Lily Ann Fouts

2017 Holiday Letter

Happy Holidays from Minnesota! 

When the clock struck midnight on December 31st, 2016, and the sky in Loja, Ecuador exploded into color as we ate our 12 grapes (representing a coming year of prosperity), I had no way of knowing what a range of emotions we would experience in 2017—from grief we couldn’t imagine to excitement about all the possibilities of life.

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What I Do

You know how when you meet a new person, one of the first things they ask is “So, what do you do?”

That's not an easy question for me.

I used to have a simple answer: “I’m a teacher.” How convenient to have one-word answers that everybody understands!

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LojAventura – Outdoor Adventure in Loja and Beyond

“We’ve been told there’s a waterfall up the Zamora Huayco river, but nobody ever goes up there. Do you want to go scout it out with us tomorrow morning?”

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Loja Packing List

What to Pack for a Trip to Loja, Ecuador

Are you planning an exploratory trip to Loja and wondering what to pack?

I’m a nerd when it comes to packing. I’ve honed my skills over the years from my own multiple trips across the globe, beginning early in life as a child fugitive.  I also have many good friends who are avid travelers, and we geek out on this topic.

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Buses in Loja, Ecuador

During our latest trip to Loja, I visited the transportation office and the tourism office, begging for a complete map of the Loja city bus system.

Although the buses run along established routes at regular intervals, no complete map seems to exist outside of an Android app called SITU Loja, but since I have an iPhone I wasn’t able to test it.

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Plaza San Sebastian

33 Things to Do in Loja, Ecuador

I’ve written a lot about Loja as a potential place to live. It’s the main focus of my book on Loja, and will continue to be a major focus in the second edition of the book. But what about the city and province of Loja as a destination for travelers? I’ve explored this theme in more depth in the second version of my book! (CLICK HERE to learn more if interested!)  In this post, I'll share 33 things to do in Loja--both the city and the province (and one thing outside the province, but close to Loja).

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Ecuadorian Residency Header

A Woman Pursues Ecuadorian Residency in Loja

When I found out we would be returning to Loja (unexpectedly, see 2016 Holiday Letter), I downloaded The Visa Chase and Other Fun Stories of Ecuador, by Diana Cevallos to my Kindle.  Diana is an expat from the United States who has been living in Ecuador since 2011 and in Loja since 2012.  She spent the first few years trying to obtain Ecuadorian residency visas for herself and her son.  I had interviewed Diana for my book, Live Like a Local in Loja. She has a wealth of knowledge about the city of Loja and culture of Ecuador. […]

2016 Holiday Letter

Dear Readers, Friends, and Loved Ones,

Happy Holidays from Loja, Ecuador!  When I wrote the first draft of this holiday letter, less than two weeks ago, I had no idea that a few days later I’d be on a flight to South America!   Let me back up to the beginning of the year and fill you in on how we got here. […]

Painful Past

Making Meaning From Your Past – A Toastmasters Speech

Below is the transcript of a basic speech I put together for Toastmasters several months ago.  I plan to expand this speech and mix it up with some other stories and tell it wherever people are interested in hearing it!  If you know of any podcasts or radio shows or audiences who might enjoy an expanded version of this speech, definitely let me know.  I’d like to do a lot more speaking and interviews in 2017.

Making Meaning From Your Past

When I was a small child, my father moved away, visited sporadically, and each time told us he was never coming back. He put all the bills into my mom’s name and rarely sent support. My mom cared for us both physically and financially, but she wanted us to feel connected to our father. She helped us write letters to him and told us often that he loved us. Sometimes she drove us the several hours to his house so we could visit him on the weekends.

When we were five and seven years old, our father wrote and asked if he could take us for a couple of weeks to visit him. When we went for our visit, we discovered that he had moved to a new place. Our mom didn’t know where we were. Then he started telling us that our mom didn’t want us or love us anymore. He did lots of fun things with us and made lots of promises—he was going to take us to Disneyland, buy us a pony, get us a great big house, etc. And he told us he would get us a new mommy who loved us. He did not take us back to our mother at the end of the two weeks as he had promised he would.

