Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Freedom we feel in the mountains

Christmas Letter 2011

From Nicaragua

to the top of Tumalo mountain a few days ago

we have had an amazing year. Every year seems like a better one then the last, and this one is no exception. It's been such a full year that somehow the news that we sold our home (in 5 days!) in September barely even made the list to be mentioned here!

Cory is working hard to develop and implement the engineering program at Redmond High School, as the department head. He loves the hands on classes he is teaching that inspire kids to come in during their lunch and groan when class ENDS. Julie continues to teach High school Spanish, elementary music, and piano at Central Christian School (and in our private home studio) where Cade and Bekah are 5th and 3rd graders. Both kids have found a love for soccer and are progressing nicely on the piano (and a little guitar!). My big project of the year culminated on Dec. 14th, with our elementary Christmas musical of 2 showings to a crowd of at least 700 folks that watched us sing, dance, and act out the truth that it truly is better to give than receive!

Our summer adventures began on June 20th when we hooked up the trailer and said goodbye to our home for a 10 week life on the road. It started in Zion National Park for 10 days. Then off to Nicaragua for 3 weeks. After Nica, we "convalesced" at Bryce National Park as Nica was quite exhausting. It was nice to get home to safe water, food, dry air, and our own vehicle after giving 110% for 3 weeks.

We then enjoyed a 5 week stay in Eastern California where we backpacked over 150 miles in the Sierras and camped in between trips. Nothing beats the Sierras for the O'Neills!!

Our mission trip in Nicaragua for 3 weeks was life changing, to say the least! It is our sincere prayer that we will get to return in a summer. I loved being able to connect with the locals through Spanish conversation and Bible schools I lead but it was amazing to watch all 4 of us discover our niche there. The kids played with the kids day after day as if they knew Spanish - Love knows no language! Cory and I got to spend a day fitting folks with eye glasses and never grew tired of watching faces of young and old light up when we found the right prescription and they could see for the first time! Cory also spent about 10 days working on an orphanage property installing solar panels - this was not pre planned. We heard about the orphanage, gave them a quick call, showed up and found that they had been praying for an engineer to come and help them with this project (and needed a worship leader too which Cory enjoyed doing in the evenings). Cade helped daddy a lot while Bekah and I played with the kids, led a Bible school, and helped in the kitchen.

Here's the main solar tower completed and ready to be anchored in the ground:The truth about short term mission trips is that it allows us to go to a different part of the planet and see a different face of God in the lives of those that live there. We did get to do some amazing hands on helping type projects, but the real lessons were the ones our hearts learned through the gracious people we met while there.

With all these epic trips, some of the best memories are contained in the simple essence of those moments when we deeply connect with someone -(Bullfrog lake below: another 12,000 foot lunch at an exquisite lake!) holding hands with Cade as we walk across a campground, a killer run that gets the sweat pouring, going out to coffee with a friend, a hug from a student, tea time with Bekah or a quick surprise visit from someone all weave the days together with true joy. We do feel so blessed at our full and bountiful life and for your friendship in our lives. May you have an amazing 2012, where you seize each day with joy and hope.

Love, the O'Neills
Cory, Julie, Cade, and Bekah

Monday, December 26, 2011

2012 - here we come!

She packed up her potential

and all she had learned,

grabbed a cute pair of shoes

and headed out to

change a few things

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The tale of 2 pianos

It began with an innocent question to a student in my class about her mom. Her matter-of-fact toned reply caused the meaning of what she was saying to take a few seconds longer then it should have to register. But when it did, my heart broke, and my resolve to get to know her was made.

For Sarah had lost her mom, a year and a half earlier, at the tender age of 10, to pneumonia.

The process of developing trust with students is slow - built over weeks and months through smiles, eye contact, side hugs, and eventually, little conversation morsels. It's not like I can take her out to coffee and sit down for 4 hours and call it good - instead, it's mini-coffee like breaks throughout the year that slowly, someday, lead to a real relationship.

As the school year progressed, I could see that music sparked something within Sarah that could be seen clearly in her twinkling eyes. She worked hard in my group piano class, tryed out and was awarded solo parts in my choir, and took more then one road-trip with her dad to California to go to special acting camps.

So while that story was unfolding all school year, a mom in our same town was continuing to work through the grief of her 15 year old son who died 14 years earlier. Eric loved music and had a special talent for all forms of music, despite his deformed heart and missing lung and sickly life.

For years I have secretly wanted to upgrade my piano. It is the original piano my parents bought for me when I began piano, in a Chicago suburb, at the age of 5. My brother, David Klinkenberg and I have spent hundreds of hours practicing music around this piano. It sits in my studio now, a bit beat up, but still sounds majestic to my ears. God Had whispered to me many times when I thought about purchasing a new piano that He had one for me (and it would even be my favorite brand - Kawai) - but that I just had to wait.

Late last week the phone rang and I met Wanda, a mom who has walked the unthinkable by losing her only child through heart disease. Within 3 minutes, I knew she wanted (or thought she wanted) to give this piano away and that it belonged to her son that had died 14 years earlier. She literally wrestled back and forth with her decision to give it up and decided that it would be best if she just took lessons and used the piano...we kept talking, more her then me, but I quickly moved into counselor role as I grieved with her about her son and encouraged her to take her time in deciding. We hung up.

5 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Wanda with an announcment. She simply said, "I talked to my husband about you and we have decided to give you the piano. You are the one we have been waiting for."

A studio level, amazing quality, nearly $11,500 Kawai - and I am the one she has waited for.

So, who is the one my piano was meant for? I decided to offer it to my 30 students I teach group piano to each week. Their task - write me an essay that convinces me that you are the one who should get my childhood piano. 6 beautiful essays came in of students inspired to keep learning piano after they discovered a deep love for piano and music from taking my class all year.

