BEAUTIFUL THINGS PART 6: WHO'S GOT THIS?

About 6 months ago when our family finally agreed out loud together that we were going to move ourselves to downtown Chandler and do this new Live Love thing, we felt excited and nervous and…well…relieved. We were finally stepping into the adventure we had only talked about for so long. But it should come as no surprise that once we started acting on it, it only took a few weeks for us to start feeling uncomfortable, more nervous than excited, and possibly even fearful.

Were we crazy?

Is this really the right thing for us?

Am I even qualified to step into a space that requires fundraising and plans and zoning and community gardening?

Did this Live Love vision require the actual selling of our home and moving?

I’ve heard it said that often the adventures you step into are merely an accumulation of all your previous experience, education and connections merging at that particular time. Previously, this has given me comfort as I have leaned in to new opportunities.

But this time, it feels more like a long list of why this could be a total disaster. Let’s take gardening for example…you’ve already heard about my citrus trees. But Paul and I have always grown what we can in our backyard no matter where we’ve lived. And had you seen our yard while we lived in Guatemala, you would have thought me a master at it. But even Guatemalans will tell you that you can plant a stick in the ground and the next day it will produce fruit. The dirt is just that awesome.

So moving from enriched volcanic dirt to desert sand/dirt was a true reveal of my actual skills. If you plant a stick in the ground here, the next day you just have a dry stick.

Oh there is still a garden in the backyard…always. And while I love a great salad picked straight from that garden, it’s mostly lettuce, kale, cabbage, and possibly cilantro on a good year. I had tomatoes one year in abundance, but it must have been a fluke because I can’t seem to grow them since. And peppers? The plants are cute and green, but bare. Berries of all kinds come to our yard to die. Are you getting the picture? If you like green leafy food, I’ve got you! Otherwise, I do have grapefruit.

How about fundraising…Let’s just say no one ever asks me anymore to be in charge of this in whatever capacity it’s needed. I either give away whatever we are selling or just tell people not to worry about paying. Next…

Well, there are always the plans…you know, the plot plans for our big vision. Just draw it out and show people what it could look like. Even writing that single sentence has given me a severe stomachache. I need “paint by numbers” if I’m going to produce anything artistic.

The vision for a Live Love community garden and farm, for a beautiful oasis where families gather and celebrate and do life together, where neighbors connect with neighbors in real time…this adventure is so much bigger than any one person. It’s so much wider than our family. And it’s so much higher and deeper than any of our individual skills. Maybe if I could say, “I got this!” with all my skills and experience in hand, it wouldn’t really be an adventure at all. When we face a challenge that isn’t harder than our own abilities, is it really a challenge?

“I’ve got this!” limits the capacity or potential of that adventure. It excludes others from jumping in to help. It promotes spectators instead of team members, and boy do we need a big team for this one. The good thing for us all is- God’s got this, not me. And I can’t wait to see how He’s going to pull this thing off!

Annabelle Chinchen
BEAUTIFUL THINGS PART 5: SOLD

That's right!  The dirt at 482 E Erie St. is now the official property of Live Love.  This is big news and we are very excited!

And this is where it gets real, folks.  The question looming in the air whispers, "Now what?  What are your plans for that dirt?"

Live Love is about building strong community. Connecting people. Engaging with our neighbors.

Connecting with others is the foundation for learning to authentically care for others. And once we care, we find strength in working together, side-by-side. It starts with connecting and that drives much of what we do at Live Love.

The vision is to create a beautiful space that will include:

  • A large community garden where neighbors work together to grow healthy food for their families.
  • A beautifully landscaped space for families to celebrate important occasions that reflect their culture.
  • A small farm where kids learn to care for animals.
  • A learning space where teens and adults can further develop vocational skills.

This dream for a community farm and garden adds a deeper level of connectivity within the neighborhood. We continue connecting with each other through beauty and nature.

Digging in the soil.

Planting and harvesting.

Sharing a meal.

Celebrating milestones.

Watching the goats play or the birds feed, or the bees pollinate…

These are the things that allow us to slow our pace, breathe deeply, and connect authentically with others.  And that is the plan for the dirt!

Annabelle Chinchen
BEAUTIFUL THINGS PART 4: SWIMMING

I wonder if the greatest part of a new adventure is the thrill of deciding to jump in and get started.  Of course it's scary, but it's also exhilarating!

Your blood is pumping, the adrenaline is high, and everyone is cheering for you!

"You can do it!"

"Go for it!"

You start to think, "I can do this...I'm going for it!"

So with a running leap you dive in head first.  What a rush!  And you start swimming straight toward that other shore.  You swim and swim for what feels like a long way.  But after a quick glance, the other shore is still so far off you can barely see it.  And suddenly it becomes apparent that you are still in the shallow end, not really that far away from the dock.

And the water just got cold.

