Gandalf and Frodo and Jesus and Me (and you)

This week Facebook reminded me that three years ago I finally finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve always loved the stories and movies but what gripped me the most of that particular book was this quote:

XXX E0 MCKELLAN WOOD LORD RINGS 14 A ENTI am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?

‘Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf. ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not posses: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength, and heart and wits as you have.’

As Gandalf encouraged Frodo about the task before him, so too God encourages us in a time such as this. Things come before us that may seem daunting, and to people around us it may indeed appear as if we are unfit for the challenge. However…because of Jesus, because of what he has done for us on the cross and because God calls us his children…with His guidance, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts He’s given us, we can pursue what He lays before us despite our feelings of inadequacy! Thank you Lord for this reminder, of how even in our weakness you give us strength!


Sometimes the best way to express your thoughts, is to share someone else’s. [part 2]

This song has been on repeat these days. I need this reminder daily, that I am no longer to live in fear because I am His child. In Him I am fully known, fully accepted, and fully loved.

No Longer Slaves
Bethel Music

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

From my mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again
Into your family
Your blood flows through my veins

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I am surrounded
By the arms of the father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance

We’ve been liberated
From our bondage
We’re the sons and the daughters
Let us sing our freedom

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I could stand and sing
I am a child of God…

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
You drowned my fears in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God

Yes, I am
I am a child of God
I am a child of God
Yes, I am
I am a child of God
Full of faith
Yes, I am a child of God
I am a child of God

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

Five years.

Five years ago today I loaded all my belongings onto my Honda CR-V and my Mom’s Explorer, and road-tripped with her, my aunt, and at the time 2 year-old cousin from Brownsville to Austin. It’s funny to think about those two vehicles because neither of us have them anymore…anyway…

I was SO happy to be on my way back to the city that I loved after a 4-year hiatus. The uncertainty of what was going to happen was exciting to think about. The only things that were certain at the time was that I would be an AP US History and on-level US History teacher at Hyde Park High School, and that I would live with Sadie and Natasha at Le Montreux apartments off of Steck and MoPac. I had no idea what church I was going to go to, who would be my friends (my college buddies were pretty much gone), but even everything that was “certain” changed drastically. The week before school started I was given extra subjects to teach, I left Le Montreux apartments after 11 months to live in a completely different neighborhood and context (4 years at St. John and going strong!), and I ended up going to the church that at first I thought was not for me.

Between then and now there has been a TON of live music, good food, and a growth in how I care for my health, but this last decision of going to the Austin Stone has changed my life radically. At the ASCC I have met people that have guided me in my walk, that have been with me in joys, and that have also lifted me up in trials and pain. In these five years I have learned more about God and about myself than ever before. During this time there have been things I have been hoping for that have not happened yet, but I have also have received gifts that I had not expected whatsoever (like my job at RBI!) I have been so fearful and anxious on what was to come, but through the Lord’s love and him speaking through my brothers and sisters at the Austin Stone I have constantly been reminded that he is a loving and gracious God that never changes. This morning as I read Psalm 138, I thought about how I could truly say that I’ve lived out every verse these last five years, and my prayer is that in these next five, ten, twenty and more years my trust and hope will always be in the Lord who will continue fulfilling his purpose for me, and whose love endures forever.

I ❤ Austin. And yes, I took the picture 🙂

I manage relationships.

It just hit me. After almost a year of doing what I do it honestly just hit me.

I manage relationships. That’s what I do.

“Mentor Coordinator” is just a title for – make sure people see each other and still like/love each other.

I mean, it’s SO much more than that obviously, but when all is said and done, I manage relationships. And it’s HARD.

It’s messy.
People have baggage.

People have problems.

I’m such a heart person that if I allow myself, I can easily become overwhelmed by all the darkness that may cloud relationships. I can easily forget that it’s OK if not everything is ok. I am not the fixer of all things. Yes, I will work hard, persevere, love, and encourage. But I am not the Savior.

