team right away.  Not long after, Angel told me about how she and Shawn had taken several summer mission trips to Monterrey during their high school years.  God had stirred their hearts for this city and they still felt the connection.  Several summers ago, they returned with their son on a mission trip when a group from Northstar traveled to Monterrey to serve with Back2Back.

Last September, when we arrived in Monterrey and began spending time at Casa Hogar Douglas, God broke my heart over that home and the children there.  Three of the boys in my home (Marcos, Mario & Gabriel) are from Casa Hogar Douglas and there are several more boys there that we have formed strong bonds with.  It is a special place for us. As I began to write about it on my blog and post pictures, Angel sent me a message explaining that on their mission trips from high school they would come to Casa Hogar Douglas, climb the hill and pray in the chapel.  They would pray over the children’s home and the whole city. I was so encouraged by the connection God had given us and how He has used Angel to remind me that He is at work in that home…and always has been.

I was feeling particularly discouraged recently but when I received this photo from Angel, God once again used her and her words to encourage me. The needs here feel overwhelming at times and often we can feel too small to make a difference.  But then we are reminded that we are not alone.  God has collected an army of folks here and at home to pray, to advocate and to fight for the orphan.  We are so thankful and so encouraged by all those who choose to invest with us in these casa hogars, these teens, these children.

Read these sweet words of encouragement from Angel to me: “I just re-read the scripture I sent to you in the other email and the last verse says faithfulness through all generations…in 1987 the kids that you minister to were not created yet. Yet the same power, the same love and faithfulness that God had for the kids that I met in 1987 carries through to this generation right now. And so the same power, the same love and faithfulness will carry on to the next generation. This is so much bigger than you or me…I prayed over the Douglas home at lunch and I do feel the war. Please be strong in the power of his might. He hears our prayers…He will answer them.

Thank you Angel for your encouragement.  Thank you to all those Back2Back supporters for all you do for the least of these. We are so thankful for each of you.

Psalm 100:5 For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Angel & Shawn at Casa Hogar Douglas in 1987

Angel & Shawn at Casa Hogar Douglas in 1987

Mandy's husband, JJ, playing soccer at Douglas in the same spot where Angel & Shawn took a photo in 1987

Mandy's husband, JJ, (far left) playing soccer at Douglas in the same spot where Angel & Shawn took a photo in 1987

Marathon, by Mandy Lail

September 4, 2009

This summer, I was often asked by mission trip guests, “What does a typical day look like in a Teen Home of the Hope Program?”

Wow, the best answer is actually…  “There is no typical day – each one is a new adventure!” As you can imagine, it’s semi-controlled chaos in a teen home on our Back2Back Mexico campus.  Days are full with households ranging in size from seven to sixteen! There are endless responsibilities and conversations for managing meals, chores, curfews, school enrollment, studying for exams, school supplies, friends, jobs and everything else that comes with raising teens (and staff kiddos, as well).

Cooking dinner with the boys

Cooking dinner with the boys

As a Teen Home parent, I often feel winded, like I just finished a sprint, but in reality it’s more of a marathon.  Many days will not hold a visible pivotal ministry moment.  Many days feel more like a chaotic dash of the never ending “stuff” to be done. But the precious reality of this ministry is the invested time – living life together.  Because we are here day in and day out, because we can be found in the kitchen or upstairs at all hours, because we sit and eat with them, because we are here…over time many of these students will allow us entrance into their tangle.

The lives of our teens are a tangle of old wounds, dysfunctional family connections, hopes and dreams for the future, and worries about the present.  It’s a mighty tangle.  But the beauty is that when we choose to entangle ourselves into their daily tangle, many begin to allow us more and more entrance into their lives.  And then, in those unplanned and unpredictable moments of living life together, God just might allow us to speak His truth to them and they just might listen.

This summer felt like a daily sprint with our summer schedule of visiting short-term mission groups and end-of-the-year activity at school for our boys.  I ended each day exhausted and often overwhelmed.  But now that it has passed, God has graciously reminded me that He was at work the whole time.  In the midst of that constant dash, I shared the gospel with Pablo late one night.  I spoke truth to Marcos about who he is and what God wants for him, after an issue at school.  I had a difficult but necessary conversation with Mario about his behavior and choices in life. I had multiple conversations with Homero about his decisions and who God has made him to be.  And I was able to answer Gabriel that yes, indeed, I would love to be the mother he never had.

None of these were planned moments. They happened in the car, at the kitchen table, and sitting at the lake, all because we have chosen to entangle ourselves in their tangles.  Up close, it feels like a sprint.  It’s tiring; it’s intense; and sometimes, even maddening.  But when we can step back and look at it like a marathon, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

Shelter in Unexpected Forms, by Mandy Lail

July 22, 2009

This week I have been thinking about shelter in unexpected forms.  Take one of my boys, Homero, for example.  When Homero was twelve years old, he came to live at Manantial de Amor, one of the children’s homes in Monterrey.  He had gotten into a lot of trouble at various schools and even with the police.  His mother was at a loss at how to handle him.  A family member lived near Manantial de Amor, so his mother decided to take him there even though she lives two hours south by bus.  After three years at Manantial de Amor, Homero moved in with us to participate in the Hope Program with Back2Back.