And is that a shark?

Everyone is still sitting on the dock with sweet encouraging smiles and thumbs up just watching to see how you'll do.  Then it hits you...

What am I doing out here?

What was I thinking?

This is nuts!  I can't do this!

Yeah, new adventures are awesome like that.  But adventures aren't adventures without risks, and challenges, and twists, and turns.  And I was reminded last weekend by the wise Master Oogway that "if you never try anything you can't do, then you will never be anything more than you already are."  Some adventures are all about stepping into something that you really can't do on your own.  This takes time and perseverance and digging in for the long haul.

And so, I guess I'm going to learn long distance swimming.

Annabelle Chinchen
BEAUTIFUL THINGS PART 3: BUYING DIRT

When I started truly listening to the invitation to do a new thing in my life, part of what I had to work through was a battle between 2 heart desires. I happen to have children who are animal whisperers. They love animals of all kinds and Paul has done his best to create what feels like a mini-farm in our very own backyard. We have rabbits and we may or may not have been part of a secret society of HOA dwellers who had chickens. There was talk of a teacup pig for a while, but I safely navigated away from that idea. My youngest is a natural on a horse and longs to share her love of them with others. So our family had often dreamed of selling the house, buying property, and using language like “mucking the stalls” and “back-40”.

On the flip side, our hearts are strongly connected to the many individuals and families we have built relationships with in downtown Chandler through Live Love for the past 8 years. And the tug was growing stronger to dive deeper and live closer. So when I began to listen and understand the invitation to do this new thing, I had to mourn the dream of the Family Farm.

I was listening, and my heart was softening to this new adventure. Where would be the best place to buy? Which street or house caught my eye? I really wasn’t sure what it was suppose to look like. What I did know was that I wanted our home to be a refuge in the neighborhood… a safe place where people felt loved and cared for. And even more than that, I longed for it to be a beautiful oasis. I know, it’s a strange word. But you know how sometimes in a crowded city you come upon a garden or a park and it suddenly takes your breath away? Like it’s out of place and yet so perfectly placed at the same time. I pictured a Latin garden oasis in the middle of the tightly packed homes and apartments and mobile homes.

And that’s what I looked for… a house with beautiful gardens and space for people to hang out and breathe deep and…be. But I wasn’t seeing it and I wondered if maybe I needed to alter my vision.

And then one Sunday morning we are singing “Beautiful Things” by the band Gungor, and I felt so overwhelmed I almost had to sit down. I had sung the song enough times that I basically knew it. But this time, my heart was pounding and my stomach was in my throat as I listened carefully to these words:

All this earth-
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

All around-
Hope is springing up from this old ground.
Out of chaos life is being found in You.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

As I’m listening to the words as if for the first time, I have a picture in my head. It’s a memory of a large nearly 2 acre piece of dirt in downtown Chandler. Literally.

It’s dirt. That’s it.

And I’m trying to put that picture in my head next to the words I’m listening to, wondering how in the world a beautiful garden oasis could spring up from that pile of dust.

And suddenly I can see a large garden where neighbors work together to grow healthy food for their families.

And I see a beautiful garden space for families to be together and celebrate important occasions that reflect their culture.

And I saw my kids caring for animals and teaching others to do the same.

Two desires. One Vision. Same space. And my mind was blown!

So here we are moving forward with this vision to help create beautiful things out of the dust. It’s so much bigger than I could have dreamed on my own. But we are stepping in and pushing forward. We may not know yet what all the parts will look like. But one thing we do know…it’s time to buy to some dirt. We cannot do this on our own, and as scary as it always seems, it’s good for us to depend on others in the journey.

So we invite you to join us…let’s buy some dirt!

Annabelle Chinchen
BEAUTIFUL THINGS PART 2: MULTITASKING

I always thought I was a great multitasker.  You know, having the ability to do multiple things at once while maintaining excellent quality control.

Helping with homework.

Writing an email.

Listening to the day's events spelled out.

Preparing dinner.

All at once.  Well at least back and forth with ease in the same short block of time.  Feeling accomplished.  Successful.  Even if much of the time my replies to those talking to me were mostly "Mmm-hmmm, interesting".

Then this last year something started happening.  Smoke would be filling the kitchen when I returned from "quickly" folding the last load of laundry.  Or one of my sweet children would say, "Mom, did you hear me?"  to which I would reply, "Yes, of course..." and then hope that the following part of the conversation had enough context to remind me of what I had missed.  Or my least favorite, in response to my desperate plea, "Why didn't you tell me that?" Paul would declare with confidence, "I DID!  You were standing right there doing..."

Doing...

Honestly, at first I worried maybe I was just getting older and starting to be forgetful.  I mean, how many times can one wife tell her husband that HE must have mis-remembered something or other.  And then one day Paul made it official by saying "You are really bad at multitasking."