Only Jesus is. Only Jesus is the Restorer of all things, the one that will make all things right. The one that will come back one day and fix all the messy things around me – the pain of abandonment, the exhaustion of pursuing to no avail, the feeling that we’ll never be enough. (Revelation 21:5)

I manage relationships, but he RESTORES relationships. I will persevere, but my ultimate hope is in Jesus, whose yoke is easy and burden is light (Matthew 11:30). The mighty one who truly saves.

Some of our Oak Springs kids with University of Texas volunteers.

Two quiet boys.

Boy #1: Quiet Excitement.

On the first week of June, one of our mentors and I headed to Pickle Elementary for their field day. It was held the day before the last day of school and the excitement and energy was palpable throughout the gym. Voices laughing, feet jumping, arms flailing. Carter* and I were waiting for Junior’s* class to arrive so we could join him in all the fun that is bouncy houses and cup-stacking. His class finally did arrive, and we walked over to the first station where his class would participate. I stayed there for a couple of minutes and walked off to spend time with some of our other mentees. When I came back to Junior’s station 10 minutes later, I couldn’t see him but then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was him. He didn’t say a word, but gave me his shy, tight-lip smile then pointed to his mentor Carter, who was sitting on the gym floor with legs crossed, chatting up Junior’s buddies. “I know!” I exclaimed, “He came here to see you! Are you happy he’s here?” Still silent, he just nodded yes and walked off to join his mentor and buddies. My heart was soaring. This boy has been a tough nut to crack and is not very expressive, but this quiet excitement that he exuded – all because of his mentor being there – is something that I will never forget.

Boy #2: A Quiet Boy Makes a Hit.

This last weekend I was able to attend a baseball game of one of our three teams with RBI Mentees. This team in particular is our youngest group – 10U Baseball. One of the boys on the team, Alejandro*, has always been quiet. From day one in our mentoring program it’s been hard to have him open up, smile, and show confidence. It’s no different on the field. I love him with all my heart but it’s no secret that he is highly insecure on the field. It was the bottom of their last inning, and my sweet boys were losing pretty bad. 10-0 to be exact. Ouch, I know. Anyway, bottom of the inning, bases loaded, the mentee team is batting. And who is up to bat? My boy Alejandro. With no hits yet. He would even barely swing a bat. First pitch – strike. Second pitch – ball. Third pitch – it’s a hit! He swings hard and he hits it! He hits it so well it goes way into the outfield and the opposing team has a hard time sending it back in! All three of his teammates make it home, the rest that are in the dug out jump from the bench and start cheering! He made it! He got his first hit! He’s finally all smiles and when the game ended a few minutes later, his teammates gave him high-fives and praised him for a job well done. I loved this so much; I loved that he was the one that turned that zero into a three. Praying this boy will one day gain confidence not from sports, but from the one that calls us enough – Jesus.

*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the children and mentors.
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Alejandro’s team talking at the end of the game.

My Memorial Day

Today all around the United States people are remembering those heroes that were lost in honor of defending their country. Today I am also remembering, but I’m remembering a different kind of loss that is still raw, and that seems to never end.

Let me back track a bit – A couple of weeks ago at our staff meeting, the Story Team presented some completed projects they had been working on. Towards the end of that session the lead story teller Steven Bush encouraged us to get in small groups and share our own. Even though my story of immigration and how the drug violence has affected my family and I came to my mind, I thought it was too much to share, that I should just hold back. After a few moments I decided to go against those feelings and just go for it. One of the individuals in my group was Tracey who works in the maintenance team of our church. As I was sharing I noticed that he was crying; I honestly thought that it was only because he had a sensitive heart. I was crying…he started crying…you get it. A few minutes after I shared I had to slip out because I had another meeting I had to attend, so I didn’t get to hear all of my group’s stories. The next day, however, my coworker Lyndsey that was also in my small discussion group told me something that I did NOT expect.