Over the next few months, his true personality started to come out. Disenchanted with the responsibility of caring for two young girls, he neglected to adequately feed, clothe, or clean us. We got sick often. His abuse crossed from the emotional realm into the physical realm.

I know that many people who read this have experienced abuse, neglect, or have been deeply hurt or wronged in some way by someone they should have been able to trust—someone who should have guided, protected, or provided for them—but instead deceived, hurt, or neglected them.

Unfortunately, through his connections and a lot of lies, my father won the custody battle against my mom. At our visits with her, we begged her to keep us, but her attorney told her she couldn’t appeal for two years. Even then, the court rarely reversed a custody decision.

During our long summer visit with our mom, she took matters into her own hands. She kidnapped us. We left everyone and everything behind. We lived in and passed through such diverse places as a Mennonite farm in Tennessee, a Catholic mission house in Texas, an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico, a bakery in Uruapan, Mexico, and many different homes in central Mexico and the southern part of the US.

In both Mexico and the US, we made friends who became like family to us, and we experienced the kindness of countless strangers—men and women of all walks of life whose generosity helped to keep us going.

Through a series of events we wrote about in much more detail in our book, three months after going on the run, we ended up in El Paso at a Catholic mission house run by a bishop named Clifton. We went into the Mexican consulate’s office trying to obtain the paperwork to live in Mexico legally, but the bureaucratic woman behind the counter insisted that my mom needed a notarized letter of permission from our father to get the visas.

Discouraged, we returned to Bishop Clifton’s mission house. The next morning, he called my mom into his office and said, “I’m supposed to help you get to Mexico.”

My mom hadn’t told anyone about our plans. “How did you know we were trying to go to Mexico?” she asked, shocked.

Bishop Clifton said, “About three months ago I had a dream in which a woman and her two daughters came to the mission. In the dream, we were playing with her name, changing it back and forth between Spanish and English—Amigo, Friend. In my dream, I was told that I had to help this woman get to Mexico. I knew you were that woman when you introduced yourself as Rhoda Friend. I have a lot of connections; getting your paperwork will not be a problem.”

Three months ago, he said? But the name in his dream was our alias, and we had only changed our name to Friend a month or two earlier. Three months earlier we had only just taken off.

That’s how we got into Mexico, where we lived for the next five years.

During all of this, my father, bounty hunters, the police, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children went on the hunt for us. A state congressman was involved. We were featured on milk cartons and on television. Once, the day before my fourteenth birthday, the police showed up on our doorstep in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I answered the door and they asked for my mom. While she answered the door, my sister and I bolted out the back and ran.

We escaped that day, but a year later, as we left our apartment to visit a friend for the afternoon, the FBI surrounded us. They sent my mom to jail and forced my sister and me to go back and live with the man we had tried to escape from. He hadn’t changed. Still abusive and controlling, he didn’t want us. He wanted to use us to hurt our mom.

Honestly, I feel like I got off easy. Easier than my sister and my mom, who for some reason were the victims of the worst of my father’s abuse. There are people who have been through unspeakably horrible situations, far worse than I could dream of. Me—I had a loving mother who protected me and cared for me. I know others who have, with tears in their eyes, told me that they wished they had a mother who had protected them the way my mother protected me. Not only that, but I also got to travel and learn a new language and experience a new culture. I have a lot to be extremely grateful for.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason per se. That’s a bit simplistic and I think it can unintentionally belittle the genuine suffering that people have experienced. What I do believe is that we can create our own meaning of the events in our lives. We can choose what meaning to assign to the things that happen to us. WE decide that—not the people or circumstances who hurt us. The meaning we assign to the events in our lives can either serve us, or it can perpetuate the pain.

On the one hand, we can look back and say, “That event or person has ruined my life. I can never go back and fix it. It’s too late. Nobody understands what I’m going through.”