Most of us find it difficult to understand how a mother can take her child to a children’s home.  And even more, we find it difficult to understand how God can shelter a child there.  How a life without their family, a life in a group home can be a form of shelter.  The reality is that for many of these kids a children’s home is a safer place than they came from.  It’s not perfect, sometimes not even pretty, but for many much safer. This can be a hard concept for us to understand.

But for me when I look at Homero . . . it is so clear how God has not only sheltered him but continues to pursue him.  Living at Manantial de Amor removed him from a dangerous path he was on.  He was making bad decision after bad decision and thankfully his mother intervened.  If she hadn’t, I think he would likely be in jail. God provided not only physical shelter, not only removed him from a dangerous path but provided Homero spiritual shelter.  Through the spiritual influence of the director Edgar, Homero started a relationship with Jesus while living at Manantial.  And now he lives with us where he has the opportunity to receive a solid education and spiritual influence, while experiencing family life.

Recently we had to tell Homero “no” when he asked to visit his hometown over the weekend.  He had been back several times in the previous months and we were becoming more and more concerned with his trips there.  From what information we could gather after the fact, he was making questionable decisions again, hanging out with his old crowd and spending little time with his mother while there.  At his last request we both felt super uneasy about the prospect and decided to not let him go.  He handled it well and even seemed relieved.  Later he told us that he had thought God didn’t want him to go.

About two weeks later, his mother showed up unexpectedly.   When she asked to speak privately with us, we were concerned she was angry we had not let Homero visit.  Instead, through tears, she asked us to not let him visit his hometown any more.  She too was concerned about his visits and decisions.  She knew it meant she would see him less, but she was willing to sacrifice her time with him to ensure he stayed on his current path.  She knows what opportunities he has here at Back2Back and she wants him to compromise them.

To me it’s so clear.  God has sheltered Homero over and over again; through a children’s home, through Back2Back and especially through his mother.  Many would look at her and judge her inability to parent.  I look at her and see a woman who is fighting for her son the only way she knows how. It’s unexpected, it’s not what I would have picked but it is so clearly God’s shelter for my foster son.  And I am thankful.

Homero with his mom at graduation

Homero with his mom at graduation

Makeshift Shelter, by Mandy Lail

June 17, 2009

We recently took our boys to a nearby lake for some fishing where I happened to capture this photo of Leo.  Leo lives with the Cooper Family in the James House as a part of The Hope Program.  Just like my boys he is getting ready to graduate from Secundaria (middle school) and will start Prepa (high school) in the fall.  When I look at this photo I can’t help but think about my boys, in fact all the students in the Hope Program.  To me this photo represents this season of their lives.

 

Leo on the fishing trip with the Lails

Leo on the fishing trip

 

Leo is standing on a rickety dock about fifty feet from shore.  Overhead is a makeshift covering.  Nothing fancy but it protects the two boats underneath from the occasional rain and the intense sun exposure. This is where our students stand: on a rickety dock with some makeshift shelter overhead.  It’s not the best they could have, but it is some shelter.  And what lies ahead of them is a like a lake and a series of mountains.  I think it’s a mix of emotions for them.  All they know is this makeshift dock and for some it’s even better shelter from where they’ve come.  But it’s all they know.

I wonder . . . do they have a sense of longing when they see those mountains?  Do they think I could have that, I can go there. I can leave this rickety old dock and scale a mountain? Truly I think they have more fear. They believe the lies they’ve heard or told themselves I can’t do it.  I don’t have what it takes.  I should just stay here. I think they look with a sense of longing for something more but it’s often overtaken with a sense of sadness and defeat.  They think I want it, but I can’t do it.

This summer our theme is SHELTER.  Would you join us in praying for our students in the Hope Program?  Please pray that God would show Himself to them and that they would have hope.  In the Hope Program they are given opportunities through education but for many it seems like that far off mountain is unreachable or unattainable.  Pray for their journeys as they learn how to step away from the hurts of their past and stop believing that they have nothing to contribute. Please pray for their courage to step out from their old, rickety, makeshift shelters and find true shelter in Him.

 

 

Church at Casa Hogar Douglas, by Mandy Lail

June 4, 2009

Recently, some Back2Back staff members organized Sunday morning church services at Casa Hogar Douglas (CHD), one of our children’s homes in the Monterrey, Mexico area.  God has blessed this new venture with an awesome worship leader; extremely talented, gifted with the children and such an obvious heart for the Lord.  The old chapel is pretty run down and through some generous supporters they have repaired the roof and modified the walls for better air flow.  It’s such a blessing to the CHD workers to have a place to worship where they feel comfortable and the kids too.

The greatest blessing for me is worshiping among the kids from CHD.  There is such power in the concert of voices, such power in the prayer and praises being offered by the B2B staff, the CHD staff, adults from the community and even the kids as well.  The Lord’s presence is obvious.  Every time I am there, each time we praise His Holy Name as we sing, I feel His pleasure so strong it feels as if we have supernaturally carried the children right to His throne room and laid them at His feet.  Now I’ve been to a lot of good churches, even worked at two great ones, but nothing has compared to worshiping among the least of these…

Thanks to Caroline Burns for capturing the service on video.  Click below to view:

Worshiping during a Sunday service at Casa Hogar Douglas