“Bitia, I’m SO glad you shared your story.” She then elaborated. “Tracey was noticeably upset and unable to share with the group until after another story was shared. It was then that Tracey shared that he was really touched by your story. He had not thought of how Mexicans have been impacted by the things that happen with crossing the border. He felt sad because he has made unkind and racist comments about Mexicans needing to go back to their country. After your story, he better understood that this was not a way he needed to respond with people who are different than him. That the situations in some of the border cities are so difficult that our country – which really all countries are God’s countries – should be welcoming to all people because we don’t know their stories. Tracey felt that he has been welcomed by God so he should welcome others.”

As she was sharing that tears welled up in my eyes. It was so refreshing for my heart to be reminded why our stories matter and why sharing them can be so impactful! Last summer I shared about the murder of a good friend; this Saturday will be the one year anniversary of her passing. Since then, we have lost a few others and it has not gotten easier. I must confess that I still struggle to believe that God is in control. Just this last weekend a noted soccer player was kidnapped and the state government did everything in their power to find him, and find him they did a short 24 hours later. It is something to be happy about, but it is also a stark reminder of how deeply corrupt my home state is. They did everything for him conveniently a week before elections to present the facade of heroics, but they have failed the thousands of other families that have lost someone and that had NO help from authorities whatsoever.

All of these situations have really made me yearn for home. But to be honest, I’m yearning for a home that no longer exists. One with a freedom and peace that is no longer there. Every time something violent happens I wish I were with my family but all I can do is pray. Pray and remind myself that in the middle of all this the enemy is having a field day with our pain. In the middle of this he wants us to steal our joy and believe the lies that God has forgotten about us and that I am isolated. That it’s of no use to share anything because no one will understand.

But he is mistaken. He is a thief of all joy and a liar. From Tracey’s reaction to what the Lord reminds me in his word, he is in control. He mourns with me and uses for good what man intends for evil (Genesis 50:20). He uses my background and story to bless others. He reminds me that this yearning for home is a deeper one of being with him, in that eternal home that will have no crying or pain (Revelation 21:4), but only joy in his presence forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

One of the many beautiful murals that have popped up in my hometown of Matamoros.

With all my might.

Summer is about to begin, which also means that RBI’s busiest 3 months are here as well. Every summer we have a baseball league for kids ages 4-18, and every summer it has grown exponentially. This year is no different.

What that also means is that although my primary role is that of coordinating our mentoring program, I have to put on the hat of summer league extraordinaire – pretty much just doing everything and anything that is needed of me to help my team make this league possible.

The last few days have been very stressful – we all have work that keeps piling and piling on. I am a very people oriented person, but it’s on stressful days when I veer towards putting tasks over people; a trait about myself that I am not fond of.

Tuesday of this week was one of those days. I wanted to put people first but I had so many tasks that it was actually making me frustrated I couldn’t be with people as much as I wanted to. One of those tasks was a meeting at Oak Springs Elementary later that afternoon. “But Bitia,” you might think, “isn’t that a task that includes people? What was so upsetting about that?” Yes, it involves people, but it wasn’t the particular setting/topic I would prefer  😉.

As I was parking my car the flood of to-dos kept rushing through my mind, but when I got out and walked over to the playground, a rush of peace came over me. Maybe it was the sunlight and fresh air. Maybe the simple physical activity of walking set me at ease. But maybe it was also the energetic voices of my kiddos, greeting me and asking/yelling when we would play baseball again. Hearing them call my name. Just being there, outside. Breathing, observing the families walk by. It made me stop and think – this. THIS is why I’m doing it. THIS is worthy of my exhaustion. These smiles and loud voices are the reason why I am to work with all my might (Ecclesiastes 9:10), even in the most tedious task, so that one day I can see these babies be all that God has created them to be. That purpose eliminates all stress and all heaviness, because in the end to toil for the glory of the Lord produces joy. A joy and a peace that only He gives (Philippians 4:7), and for that I thank and praise him.

