Ministry Update: 2020 was busy!

I lit a candle for my health in this church in Croatia…not my normal tradition but it will always be special to me now in light of this past year.

2020 sure did bring some surprises to my ministry but thankfully, the Lord provided many opportunities for great connections!

I started 2020 working a Thrive retreat in Croatia, just when Covid was ramping up in nearby Italy. It was a last minute trip for me as I had to raise those funds in a very short window after serving in Estonia the previous Fall. Obviously, I had no idea at that time, what crazy times were on the horizon. It felt like as soon as the team landed back in the United States, everything started to shut down. Thrive retreats scheduled for later in the year were all cancelled.

Fortunately, my role as lead mentor for Thrive’s Alongside ministry did not stop because of The Rona. We continue to meet the needs of women serving overseas via online applications like Zoom and FaceTime. Thrive launched an online retreat called Gather and our numbers of mentor and mentee connections continue to rise. I am currently managing a team of 25 mentors who meet with 1-3 women apiece. We are excited about this growth and anticipate even more connections after another Gather event in February 2021. Of course, our prayer is that in-person retreats will resume as well in this next year. I plan to jump into action as soon as it is possible to do so.

In addition to working with Thrive, I continue to offer discounted and free counseling to many women I have met over the years in my travels. These sessions are made possible through donations from my supporters, who I am grateful to, for their ongoing support during this tumultuous year!

Many of you have been so supportive as I continue to battle cancer on a daily basis. I SO appreciate your kind notes and encouraging comments on social media. What a blessing to feel the love when I am at those icky doctors appointments! You may be wondering how this changes my work life. Honestly, it doesn’t. While the chemotherapy and the infusions can be rough, I have found that I do better if I keep a busy schedule. Focusing on my clients, who I meet with via Telehealth, is invigorating and I do not plan to end my time in private practice anytime soon. In fact, Telehealth has made it possible for me to travel to Phoenix monthly for treatment and not miss a beat with my clients. And PRAISE THE LORD…my new protocol continues to bring positive results. I have a great team of doctors who are all working to get me the treatment I need, with the least possible side effects. Some days are rough but most days I live life fully.

For 2021, I am again hoping to raise $18,000 to cover all my ministry expenses. I ask that you consider my ministry as you are making decisions about your year end giving and your philanthropy for the coming year. I know there are many worthwhile causes out there so I am grateful to those of you who continually put your trust in my work. You can donate here…Thank you for your sacrificial giving!

A strange blessing for me this past year is that my almost 7 year battle with cancer prepared me for life in a pandemic. I was wearing masks and over sanitizing long before the whole world shut down. I remember many plane flights in my past where folks would obviously avoid sitting next to me in my mask that I had to wear. Now I am one in the crowd and no one stares at me! I wasn’t afraid in the old days and I am not afraid now. Isn’t it comforting to know that our days are numbered by the Lord and the best place to be is in His will?

Blessings to all of you. My prayer for you as we enter 2021 is that God’s plan for your life will be clear to you in 2021!

With love,

Sonia

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2020: Best year ever?

Wow, it has been a long year. When I think back to my last overseas mission trip last February, it seems like it was 5 years ago! The initial Italy outbreak was occurring when I was in nearby Croatia, so our volunteer team was on high alert, being so close to the devastation. We thought it was a short term current event. Who knew that we were on the cusp of our whole lives being shut down! So much has happened, and not happened, since then.

My girls were on a senior year “Spring break hurrah”, with friends, when they got the news that their university was closing down for an extra week. It would be the last time they saw most of their friends, and they never did get to walk across a stage after 4 years of exemplary work. As one of my daughter’s shared, “I was living my best life and then it was gone in an instant!”

When I talk to clients, I hear stories of incredible loss: Loss of jobs, friends, freedom, community, mental health….and more. Many people have experienced lack of closure with those they used to go to school with or folks they worked with, loved ones who have died during this time, even people who have moved away.

On top of Covid, we in the United States have had political tension that has come between even the closest of family and friends. We are divided into camps where there isn’t a lot of common ground, since many of the polarizing issues rest in people’s core value systems. Even folks who value tolerance are struggling with how to live that in our current climate.

As a counselor, my job has always been to assist people with overcoming trauma and altering victim status to empowerment status, resulting in a life well-lived. Are you able to do this with 2020? I encourage you to try…

Here is what this processing might look like. I use my own life as an example.

I am grateful that even though I was forced to close down the office space that I LOVED, I am able to see clients via Telehealth. Because of this transition, I am able to meet with clients when I travel to Phoenix for cancer treatment! I don’t have to stop working because of my diagnosis, which is an enormous blessing because I love my work and I have to work in these economic times!

I am grateful that my daughter, who had planned to take a gap year to earn money to attend grad school, could not find anyone hiring during the shutdown, so she applied to grad school early and ended up with a full ride scholarship. She would never thought that possible. Covid forced her into pursuing her dream!

I am grateful that my online church encouraged me to join a virtual small group, because they were proactive in creating community during the shutdown. My church is in Texas, so I never dreamed that I would connect, as I have, with anyone in the congregation! Now we have dear friends in town when we visit our girls! I also have numerous friends who I talk to more often because we have scheduled weekly, bi-weekly or monthly conversations using Zoom or Face Time.

I am also grateful that through this last year, I have seen people’s colors…some of those colors darker and some brighter than others. I have been able to see people’s love and hate, and their thoughtfulness and lack thereof. I have been disappointed in some behaviors but motivated by others, as we all respond to the crisis at hand. I have learned who are my people and who are not. As painful as that can be sometimes, it is a gift.