Cruel.

Maybe my brain is just more full as I mature and absorb more knowledge.  Or maybe my family members are the ones who don't remember that they didn't actually tell me all that stuff they claim I should know.

Or...maybe I'm just really bad at multitasking.

I wonder if I SHOULD be good at it.  Giving 4 things 25% of my attention in any given moment probably isn't the recipe for success.  It might be a great strategy for moving quickly through a To Do list...for doing.  But maybe not for producing deep relationships and cultivating authentic communication.

So it's no surprise really that when God started speaking to my heart a year ago about a new thing- that required cutting back, simplifying, refocusing- I heard it, but I didn't hear it.  After all, I was too full, too busy, doing too much.

I'm sure we had 75 or more conversations where He said, "Want to hear about the new thing I want us to do?" and I said, "Mmm-hmmm, interesting", while still stirring dinner and sending emails and listening to all the other stories being told around me.  And then one day I actually stopped and listened.  I heard the question and really wanted to know the answer.  And the pruning started.  Cutting away the extra.  Simplifying.  Refocusing.

Confessing, that I'm really bad at multitasking.

And maybe I shouldn't be good at it anyway.

Now I'm joining in on the new thing... a grand adventure that will require 100% of my attention.  Our family is moving to downtown Chandler.  We are dreaming and planning and praying.  Excited to see how beautiful things will begin to bud and blossom in the newly created vacant space.  And I'm working hard to remain really bad at multitasking!

Annabelle Chinchen
BEAUTIFUL THINGS: PART 1 PRUNING GRAPE FRUIT

We have a grapefruit tree in our backyard.  Over the past 9 years it has grown taller and wider and increased in grapefruit production.  All good things considering the first few years after moving in we weren't even sure which citrus grew on it.  I remember one spring when Diane, my green-thumb mother-in-law, asked how often I fed and fertilized the fruit trees.  The fact that I didn't know what she meant was answer enough.  So she taught me a bit about caring for citrus and pruning for future growth.  And whamo!  The next season brought our first harvest of grapefruit, if 12-15 counts as a harvest.  I was so excited!

So the next year, I put on my gloves and headed out to feed and prune my trees.  Success again and we more than tripled our production.  I was beginning to think I had missed my calling.  But something happened the next year at pruning time.

I made my way out back only to discover that it had already budded... beautiful, white fragrant buds all over.

How could I possible prune any branches now?  I would waste all that potential fruit.  Pruning is for dead branches and these were certainly not dead.  So I skipped the pruning, fed and fertilized, and held my breath.

Guess what?  We ended up with branches loaded with grapefruit!  So many in fact, that by the time we were able to pick all of them the tree was already budding again, preparing for the following season.  So you guessed it... no pruning again.  Plus the tree looked healthy and full and, well, it worked last time.

Sure enough, the tree was heavy with fruit the following year.  We picked and ate and shared with friends...and then did it all over again the next few years.  I have friends that get excited about my tree every year, knowing it will yield the best grapefruit ever and that we ourselves will never be able to eat it all.  It's true- ask around.

Beautiful story...but wait, there's more.

I noticed last year that it was becoming more difficult to penetrate the center of the tree to reach all the fruit simply because the branches were so many, wrapping around and into each other.  So much going on underneath that I wasn't able to get to it all.  So throughout the year, rotten grapefruit would start to fall to the ground.  Fruit I hadn't even been able to see, let alone pick in that mess of beautiful branches and leaves.

This year as I have been harvesting, I'm finding bushels of fruit again...but every once in a while I pick one that obviously was left from last year.  It's either rotten or dried up and hollow inside.  But it's mixed in with the fresh new fruit.

In the past 6 months I have been sensing the need to make some changes in my life...

To cut things out.  Simplify.  Focus.

I would entertain those thoughts for a time, but they would quickly get squeezed out because I had too many things to do.  Who has time to simplify and cut things out when your planner is full and your hours are limited?!

But I reached a point when I was forced to make a decision...respond to what I knew was the right thing to do, or continue ignoring it.

My dilemma was not in understanding why cutting things out was necessary...especially those things that are a negative impact on my life, like cutting out junk food or reality TV.  After all, pruning is about cutting off the dead stuff, right?

My problem was how to cut stuff out of my life that was "good" stuff.  Teaching and leading and having an impact.  How could it ever be the right thing to cut productive activity out of my life?  Places that produced positive results or ...healthy fruit?

And then I found myself fighting with a grapefruit tree.

A beautiful tree overloaded with branches and leaves and fruit.

So crowded with branches and leaves and fruit that it was impossible to even access it all...realizing that inevitably some of it would end up on the ground, rotten and hollow before next season.  And it made we wonder...maybe it IS worth it to cut off a few productive branches now, in order to allow the tree to more effectively grow fruit that can be picked and enjoyed in the future.  Maybe it IS possible to have too much good stuff.