The Oak Springs playground.

The Interview

About a month ago, my friend Kate* asked if I would be willing to be interviewed for a women’s retreat that she and several other women were organizing for our church (it’s happening this weekend!). I agreed and then asked if I needed to prepare anything, to which she replied that I didn’t, because they wanted all the responses to be “off the cuff” and more organic so I was not going to know until that very moment. It made me a little nervous as I thought about it, but I told myself it would be ok.

The set. Photo by: Austin Stone Story Team

I show up at the studio the next day and wait for my turn to be interviewed. My sweet friend and storyteller Heather* prays for me and then I walk into the dark set and see the rest of the story team and the ladies who are heading up the retreat. Kate gives me the instructions about the interview: restate the question, look straight at her, and she reminds me that it’s just a conversation. I nod yes and she then motions me to sit down in the lone, brown leather chair. Once seated with the spotlight on me and everyone else in darkness, my heart began to beat a tad faster. Then the questions began. Oooooh joy. Now, I’m not one that shies away from vulnerability. I am all about sharing my story, especially when I know that it could encourage someone else. But those questions. Those topics. Those situations I was being asked about were things I was very recently going through and it felt so raw. Rejection. Comparison. Seeking the approval of others (particularly of the opposite sex). I felt so exposed. I wanted to run out of there! I wanted to tell Bush, the lead story teller that I couldn’t do it any longer and just jump up from that chair and head home and cry. Did I forget to mention that the waterworks started going strong at question #2? I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure that of all the women there I was the one who started crying the quickest. I was feeling so overwhelmed as I spoke that I was certain that I didn’t make any sense. I was utterly and completely weak.

Once the interview ended, Kate stood up, gave me a hug, and walked me out of the set. I was shell-shocked. I had no idea what had come out of my mouth but I was POSITIVE it wasn’t anything worthy of using for the retreat. Heather met me in the waiting area and immediately noticed that something was wrong. She offered to walk me to my car – something I was and still am very grateful for – and once there I began to cry again. I shared how weak I felt. How completely useless I thought my answers were. I shared how those topics were still very tender in my heart and that it was painful to open up in front of everyone, especially knowing it could potentially be shared to a very large group of women. My sweet friend was comforting, and reminded me of truth. I calmed down, slid into my car and went home and took a nap.

I would be completely lying to you if I said I got over those feelings the next day. They would pop-up in my mind once in a while, and all I did was suppress them by distracting myself with something else. A couple of weeks after the interview, however, something incredible (at least to me) happened that I can only say it was because of the Lord. In one week alone, three different people that were present in the filming came up to me sharing about how my story was impactful. About how what I said was truly going to bless the women who would watch it and that it took a lot of courage for me to share. I remember when the very first person shared this with me I had a very confused look on my face and said a very awkward, “You’re welcome?” I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “Really? Me? What I said? I thought it was a mess!”  It then hit me. Anything I said, anything I did, it had nothing to do with me. Everything that came out of my mouth, despite me feeling completely weak, was the Holy Spirit working through me. It was yet another reminder of my favorite passage, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insult, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The Lord has been reminding me of this time and time again throughout my life, particularly the last 9 years. This latest experience was probably the most emotional yet. I wanted to EJECT just two minutes into the interview and left feeling like nothing that I said made sense, but the fact that it all ended up being “great” had nothing to do with me. I don’t want to give any attention to my abilities. I want to give God all the glory and praise. All of this just causes me to worship him in thankfulness for using this broken vessel! I pray that as these women watch all of these interviews on Saturday, they may feel encouraged, loved, and pursued by their creator. I pray that they may be reminded that abiding in him is where we feel most comfort, joy, and approval. And that even in times of messiness and weakness, his Holy Spirit is in us, giving us strength and courage.