On the other hand, we can look back and say, “That was really painful, but what can it teach me? How can it strengthen me? How can I take that experience and transform my life and deal with other struggles in the future? How can I use my experience to serve others and rise above this situation? How can I break the cycle of negativity in my past?”

A lot of people hear my story and their immediate response is, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. It must have been so painful.” I appreciate that—and I don’t mean to dismiss the pain. That grief is real. But the meaning I’ve chosen to assign to my experience is that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I truly believe that.

My question for you is, what meaning have you assigned to your life circumstances, and how is that serving you today? I encourage you to seek out and take hold of a meaning that will help you rise above your past and move toward a brighter future!

That grief is real. But the meaning I’ve chosen to assign to my experience is that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I truly believe that.

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If you’re curious to learn more about my past, you can pick up a free excerpt from the new book, Seven Years Running, by signing up for my book updates! I’ll keep you posted on the publication process and let you know when the book comes out.

Photo credit: StockUnlimited

Below is the transcript of a basic speech I put together for Toastmasters several months ago.  I plan to expand this speech and mix it up with some other stories and tell it wherever people are interested in hearing it!  If you know of any podcasts or radio shows or audiences who might enjoy an expanded version of this speech, definitely let me know.  I’d like to do a lot more speaking and interviews in 2017.
Making Meaning From Your Past
When I was a small child, my father moved away, visited sporadically, and each time told us he was never coming back. He put all the bills into my mom’s name and rarely sent support. My mom cared for us both physically and financially, but she wanted us to feel connected to our father. She helped us write letters to him and told us often that he loved us. Sometimes she drove us the several hours to his house so we could visit him on the weekends.
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Metal Skeleton

The Metal Skeleton in Mexico

What follows is a story from my childhood. The brief background: when my sister and I were six and eight years old, our mother kidnapped us (at our request) to protect us from our abusive father, who had won custody of us. We lived as fugitives for seven years. Five of those years were in Mexico. This story took place during our time in Mexico.

May 1990 – Pátzcuaro, Mexico

“Hey, what’s that?” I asked Rosy, pointing at a curious object propped up on our neighbor’s wall. It looked like a weird, flat metal skeleton.

Mama still had not returned home from her work at the Club Olympia in Uruapan. Rosy and I had long since finished our chores and schoolwork. The longest, most boring part of the day was upon us—the three o’clock hour when our friends couldn’t play with us because their schoolteachers had laden them with homework. We climbed the wall and gazed, sighing, onto the empty street. No sign of Mama. No sign of our friends. “You stay inside the house until school gets out. After your friends come home, you may go play with them,” Mama had said. With no TV in the house, Rosy and I created our own entertainment during these boring afternoons. We conducted archaeological digs. We invented playgrounds with things laying around in the backyard. We experimented with making different things in the kitchen. Today, we had run out of ideas—until I saw the strange metal skeleton.

“I don’t know what that is,” Rosy said. “Let’s go look at it.”

We climbed down the wall facing our street and climbed up the wall facing our neighbor’s yard. Nobody was home. Sidling up to the metal structure, we examined it closely.

“Look, these metal sticks are held in with screws. I bet we could take them out,” I said. “Why don’t we take it down, inspect it, and then put it back before the neighbors get home? They’ll never know!”

“Yeah, that would be fun!” agreed Rosy.

“Do you think they need this?” I asked, feeling a slight sense that maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea.

“They’re not using it for anything. It looks worthless to me,” she said.

We pulled the metal skeleton off its supporting pole and lowered it to the ground on our side of the wall.

Soon we had it upside down on the grass. It looked like a giant metal spider that had been run over by a semi.

“If they need it for something we can just put it back together,” I said as I came back from the kitchen with a pair of butter knives. “Here, we can use these to get the screws out.”

We lifted our skeleton onto a makeshift workbench created with bricks and boards and worked with lips pursed together in concentration. The screws and metal lengths fell to the ground as we moved to the next ones in our haste. Soon we had reached the end of the skeleton, and the last little metal stick fell to the ground. About fifteen minutes after we had begun, we had a pile of metal sticks. We surveyed our handiwork.