I can be a slow learner, but I think I might try pruning that tree again in a few months...give it room to breath and stretch.  Make space for new fruit even if it costs some old fruit.  And maybe cutting out productive activity from my life is necessary too, in order to make space to breath and stretch and focus on something new.  At least I'm hoping that's true.  Because I just hacked off a few big branches and it's feeling a little bare right now.

Annabelle Chinchen
FAMILY AND FRIENDS CHRISTMAS PARTY

Each year we look forward to our neighborhood Christmas party when families are invited to join us for a meal, gingerbread-house making, and festive family pictures.  But this year felt different.  This year we purposefully invited those families that have been involved with Live Love in some capacity during 2015, and those volunteers that have been working most closely with them...Families and Friends!  Thanks to some amazing volunteers (Sabra, Bob, and Lauren) the backyard of the Live Love House was turned in to a winter wonderland!  We sat around tables with people that we have connected with this year through our shared experiences together.

Like a giant family reunion with your nearest 100 relatives!

We laughed, ate amazing food provided by all, decorated gingerbread houses, took family pictures in the photo booth, listened to our kids read and act out "The Littlest Angel", and drank hot chocolate during the reading of Rudolph.

As I reflect back on this year and the ways we have grown together and pushed further into creating real connection within our neighborhoods, it warms my heart and inspires me to dig deeper and work harder at this thing called "Community".  Looking forward to new adventures in 2016.

Merry Christmas!

Annabelle Chinchen
THE LATEST NEWS

It’s been a full and fun month for Live Love and we have fallen behind in sharing all the news! On Saturday August 22nd we had our monthly Saturday Service Day. About 80 volunteers helped out with 19 projects in support of families and senior adults in Chandler. It was a hot and humid morning, but a wonderful time of serving together side by side.

Friday evening, September 4th, we hosted another Family Fun Night at the Live Love House. It was a great combination of food, fun and education for our neighborhood families. Karen and Miriam from Dignity Health’s Community Oral Health Program attended our evening.   With support from a First Things First grant, they were able to present children and their families with information about dental hygiene and how to care for our mouths and teeth. Children were offered fluoride varnish treatments and oral assessments to determine if there were additional resources needed. Several older adults attended as well hoping to gather their own information about how to access oral treatment. Kids and adults enjoyed the presentation and goodie bags stuffed with toothpaste, toothbrushes, timers and other treats.

After the presentation, a basketball free-throw tournament took place in the backyard. We had a great time learning and sharing together again. We hope this will become a monthly event for our neighborhood families.

Don’t forget next Saturday September 19th at 7:00 am is our next Saturday Service Day. This is an opportunity to support families and senior adults with yard projects and minor repairs. All ages are welcome to join in on the fun! Let us know you are coming so we can assign you a project for the morning.

Hope to see you there!

Annabelle Chinchen
THE RAT RACE

I hear this phrase used sometimes and this morning it even came out of my own mouth. But I stopped and wondered what that even meant…rat race.

It sort of paints the picture of a lab rat whose running around a maze trying to reach the end but is not really even sure what the end looks like.

One definition given for the phrase is “a continual, exhausting routine of hectic and often competitive activity”.

Continual. Exhausting. Routine.

And then of course there’s that word hectic.

Hectic. “Full of incessant or frantic activity.” I discovered that the word actually comes from a medical term used to describe a recurring fever that causes flushed red cheeks and dry, hot skin.

Exactly.

How does someone like me, who has privilege and opportunity and freedom and healthy relationships end up feeling like a rat in a maze, full of frantic activity?

Perspective… or maybe a loss of it.

Lack of intentionality- forgetting my purpose.

Jesus was busy. His schedule was full and there were always more things on the list at the end of the day. Even when he tried to take a quiet moment to himself, people found him and interrupted his space. But I’m not sure I would ever define his demeanor as hectic. He didn’t seem to buy into the “rat race” mentality even when others compared his success or achievements to John the Baptist.

He wasn’t competing or strategizing.

He also wasn’t passive or without purpose.

He was present.

So many times I read that Jesus was headed somewhere with a purpose, but the story we hear is about what happened on the way. The people he encountered on the way…and he was present with them, on his way.

Where am I headed today? Who and what might be on the way that I will miss if I’m frantic or hectic in the act of getting to the end? I want to be present with people, to notice them on the way to where I’m going. I want to have “stories on the way”.

It’s about perspective and intentions and purpose. It’s being present while on the way. As quoted by Alice Morse Earle, Eleanor Roosevelt and. of course, Master Oogway,

"The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."

