From Venezuela to Arizona and thanking God in every circumstance

They don’t have Quick Trip in Venezuela, so we stopped for a sip of coconut milk at this bodega on the roadside.

Living in the desert my entire life except for one unforgettable (albeit quite sticky) summer in Washington, D.C., you could say I’m accustomed to the heat. It’s not unusual around here to wear shorts on Thanksgiving.

Phoenix shattered records this week when we hit 118 degrees on July 30. Our hottest temps are generally during June when 120 scorching degrees is not unheard of.

And you know what? I’m thankful, truly thankful.

OK, before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me tell you, it wasn’t always that way. I grew up in a comfortable home with a loving family. I never once went to bed hungry or wondered about the roof over my head. We had a great air conditioner and my parents always managed to pay the electric bill, painful as it must have been.

At 20, I met my beloved. He was a student from Venezuela who came here after his father cashed in his retirement savings and gave him a large portion to come to the United States to learn English and become an engineer. Pipo arrived in Arizona with little more than tuition money and a heart filled with hope.

When I first met him, he was bussing tables in the cafeteria at Arizona State University’s student union. His kind eyes and warm smile captivated me from the first moment. As we became friends, I discovered something else: This man radiated the joy and love of Jesus Christ, two gifts that were born of a personal encounter with the Lord.

Our adventure included a stop in Caracas where we saw this statue of Simon Bolivar, the George Washington of Venezuela.

As our friendship grew, I saw the simplicity of Pipo’s life. His bed was a mattress on the floor of a small room. A cardboard box doubled as his night stand and chest of drawers. A guitar, given to him by a friend, was a prized possession. And the love songs he sang—they were for God.

Fast forward 18 months and we were engaged to be married. A trip to Venezuela to meet his family was in order, and what an adventure it was! We married six months later and in 1991, brought our two small children home to meet the Venezuelan side of the family.

I never made it back to what was once the crown jewel of South America. By the time dictator Hugo Chavez took power, it was clear there was no going back for this gringa. The U.S. State Department warns Americans not to travel there, and Venezuela is gripped in a deep and painful economic catastrophe that has led to starvation, rampant crime and deadly disease.

Our wedding day; it was 75 degrees in sunny March, the best time to visit State 48!

In 34 years of marriage, I have come to see my country through the eyes of a foreign-born patriot who loves the United States for the incredible opportunities it afforded him. He taught our five sons that if you work hard, you can achieve great things, and that the only thing holding you back is often yourself. He taught all of us to dream big and reach for the stars.

But most of all, he taught us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing” and “in all circumstances, give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thes. 5:18).”

Is the United States a perfect country? No. Have there been gross injustices and evil perpetrated against the innocent? Most assuredly.

But look around. Look and see what it’s like in so many other countries and it becomes clear that we live with tremendous freedom, opportunities and abundance. Give thanks for the U.S.A., and where you see injustice, work to heal it. Give thanks for this great country of ours, and ask the Lord to show you how He wants you to serve and love your neighbor. Ask Him to help you love and forgive your enemies.

And give thanks to Him in all things, even when it’s 118.