“It looks like a backbone,” Rosy commented. We smiled at our industriousness.

“Hey, these little metal sticks are pretty neat,” I said, picking one up and noticing how light it felt in my hand. “I wonder if they bend.”

I put my knee into the center of a stick and pulled the stick around it, bending it into a V. When I tried to straighten it again, it snapped in two. “Neat!”

“Let me try!” said Rosy, picking up another one of the rods and breaking it. We bent, then snapped several more sticks, listening to the gratifying pop of each one as it broke in two.

“Ok, now let’s put it back together and put it back up before the neighbors get home,” I suggested. After locating one of the screws in the dirt and grass, we started to re-attach one of the sticks. We tried for several minutes. Getting them off had been so much easier! We fiddled with the sticks and screws for a few more minutes, then grew bored and frustrated with our project and abandoned it.

Several minutes later we heard the neighbors come in. Rosy and I climbed onto the wall, where we were met by Sara, the youngest girl in the family.

“You know that thing that was over there?” I asked Sara.

“Yeah.”

“Do you guys use that for anything?”

“It’s our antenna. That’s how our TV works.”

TV Antenna

Photo by Matthew Paul Argall, flickr.

“Oh.” After a long, uncomfortable pause, I added, “Well, um, Rosy and I didn’t know what it was and we wanted to take it apart. Will you please not tell your mom?”

Sara’s eyes widened, but she promised not to tell. Rosy and I returned to our yard, minds racing. What are we going to do? We hadn’t been able to re-attach even one of the sticks. Even if we could, we had broken a lot of the sticks! We didn’t have any money, either. What if Mama found out? We could get into big trouble! Working with haste, we gathered up all the scattered metal sticks and hid them behind a pile of boards. We leaned the giant “backbone” against the wall behind the palm tree and hoped no one would notice.

We waited a day, then two. The antenna seared at our conscience. Burdened with guilt, we decided to talk to Lupe about it and hope she wouldn’t be too mad. Trembling and embarrassed, we walked around to her front door and knocked. When she answered, I blurted out the whole story.

“We’ll pay it all back,” I promised.

Lupe told us of her confusion. “I went to turn on my TV and there was no picture. I changed all the channels and nothing was coming in. So I went out to check the antenna and when I looked up it was gone! I thought someone had stolen it!”

Burdened with guilt, we decided to talk to Lupe about it and hope she wouldn’t be too mad.

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“Please don’t tell our mom,” we begged. “We don’t want to get in trouble. We’ll pay you back, we promise!”

Lupe promised not to tell.

A few days later, while we all worked in the garden together, Mama looked up and saw the antenna backbone resting against the wall behind the palm tree.

“What’s that?” she asked, looking with puzzlement at the strange object. Rosy and I didn’t want to lie, so we avoided a direct answer.

“It looks kind of like a dinosaur’s spine, doesn’t it?” I forced a laugh. Rosy caught on and laughed too, and then Mama started laughing and dropped the subject. Rosy and I brainstormed ideas for making money to pay Lupe back, but couldn’t think of anything profitable enough.

“Do you know when you will have the money for me?” Lupe asked us when she saw us a few days later.

Faces hot with embarrassment, we had to admit that we still didn’t have the money. We promised to make it right soon. Finding no recourse, we approached Mama.

“You know that dinosaur spine in the back yard?” We told her the whole story. “Can you help us pay Lupe back?”

“You girls should know better than that,” Mama said. “I’m very disappointed in you! For the next month, I’ll be giving you extra chores to do to make up for it.”

Rosy and I worked extra hard for the next month, and Mama repaid Lupe, apologizing profusely for the inconvenience we caused and making us apologize, too. After that, I never disassembled anything that didn’t belong to me, no matter how useless it looked.

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I hope you enjoyed that story! If you’d like to read the book about our fugitive years and learn about what it was like to live in hiding and grow up in Mexico, sign up and I’ll send periodic book updates and let you know when it comes out!

Credit for featured image: Bradford Hill, Flickr.