Annabelle Chinchen
SUMMER DAYS CELEBRATIONS

Summer is over…at least that’s what Chandler schools say! It passes quickly when there are only 7 weeks off, but we filled it with lots of fun at our 1st ever Live Love Summer Days program. Every Wednesday morning we opened up the Live Love House to neighborhood kids and families for food, fun and fitness. We had a great time! Overall we had 17 different kiddos participate in the activities, 11 of which attended 3 or more of our 7 weeks. Throw in another 10 or so volunteers and their kids, and it was a real party!

Last Friday we celebrated their accomplishments with a family BBQ on the front lawn. We grilled burgers and hot dogs and played Octoball and Cornhole.

Thanks to some great donations, we gave out awards for participation. Each one that participated 3 times or more this summer received a gift card to shop for their own backpack. This was a big hit!   They were each able to fill a plastic bag of supplies to take home and put into their backpacks once purchased. Each one who participated in the reading challenge was also awarded a lower level, box seat for this weekend’s Diamondback baseball game! What a night!

A big thank you to Apollo Educational Group , Char Cammans at United Brokers Group, and Great Choice Chiropractic  for the awesome prizes and donations!

As the sun began to set, we sat down and reflected back on our favorite moments over the summer. Some kids loved the water games, like water balloon dodge-ball.

Another remembered the geocaching activity at Veteran’s Oasis Park.

One loved our outing to the movies with treats included.

Another talked about our card-embossing day, and still another mentioned the “scientific” bracelets that were made.

And of course someone had to remind us all of the day the kids beat the adults in tug-of-war.

We learned about jazz and made tie-dye shirts.

Ten of the kids participated in the reading challenge, sharing with others what they were reading and what they enjoyed about that book.

We always had breakfast and snack, and we always had fun.

So we celebrated our summer together and realized that in those 7 weeks of fun and activity, we had accomplished so much more…we had created community! We connected with each other and made friends. And this was the greatest reward of all! We look forward to continuing with those friendships and adding to them this year.

Annabelle Chinchen
LIVE LOVE SUMMER DAYS

Arizona Summer…it’s hot! And kids are home, and they want to stay indoors and lie on the couch and play video games or watch TV.

And we complain, but then they lay there anyway because what else is there to do?

We decided to create something to do in our Live Love neighborhood this summer- at least on Wednesdays! And it has been more fun than we had even anticipated.

Every Wednesday morning we open the doors of the Live Love House to our neighbors for a few hours of fun and learning.   This is the first summer we have hosted something like this, so we really had no idea how it would go. On our first Wednesday, we prepared our breakfast, activities and games and waited to see who would come.

Two sweet kiddos showed up.

They were excited and that helped us maintain our excitement too.

Their mom dropped them off and immediately walked down the street to gather a few other kids she knew. We finished that day with 5 kids and had a great time learning about Jazz music and competing in our very own obstacle course in the front yard.

Our second week the word spread and we had 10 kids show up for breakfast and our field trip to Veterans Oasis Park, where we were taught the skills for geocaching. We divided in to teams and used GPS devices to discover treasures all over the park. Did you know it takes 3 satellites to make just 1 GPS work? It was a 20-minute drive across Chandler, but to some kids it felt like we had crossed a great divide. One mom reported to me that her kids kept asking “Why haven’t we ever gone to that park? Papi can fish there, mom! Right there!”

This week a few more new kids joined in for some fun groups games in the backyard- one of which included the kids beating the adults in tug-of-war.

We’ll never hear the end of that one. And a rematch may need to take place!

Then a wonderful team of women taught the kids how to make embossed cards. We used the finished cards to write letters to people we wanted to encourage- the old fashioned art of letter writing! We finished our morning with a cooking lesson from a real chef, making vegetable dip for our snack of yummy carrots.

Next week we will visit the Chandler Fashion Center for a break from the heat while we catch a movie.

I’m so thankful for the volunteers who jumped in to this Summer Days idea with us not knowing if anyone would even show up. I’m thankful for the moms and kids who are showing up even on hot summer days.

My highlights so far include watching the delight on kids’ faces during our treasure hunt at Veteran’s Oasis Park, and observing the moms sitting on the back step talking and watching their kids play games under the big tree in the backyard this week.

Community building in the making under the hot Arizona summer sun! Hooray!

Annabelle Chinchen
TIME FLIES

Time flies. We’ve heard it before. It pushes forward whether we are paying attention or not.

Whether we like it or not.

It’s funny, because I’ve actually spent a bit of time writing on the topic of waiting. For years I felt like I was stuck in a waiting room.

Just waiting.

At some point it will be time to share those stories of longing and infertility in the waiting room of life. That’s a story for another day. But in the last week something has shifted. Like I’ve stepped from one page to the next in my life story.

My son graduates from high school next week. You read that like it’s no big deal. Lots of kids will graduate in the next few weeks. But for me, that statement is loaded with emotion and agony and celebration all swirled together in a giant tornado. We have dubbed this milestone “victory over high school”!

