Friday, January 01, 2010

A Year of Surprising Blessings: Embracing, not simply surviving 2009

As we sit here on the evening of January 1st and reflect on another year of life, we are awed at how 2009 was a year full of surprising blessings. Of course, every year is full of blessings but 2009, in particular, was a year that surprised us in so many ways. In December 2008, Ericlee was laid off from his job teaching at Fresno Christian schools. Dorina was 8 months pregnant at the time and we were shocked and a little stressed. Warnings of rough times and a tough economy were splashed across the country's headlines. We braced ourselves for the unknown. We prayed a lot and vowed to live more simply and embrace whatever God put in our path.

In January, Ericlee started a crazy schedule piecemealing several jobs together to help us pay our bills. Some of his spring jobs included substitute teaching in Fresno Unified, personal training, coaching at Velocity Sports Performance, teaching a class at DeVry Institute and Fresno Pacific University and then coaching track one final year at Fresno Christian High School. Each one of these jobs was a surprising blessing for us as God provided the exact amount of money we needed each month. We were blessed by so many job opportunities in a tough job market and sometimes even by pure miracles like a check in the mail or a gift card from someone anonymous.

Our second daughter, Giada Esther Gilmore, was born on February 16, 2009. She entered the world in just a few hours, surprising us by coming 10 days early. We had her as planned at home with our nurse-midwife arriving just in time to deliver our sweet "jade star." We were were in the midst of "Missions Month" at our church, The Bridge. This annual focus on missions was special (and busy!) this year as our congregation raised money for Haiti and Christian Friendship Ministries. This ministry was started by Ericlee's grandparents more than 60 years ago. We were heavily involved in the planning and execution of the month's events, including hosting several Haitian friends. Needless to say, it was a busy time to have a baby. (When is it ever not busy?)

To everything there is a season under heaven - a time to be born and a time to die. Dorina's Grandpa Frank Lazo passed away in March 2009. This was a time of reflection and sadness for our family but even more for celebration that Grandpa had a new body and would joining his bride Cora in heaven. Grandpa lived with us in Fresno for a year when we were first married and both of us were close to him. His life reminded us to laugh, dream and embrace the blessing of family and opportunity.

This spring, Dorina published her third picture book for children. CORA COOKS PANCIT was released by Shen's Books in April. This book was an exciting adventure for all of us as we traveled up and down the state of California for book signings and author talks. The blessing was in meeting many children and adults who connected with the book with a Filipino cooking theme. Meilani was mama's helper, handing out bookmarks and sharing the story with other children.

Ericlee was hired to teach Nutrition for summer school at Fresno Pacific University. Through a friend at our church, Ericlee got a foot in the door teaching at the college level. He has always dreamed of making this step but wasn't sure how it would happen. Not only was he able to teach this summer but through a series of amazing events FPU offered him a 3/4-time position for the fall. God opened a door we never expected because FPU had just laid off 19 staff/faculty in the spring. Kinesiology happens to be an area they are growing! Ericlee has greatly enjoyed digging deeper into his passions for nutrition, fitness and physical education and sharing those with college students. His contract at FPU extends through summer 2010. We are now praying about new job opportunities for this fall.

The highlight of this past summer was our three-week family trip to Haiti in July. We took our girls and we were also blessed to bring Dorina's parents, Doug & Maria Lazo, for two of the weeks. We led three teams of people from our church for a sports camp, a music camp and a construction trip to help finish building and orphanage there. Unfortunately, Ericlee's mom (who usually is our connector and translator) was unable to go on these trips. We were surprised at how God helped us survive in Haiti without her and how the teams connected so well with our Haitian friends. Giada and Meilani jumped right into Haitian culture and quickly made friends with the children in our camps and church. Today, the orphanage is complete and 15 children are fully sponsored and living there. A new church building is almost finished in St. Raphael, Haiti, and we are already making plans to return this summer with more teams. Our trip this summer also prompted us to move forward in pursuing adoption from Haiti. We hope to adopt a Haitian child in the next few years. Now we are waiting as the Haitian law requires a couple be married 10 years before they adopt. (We have three more to go!)

This year has also been full of surprising blessings as we have watched our girls grow. Each day with children holds surprises and reasons to celebrate. In May, we celebrated Meilani's third birthday with a Bubble Bonanza in our yard/pool. Dorina started a home preschool curriculum with Meilani this fall as a fun way to help stimulate our eager learner. The Gilmore girls also enjoyed lots of fun field trips and time with mama since Dorina stays home with them full time. Meilani loves to read stories, play with her babies, do art projects, dance and perform. She is a big helper as Mama not only cares for little sister Giada but also for two other friends' children throughout the week. Giada is now 10 months old and about to take off walking. Her personality is very smiley and spunky. She loves to wiggle and climb (much to Mama's chagrin and Daddy's delight).

We just celebrated our 6th Cooking Club Christmas with a "Green" theme. We meet monthly with a (growing group of friends) to cook new recipes, eat fabulous food and fellowship together. This year's themes have included "Deceptively Delicous," "French Cuisine Inspired by Julia," "Ethiopian Food," and "Fall Flavors," to name a few.

For several years now, Ericlee and I have been praying that God would surround us with a group of people who would challenge us in our faith, support us in our marriage and parenting and spur us on to live, give and grow in community. We thought this summer that we might have to move out of Fresno to find a job. This helped us to realize what a wonderful community we have been blessed with right in our own backyard. Our Fresno family is very important to us and we recognize this year has been a gift as God has allowed us to stay rooted in this community.

As we reflect on 2009, we shake our heads when we think about how many times God surprised us. Sure, we had to tighten the belt and make sacrifices. The reality is these sacrifices were just another avenue for the blessings to abound. This Christmas we spent with Dorina's family at Paul and Michelle's house in Los Angeles. We enjoyed some quality time, creating new traditions and passing on the old ones to our girls. We laughed, sang, baked, acted out a drama and played games. We still exchanged gifts but we tried to put less emphasis on the "stuff" and more value on the *people.* What we discovered is that there is surprising blessing in simply being and doing life together. We are eager to embrace the adventures of 2010!

Food for Thought:
"Because we don't usually have to depend on God for food, money to buy our next meal or shelter, we don't feel needy. In fact, we generally think of ourselves as fairly independent and capable. Even if we aren't rich, we are "doing just fine." If one hundred people represent the world's population, 53 of those lives would live on less than $2 a day. Do you realize that if you make $4,000 a month, you automatically make one hundred times more than the average person on this planet? 
- Francis Chan, CRAZY LOVE


VM Family said...

Thanks for blessing me, once again, with the incredible testimony of your 2009. It's been great to journey with you via the blog.

Anonymous said...

We just finished reading your 2009 message together and enjoyed the reflections so much. Of course, we were blessed to be there for much of what you described, but were touched by the memories and your extraordinary writing gift. Funny how we each included a few of the same words in our letters to describe Giada or ideas without having read each other's letters previously. We pray that blessings will continue to abound for all of you in 2010!
Mom and Dad L.

Anonymous said...

God is so good and faithful to his children.
BTW, your girls are so stinkin' cute!
Anne Brant