I could go on…but you get the process. Romans 8:28 tells us that, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. The promise does not say that life will be easy but rather, we can turn hard times into purposeful living. What hardship of 2020 has lead to an unexpected blessing? Are you able to resist the urge to see this as a terrible, no good year, but rather see it as a time of refinement of who you are going forward?

World-changers are people who take their trauma and do something good with it. They use their character building tough days, as motivation for making their family, their community, and even the earth a better place. Google “People who overcame adversity to do big things” and you will see lists and lists of people who didn’t stop because they endured a hardship. We all have 2020 as a springboard into a great 2021. Do you accept the challenge?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Rise Above: There will always be a Covid

Rise Above: There will always be a Covid

I remember sitting at my mama’s feet, as she tried to communicate with the customer service rep on the other end of the line. I am sure, me sitting there while she tried to make her point, was super helpful…why do our littles always sit right next to us when we are on the phone? She was being asked to repeat herself, over and over again…no doubt her accent was making it difficult for the person unwilling to just listen for a second. She put down the phone with disgust and told me to get my shoes on. We were going to go in person, “so that they can see that I have money and I am not stupid.” Before she hung up the phone, she asked for the person’s first and last name, a practice I use to this day to advocate for myself. I hope my girls learned lessons sitting next to me when I was on the phone!

Meeting in person did not always work. She also told me the story of when the Friendly Hills Country Club ladies came to “interview” her and they obviously did not see her as an equal. When she shared this story with me, she reflected that being refused was good information…better than being admitted and treated poorly. Even when the club changed some policies, she knew it wasn’t a home for our family.

My mother was anything but stupid. She came to the United States, brought by missionaries Chuck and Mary Olvey,  to attend their alma mater, where she graduated at the top of her class, in her second language. I still have a copy of the speech she gave at Biola’s graduation, typed out…a message to inspire others. In her life, she overcame obstacle after obstacle, with a grace that probably gave the impression that it came easily to her. As her daughter, I had a front row seat to some of the obstacles, and it wasn’t easy; she had a deep rooted faith and she refused to give up. And she refused to be mediocre.

Here is my mamacita getting her citizenship…fun day!
Green Card photo….how brave she was!

When California held a vote to make Spanish an official language, I learned how very wise she was….”If California says they are willing to loose language, a uniter of people, there will always be two or more groups, and the English speakers will always have the advantage.” Soon after, she began volunteering, teaching Hispanic adults to read and speak English. She also decided around this time to turn in her green card for United States citizenship, so she could vote.

In the last few years, I have been told by professors, friends who have differing political viewpoints, and popular culture, that my story and my mother’s story don’t count, in my perception of how to really change the world. That is fine. Maybe our story is just for us and the children I am raising.

My daughter is teaching dance in Waco, Texas, and after having classes via Zoom, for 10 weeks, some of the girls were not feeling ready to perform. She shared with me that she told those girls that there will always be a Covid, or a current event, or a personal struggle, that will impact their lives…but they have a recital to perform and they can choose to give it their best effort or give up. She has no idea that she inspired me that day. Sometimes in life, it just seems easier to give up. There is a temptation to forget how hard we have worked to get where we are, and in those moments, we can be willing to throw it all away.

Friends, is there a situation in your life that is beating you down? Is there a job situation, an illness, a broken relationship???? Are you tempted to give up, retreat, or forget that you have life to be lived? I have never met a person who didn’t have a situation in their life, where others were to blame, or the unfairness of the situation was unbearable. But we all do have the choice to press on. Every hero, every success story, has a moment in the story, where all the odds were against them, and they did. not. give. up.

Have faith. Do not give up. Refuse to be mediocre. Thank you, Mamacita, for the lessons you taught me, when I sat at your feet.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

 

Gratitude Is Not Faith

GratitudeI often meet with people who begin therapy with, “I have never told anyone this before.” Part of my job is to be an unbiased, objective listener so I am used to this pre-qualifier. I will never get used to what often follows. What often follows, is simply an honest admittance that life is hard and there is no one in this person’s life who will let them be real about life occurrences that happen to so many of us: illness, death, job loss, disappointment, addiction, betrayal, abuse, spiritual battles, and the list goes on. Why is it that so many have few people to share life with?

There is a wave in our society right now that is calling for “gratefulness”, for the abundance that the United States has experienced for a long time. It is true, that as a nation, we are rich in resources and opportunity. Most, and I don’t mean all, healthy people in the United States have access to some support, to live a life beyond the streets. For that, there absolutely has been a lack of understanding of what it means to live without and to fight daily, to simply live. When I travel with Thrive Ministries, around the world, I see firsthand, the poverty and degradation that many in our world are subject to. I serve a population of women sacrificing daily to see this eradicated, so the need for gratefulness is not lost on me. Our first world mindset often forgets that the majority of souls, living in this world, are every day facing the challenge of simply staying alive another day and for many, making life choices that sacrifice their hearts and souls to survive. Our nation would do well to cultivate a spirit of gratefulness, to keep our hearts humble and motivate us to share more than what is expected. Gratefulness is a wonderful attribute.

But as most people can attest if they live long enough, our life journey is more than having food on the table or even, having the latest cell phone. Even those in the most fortunate of situations, still battle through life. From the poorest to the most wealthy, people suffer. All people encounter difficulty far beyond what they ever imagined as they dreamed a plan for their life. As a Christian, I believe that God can turn any pain into dancing. I have experienced it in my own life and I have seen it in the lives of others. However, I wonder if this attachment to gratefulness or a “positive outlook” has clouded our need for honesty, for God’s work, and for faith that all things work together for good. Yes, all things work together for good, but NOT ALL THINGS ARE GOOD!

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