“Hear ye! Hear ye! Sound the trumpets and bring out the crown.”

Like that sort of victory.

Years of scratching and scraping and climbing and digging. And here we are at the finish line! And now things have changed. Now Kevin is a high school graduate.

As I’m taking all this in, something else happens. I don’t know when or how exactly and I’m not even really sure how I missed it. But in a split second, Yuli, my baby, isn’t a baby.

She’s 12, finishing 6th grade; it’s a normal day and nothing’s changed.

Except it has.

I looked at her and she was instantly a beautiful young lady- just like that. I’ve heard rumors about this day. The day when you realize your kids are growing up. But I imagined I’d be older when it happened. Not this week. Not now. Not already. But things have changed. Now Yuli is a young lady.

Time flies. Even when it feels like it’s not. And over time, change happens. Sometimes with great effort and public display, and other times quietly, barely noticed by others. Some change will require radical redirection, while other change is gentle steering.

As I reflect on the changes happening in my own home, I’m reminded that time flies. It’s moving forward. Every moment counts.  I’m going to sit on top of this mountain for a few minutes and take it all in. I will celebrate the victory and admire the beauty!

Annabelle Chinchen
I'M NOT LEAVING THEM HERE

We were living in Guatemala and my daughter Anna and I had been volunteering in an orphanage.  Adding to our family again was part of the plan and it became obvious that 2 of the kiddos we loved on each week were meant for us. (That's a great story for another day.) These sweet girls had spent time in our home for about 4 weeks and then we traveled stateside for 5 weeks, splitting time between Oregon and California visiting friends and family.

We didn't have any real legal authority as guardians yet, so the girls had to stay back in Guatemala. Oh how my heart ached for them while on our vacation. When the 5 weeks were over, we took a red-eye flight home, drove straight to the house to drop our things, and then made a mad-dash for the orphanage. All we could think about was hugging those girls and bringing them home again.

When we arrived, it was obvious something wasn't right...no adults could be found anywhere. The older kids (and by this I mean older than 3) were all outside. Several came running up to tell me Emma was in the corner of the yard very sick. We ran to her and I scooped her up, burning with fever. She clung to me and my heart was breaking.

I just need to get her home.

We walked into the large 2-story house and still no adults in sight. Straight to the baby room where sweet Yuli was sitting in a walker staring blankly at us. No expression, and worse, there was a giant piece of black something in her eye. I was a rage of red inside!

I have no idea which of us picked her up and removed that giant wood splinter, but it was at that moment the 1st adult caretaker made an appearance. I remember words being spoken, with great restraint, by my sweet husband.

Apologies made.

News that these caretakers were leaving Guatemala and all kids were being transferred.

“We are sorry but the girls will be moved and we can't guarantee you will be permitted to continue with your adoption. Again, we are sorry.”

Words.

Ringing in my ears.

I remember taking Yuli from Paul. I looked him in his eyes and said "I'm not leaving them here."  I was calm but decided.

I arrived with 2 children.

I was leaving with 4.

Maybe someday Paul can write about what happened next. And no, there weren’t any punches thrown and we didn’t flee the scene and go in to hiding. But we did leave with 4 children that day, and spent the next 3 years striving through the adoption process, never looking back.

Something happened inside me that day. Something I can’t explain. My heart was stirred, my soul disturbed. And the whole of me was determined. I couldn’t walk away. I wouldn’t walk away.

I’m feeling some of that stirring in me again.

That day in the orphanage, it happened at once, in a split second.

This time it seems to be building, stirring slowly, but stirring nonetheless.

Listening to stories about older women, working hard to make ends meet all on their own. Stories told with a tinge of embarrassment as they confess times they were taken advantage of in a business deal because they didn’t know better. My new friend who hesitated to share with me that the whole front of her house is without power because the last time her air conditioner went out she tried to use a window unit and it must have blown a fuse. But she can’t afford to repair it, so she runs extension chords from the back of the house for her microwave and uses battery powered camping lanterns to see at night. And yes, her A/C is still broken and it’s supposed to hit 100 degrees here tomorrow.

My heart is stirring, and my soul is disturbed.

There is a plan in motion to get that new A/C in place. But there are so many more just like her. Waiting for one of us to say “I’m not leaving them!” I’m still not clear on what I need to do next.  But I must do something.

My heart is determined and my eyes are focused…who’s with me?

 

P.S. Paul helped to find new caretakers for that orphanage, allowing us to continue with our adoption, also allowing every other child in that house to find a forever home as well.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27

Annabelle Chinchen
OVALS AND STAR FISH

I was having coffee with my friend Judy a few days ago. She was sharing a tough situation that had come across her desk and she just couldn’t let it go. While she was telling the story, I found myself getting frustrated. Not with Judy, but with the situation she was sharing.