But the one who stood out the most was from the quiet girl whose eyes twinkled when she talked of being in theater, singing, and music - a young girl who lost her mom way to young.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Fear

During our honeymoon/backpacking trip the altitude, low blood sugar and having the body altering (NEVER TAKE THIS STUFF!) birth control pill coursing through my veins all triggered an attack of grand mal seizures. In fact, without being life flown out of the wilderness, I most likely would not have lived on to tell the story.

THe details of that story, in itself, are long and show the hand of God as He whispered to us "It's OK - I know the way. You'll be OK! I know the way!"

Here's the deal - that experience left a scar within my heart that had grown into a large ugly wound of fear. I love to be out in the wilderness - or go skiing - or go running on trails - or mountain biking - but for years, the tape playing in my mind was: "Are you nuts? Do you remember what happened in 1996? What are you doing?"

Fast forward to 2009 - Stud Husband and I decided to tackle some high mountain Sierra trails - real altitude, of 12 to 14 thousand feet high mountain lakes and passes. The entire drive down and 1st day of hiking, I was literally short of breath from gripping fear that 1996 could happen again. I have kids now! We are not just a stones throw from a town in these mountains - we are deep in the wilderness. What am I doing?

But I knew, in my deepest knower, that God does not lead us through the maze of life by fear. That instead, we are to travel this life from victory to victory and ultimately, follow peace. Just because I felt fear, gripping fear at that, does not mean I was not to move forward - on the contrary, fear tends to motivate me to face the giant head on and double check that I am holding on to God's hand tightly as I go.

So one step at a time, I climbed that mountain, both literally and metaphorically - I realized that if I didn't face this head on that this fear monster would only get bigger.

:But God, I am scared!!

Child, that's OK. Do it anyway. Do it scared. But do it.


And the next day when in 1996, the first seizure hit, I was still feeling amazing, athletic, strong. We climbed up to a high mountain lake at nearly 11,000 feet altitude where I realized that this "Monster" lurking and keeping me from the joy of being there had shrunk and was really a mouse sized puny little squeaky voice that had no power over me at all. In fact, when the fullness of knowing that I was higher then I had ever been on a mountain and I was feeling better then ever was fully realized, I knew once and for all , that God had destroyed that Monster.

Check this video out. It beautifully portrays the truth that God knows the way in all of our lives! Fear is not of Him! When we remember that He Has us in the palm of His hand and He is taking us through this life we can watch all the Fear Monsters in our lives shrink down and completely disappear. We walk this life with HIM!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Our next adventures

In 2 years, for our 15th wedding anniversary, how about we take the family on a mission trip to serve others in need as a way to celebrate being a family for 15 years...?”

- Cory, August, 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

It's hard to believe that we are on the precipice of celebrating 15 years of marriage, but we are. As a way to commemorate our 15 years together as a family, Cory dreamed, as we hiked in a high-Sierra trail in 2009, that during the summer of our 15th year together, we'd take our entire family to Nicaragua on a mission trip. The trip is being planned through our church, Redmond Community Church for the Mustard Seed Missions, which was started by our friends Michael and Lisa Perkins over 5 years ago.

It is our heart's desire to give our children experiences that will immerse them in what it truly means to give, selflessly, and to recognize the need for Jesus goes beyond our political country boundaries to all people. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America with very little infrastructure or modern conveniences. Families often have little choice but to let their young children scavenge in garbage dumps for food and their daughters to work the streets for money. Unlike in the U.S., there is not a safety net of social services that provides basic needs like food, medical care, and education to people in poverty. By joining efforts with the ongoing ministry that Michael and Lisa have established, we strive to be part of a loving movement that is breaking family cycles and changing legacies. Vocational training for women, feeding and nutritional training programs for the hundreds of people that are living in the Managua city dump, and building projects for homes in major disrepair are just a few of the things we will have the privilege of being part of. Our days there will be jam packed!

The dates of our trip are July 2 – July 10th, 2011. We are very excited for this amazing opportunity! We hope to bring our own special touch to the team through leading worship as well as Julie's understanding of the Spanish language, that will hopefully allow her to connect with the local people at a deeper level. Our children are natural ice breakers as they easily make friends and will be a vital part of the team as they reach out and connect with Nicaraguan children in a way that only other children can do. And finally, Cory, being the talented work horse that he is, plans to put in long hours, building and repairing infrastructure.

We are humbly writing to you to ask you, first and foremost, to please keep us in your prayers over the next months and during the time we are in the country. Specific prayer requests are:

  • Health and safety while in Nicaragua (no malaria or dengue fever please!)

  • That this time of ministry would draw our family closer together and closer to God

  • That our time in Nicaragua would allow us rich connections with the people in Nicaragua

  • That God would open or close doors as He leads to pave the way for us to bring high school students and our family back to Nicaragua in future summers

  • That funds for the trip would be provided for

We are also writing to you to ask you to consider partnering with us financially to make this trip possible. The total cost for the trip is $5000. As I type that number, I truly feel all at once overwhelmed by it and confident that since God Has prompted our hearts to want to go that He will clear all obstacles to making that happen. To help keep track of your support, we are asking that you send any donation through our church. Address the checks to RCC and note “O'Neill Nic trip” in the memo line. Your entire donation will be tax deductible. We will send you a tax statement (and a big smiley thank you note/letter of what we did on the trip ) in time for your April 2012 taxes!

Leave a comment with your email address so I can send you a support letter and address of where to send your donations to. Thank you so much for considering joining us in this new adventure into God's Great Plan!