*Special thanks to these ladies and the rest of the Austin Stone Story team residents. Love you guys so much!

Short Stories from Oak Springs

So I’ve realized that I haven’t shared much on how things are going in the mentoring program. If you’re not on my mailing list and have been relying on this blog to hear about my stories, my bad. Sorry y’all. But to make it up to you, I’m going to share some snippets of things that have happened here and there since December. Hope you get all the fuzzy feels as you read these glimpses into my days.

Saul’s Hug
A group of ladies gifted Easter baskets for our kiddos!
Christmas break was a-comin,’ and the kids were PUMPED. All minus one, though. My chubby little buddy Saul* was acting up, being rude and desruptive during out after school program – something he had not done all semester. After some verbal redirections, Saul just got up from his seat and walked to the very back of the blacktop. I knew something was up. I walked over and began to see his face more clearly as he sat hunched over, playing with the rocks on the ground. He was crying. I sat beside him and began asking what was wrong. Then the waterworks really began to flow. “I’m moving Miss Bitia!” Oh my heart. My heart broke for this sweet boy. I reassured him that his mom was doing what was best, and asked if I could give him a hug. He said yes, I put my arm around his shoulders and prayed. A couple of days later I visited the school during lunch just to wish the kiddos a great break. As I was talking to one of the teachers I felt two chubby arms ambush me from behind. After a quick hug I turned around and it was my sweet boy Saul. He excitedly shared, “Miss Bitia! My mom said we ain’t movin’ anymore! So now I can have a mentor.” Such a happy boy. That ambush hug was one of the best things ever. [side note: Saul ended up moving after all in February. But it was still great to have him for a little while longer]
Josh’s Date

I’m walking up to our little after school crew when I hear one of the girls exclaim, “Miss IMG_1436Bitia! Josh* went on a date!” When I arrived at the huddle I directed my attention to said boy and asked, “Josh is this true? You went on a DATE?! What did you do?” At that point Josh nervously starts running around and around and around the huddle and says, “Yes. I went to her house and asked her if she wanted to go on a date. She said yes so we ran to the park!” At that he threw himself on the grass and  covered his face in embarrassment. Oh the joys of 3rd grade love!

Cd. Victoria Mom

At match meeting #49, I started chatting up the Mom. She replied she was from Mexico and I of course asked what part. She was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico but grew up in Cd. Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico. When she uttered those words my heart skipped a beat. “Tamaulipas?! I’m from Matamoros! My grandmother grew up in Cd. Victoria!” Why is this a big deal for me? Because the vast  majority of Mexican immigrants in Austin are from central Mexico, not the region I’m from. We then got to talking about our home state and the situation it’s facing now. It was a short but very sweet conversation. It was a sweet reminder that my background and story also matter in my role as the RBI Mentor Coordinator.

Three Hugs and a Pat
At our March block party learning about Improv!
It seems that 4th graders love to give ambush hugs. I was talking to a parent this past Monday after school to finalize some details on paperwork that we needed when all of a sudden I feel little arms around my torso. I look to my right and it’s Adam*. My heart was happy but S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E-D. This little mentee of ours may have been warm and sweet right then, but all last semester it was QUITE the opposite let me tell you. Fits, answering back, you name it. So when I became the recipient of such sweet affection I could not believe it, but at the same time I was SO thankful. The reason for the change? Who knows. Maybe it’s been the influence of his mentor, improvement of home life…who knows. The point is I was happy to see this little man becoming so sweet. To make this moment even more precious, his little brother (1st grade) for some reason decided to do as his brother did and hugged me from my front side, then I got a pat on the shoulder from older brother (5th grade). I turned around and then my girl Lizeth* (5th grade mentee) opened her arms and gave me a look that communicated “Where the heck is my hug, huh?!” I motioned her to come over and gave her a big bug. My gosh. All the hugs and love that day. Thank you Jesus for pouring your love over me through these kids!
*names have been changed to protect the identity of the children.