This story wasn’t out of the ordinary. A 60+-year-old widow on a fixed income who maintains her own home the best she can, but runs into a rough month with unexpected expenses or simple repairs that she can’t afford.   I have friends and family with limited resources that run into tough times. It happens. But we are connected. And when someone I’m connected to hits hard times, we band together and pull each other through. Connection to each other saves us.

As a trained social worker, one of the first tools I learned to use with people was a resource map. Draw an oval in the middle of a blank page and write your name in it. Then draw lines extending from that oval with more ovals attached to them. In those you describe the people, groups, and places where you are connected. These are our available resources, valuable assets in our life where we can turn for support.

Listening to Judy that day, I realized I was frustrated because this story was just like so many other stories I was hearing among our Live Love neighbors, and I told her so. She was surprised and, I guess I was too a little bit, once I spoke it out loud. Older neighbors, often widowed, faced with hard times but nowhere to turn for help. What might normally be a minor set back, quickly turns in to a life-altering situation. With no tangible connection to community, or even extended family, they are left isolated and alone. The ovals on their resource map are blank. I don’t know where the family is, and I’m sure there are as many answers to that question as there are stories. But the truth in the end is still the same- they are alone.

And no one should be alone.

It’s crazy to think how many connections we have made from pulling weeds. I brag on our Chandler Code Inspectors when they share with us a new story of someone in need. A neighbor complains about the weeds in a lot and the inspector discovers it’s an older adult who’s really unable on his or her own to get out there and do the yard work anymore. So on our Saturday Service Day, we send some volunteers their way to get the job done and help avoid the fine.

Seems simple enough, until that volunteer takes a few minutes to talk with the neighbor. To learn more about their story. Not surprisingly, it’s always way more interesting than weeds. And once they hear the story, their name often finds its way into an oval connected to that neighbor.

Tracy and her family became connected with Ina Claire and her story. This eventually led to helping her move into an apartment when it was inevitable that she was going to lose her house and she had nowhere to go. Tracy and another volunteer, Sue, still help weekly with Ina Claire’s tasks and appointments.

They filled two ovals on her map.

John connected with 93-year-old Helen, and she calls him several times a week just to check in and talk about her “to do” list around the house. His name is now on Helen’s map. And I bet if you asked John, he would say Helen’s name is on his too.

Nanci connected with Bobbi, who on her own still manages a working farm with goats, pigs, and chickens. It’s hers; it’s all she has. And she longs to continue to care for it. So Nanci and other volunteers work in the pasture and on the home with her. Side-by-side. Because that’s what connection does to us.

It enables us to care.

We band together.

We fill in the ovals.

Connection saves us.

I can still here the voice from years ago that said to me, “You can’t save them all!” But my dear friend Becky always reminds me of the story of the starfish.   You know, the boy that finds all the starfish washed up on the beach and he starts to throw them back in, one at a time. An observer says, “There are way too many! You’ll never save them all!” To which the boy replies without hesitation, “Ya, but I saved THAT one.”

Connecting with others saves us all. But it’s not always easy. Remember, it’s messy.

I remember when Paul was learning what living love meant through his connection with Carlos back in Guatemala. Carlos would call or stop by his office…and in that moment Paul would tell me that a big piece of him did NOT want to answer. He knew the connection would interrupt something that day. It would probably even cost him something. But in the end, we both knew the cost was outweighed by what he gained: connection.

Who are you connected to? Or better yet, who, without your involvement, will remain unconnected…with empty ovals on their resource map? Your “starfish”. They are all over the beach waiting and hoping. Find one and pick it up. And if you really don’t know where to look, I bet I can find one for you!

Annabelle Chinchen
ONCE UPON A TIME..

People ask me how Live Love began. For me Live Love was really all about Paul for a while. It was something that he grabbed onto in order to survive a difficult and dark time while we lived in Guatemala. It was encouraging for me to watch him struggle through it and to come out on the other side with truth from God's Word that actually made sense in living out his daily life.

Live Love became part of my daily living in 2007, following a trip Paul and I led to Malawi, Africa. Instead of focusing on projects and completing things on a mission trip checklist, we spent our time really focused on relationships with people and walking side-by-side with them.

Learning how to listen, practicing how to love, joining them in life. It was a challenge for a lot of us, but it was so good for us.

When we returned from Malawi, I came back with this fresh sense of what I needed to do here at home. I began asking-

 Who are the people in my own community that I never see?

 Who are the people that are tucked away, dealing with difficult times and situations that we don't have to confront unless we choose to?

 Just like in Malawi where the problems were so far away and hidden until our paths collided, I knew there must be people in Chandler whose struggles were hidden simply because I didn't know about them yet. I was figuring out that sometimes learning to Live Love with someone starts with knowing their story.

In order to know someone’s story you have to get involved in their life. This is a totally different way of doing service. It’s not just about the project; it becomes more about the person, and I wanted to know the people that lived in my community- the people that I might not normally meet if I weren’t intentional about wanting to meet them.

So I started looking and asking. Someone made a suggestion that I should talk to a woman named Judy who works for the City of Chandler Neighborhood Programs. So I made a phone call and I asked her my question:

 Who are the hidden people in Chandler?

 If a group of people was going to get involved and walk side-by-side with other people in our community that need to be seen and need to be heard, who would that be? Where do they live?

 I could tell she wasn’t sure whether to take me seriously or not.  But when she realized I really wanted to know, she gave me a tour of some parts of Chandler I really hadn't seen before. This rocked my world. She took me to neighborhoods with stories of families working hard to provide for their family, where both parents are working with little or no support. Neighborhoods where a few residents really had high hopes and dreams for their families and their community, but lived in a place where it was nearly impossible to make a difference. People with aspirations just like I have but with no one to help them reach those.

And that's where it started. I took my then four-year-old daughter and we began to walk the streets, door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor, asking questions.

What are your dreams for your family?

What are the projects that you wish you could accomplish but do not have the resources or support to complete?

What are your dreams for your neighborhood?

If someone wanted to help you with a project, what would that be?

 I ate a lot of tamales, drank a lot of coffee and met some extremely wonderful people. I soon became known as “the cute white girl who spoke Spanish”, and I bore that name with pride.

I think most pain comes from living in isolation. When we struggle alone with no one to walk with us, that's harder than the actual difficulty itself. We are created to live in community. That means sharing ourselves with other people. To be known and to know others is where we thrive the most. Sometimes our circumstances don't change, but our perspective is what changes. Investing time and energy into each others' lives, we grow as result of knowing that we are not alone. Our stories can make a difference.

Live Love for me has become about our stories. How do we live out our story in community with other people? It takes more time, more energy, and more compassion, to actually get involved in another person’s story.

It can be messy.

It can be painful.

It can be excruciatingly wonderful.

It can be so many things but it can't be anything without time and intentional action. Live Love is about building strong community. Connecting people. Engaging with the neighbors that I see every day or with people that I might not see unless I actually open my eyes and look. I'm often surprised by how much I have in common with people that seem so different from me. And this is what keeps me moving. This is what Live Love is to me: it means we are living intentionally and loving others unconditionally. It's not easy; but it's always worth it.

Annabelle Chinchen
CARLOS

Several years ago I was living in the sprawling, chaotic city of Guatemala City. Six million people from all walks of life crowded the streets from sun up to sun down. On most days it would take me well over an hour just to drive the five-mile route to my work.

It was while I lived there that I met my friend Carlos.

Everyone has a story but the one that has impacted my life the most is his.

There was nothing about Carlos that was normal to me. He had walked a completely different life than I had, and at first I was a bit apprehensive when I met him. He was homeless, a recovering addict and filthy. The interesting thing about the day that I met him was that as I was walking around, I was struggling with a lot of internal anger and pain. I had recently seen a man shot 5 times in the chest and murdered right in front of my eyes. I also had had a man stick a gun to my head as I was riding to work in a taxi. Life had gone dark for me. As I walked around on the day I met Carlos, my head was down and my heart was heavy.

As I was walking back into my office I heard a screaming whisper within my head that simply said, “look up.”

As I lifted my head, Carlos was sitting in front of me and was staring directly into my eyes.

That first conversation between us was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has continued to grow over the years. Each time we met after our first conversation, we talked about love and hate, faith and doubt, and why the world seemed to be filled with so much darkness.

Carlos taught me that to truly change the world you had to first stop, then look up and notice those who are right in front of you. You have to live in such a way that you embrace every moment and conversation with love. Live Love started because a homeless man named Carlos taught me the value of a single moment.

Annabelle Chinchen
AND WE ARE OFF!

Welcome! My name is Melinda and this is where I start blogging.

Blogging is just writing out loud I guess.

It feels a little like taking my diary and showing it to my friends, except I can cover up what I’m not ready for you to see yet.

And yet showing even a little bit of it still reveals something about who I am for the world to see. And that’s the challenge I’ve accepted really- to be known.

For years my heart has been seeking ways to connect with others, to truly engage in relationships that are true and meaningful. And guess what? I’m learning that my ability to really know others is directly related to how much I am willing to be known by others.

To be real.

To talk about what matters most to me.

To be vulnerable.

So I’m jumping in! And there is no better place to start than with Live Love. My amazing husband Paul began using this phrase while we were living in Guatemala. After moving to Chandler, we officially started Live Love as a non-profit in 2007, in order to invite others to the daily challenge of living lives full of love. It sounds easy enough, but we were learning it was harder than it sounded, and we needed others on the journey with us.

We continue to learn what it means to Live Love everyday, in every moment. We invite you to join us- welcome to the adventure!

Annabelle Chinchen