Deafening Silence

When in the NICU, friends and family joined with us to pray for our little 2 pound baby Aubree, specifically for her lungs to strengthen.

Let’s just say the prayers were effective and Aubree has had ZERO problems since that time (thank you, God!).

Now we spend a lot of time praying for her self-control when it comes to using those strong lungs! Ha! She has a lovely singing voice when she is happy, and a piercing, pterodactyl-like screech when she is feeling frustrated. And she is famous for her one volume setting: loud.

Like all toddlers, Aubree has big feelings. That combined with her decibel level makes our lives quite interesting.

Some days we see it as a challenge, but lately I have been considering the blessing of her loud expression of joys and frustrations.

Life brings a lot of emotions. Lately as a family, we have had to battle grief over leaving the clubhouse ministry, homesickness for Costa Rica, anxiety about finding housing and vehicles while here, etc.

It’s interesting, because we do not always take the time to process our emotions or even recognize that we are having them. Often we are so distracted by our busyness that we do not take the time to reflect on what exactly we are feeling and why.

About a month ago, Aubree’s emotions were off the charts. Happy one minute, rolling on the ground crying the next. We didn’t understand what was happening since she seemed to have been adjusting quite well to our traveling lifestyle.

At bedtime one night, Ethan pulled out a book our friend Hannah (a missionary nanny in Africa) had gifted us. Usually Aubree doesn’t love long stories, but she zoned in on this one.

Swirly, by Sara Saunders, is about a young girl named Lila whose parents move from country to country. She quickly realizes that she does not belong anywhere, not even in her parent’s home country. In the end, the book celebrates being cross-cultural or “swirly.” It even points out that Jesus was swirly because he did not fit in on earth.

After reading the book, Aubree started to visibly relax. She asks to read it all the time now because it encourages her when she feels out of place or a lack of a sense of belonging. And to be honest, the book helped us understand her better as well as ourselves.

We had not even realized that we feel out of place sometimes. That it is hard to fit in when you live cross-culturally. That we don’t fully understand our own daughter because although she is a U.S. citizen, the U.S. is actually quite foreign to her.

Our society tends to be silent about our emotions. When asked how we are doing, we respond, “Good.” I don’t even think that is us avoiding being honest. Half the time, do we even know what our feelings are?

In fact, I have noticed that instead of dealing with emotions through conversation, prayer, journaling, or counseling, the trend seems to be vegging out in front of the television, filling our schedules with activities, or scrolling for hours through social media apps on our phones.

What a simple but profound reminder for us. We might not scream, laugh, or cry with a deafening voice, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have emotions to consider.

That’s one of many lesson that my strong-lunged baby girl has taught me: that the only thing worse than deafening screams is deafening silence.

 

Wilderness Wandering

“So, you guys getting ready to head back to Costa Rica?”

Ah yes, the dreaded question that daily reminds me of our current situation.

If it were up to us, we would be back in our little home by now, sweating in the heat and eating rice and beans.

But the reality is that our fundraising journey is continuing for an indefinite period of time until we can establish a more stable base of supporters.

Although we totally believe that God’s hand is in this and He is trying to teach us something during this time of uncertainty, it is hard to find contentment and purpose as we continue to live out of suitcases.

As I described our situation to a dear friend, she responded, “Wow, it sounds like you guys are wandering through the desert.”

That phrase stuck with me, so I decided to dig in the Scriptures to see what parallels there could be between our furlough and the Israelite’s forty years of wilderness wandering.

Basically, the whole reason the Israelites were in their mess to begin with was because they did not trust God’s promises, even after He had proven to be faithful time and time again in the past.

Reading between the lines, the Lord actually sounds a lot like the parent of a toddler (I can relate to that).

When God miraculously provided them with manna every day, they complained and reminisced about the delectable food they had while enslaved in Egypt. They begged for meat like a child whines for chicken nuggets instead of the food on their plate.

God responded: You want meat?? I’ll give you meat until “it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you” (Numbers 11:20).

In Numbers 11:1, The Lord became SO angry with the Israelites for their complaining that His fire burned the surroundings of the camp.

Even Moses gets tired of dealing with the people and asks God, “Am I the nursing mother of these people?”

I hate to admit it, but Ethan and I have been the whiny, never-satisfied Israelites who look at everything from the angle of, “Ok God, you are providing us with basically everything we could possibly need, but it is not what WE want.”

God used the Israelite’s exile like a parent uses a time out. It was an opportunity to learn some important lessons as a people.

In a less punitive sense, God has put us in a timeout for an indefinite period of time. We are anxious to go back to our Costa Rican home, but are learning and growing during our time in our home country.

Even though we feel out of place, tired, restless, and a bit lost right now, we are learning that God does not allow His people to wander the desert for no reason, and He certainly does not leave us to wander on our own.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” -Exodus 33:14

 

Behind the Wall

Living abroad, I spend a lot of time scrolling through my favorite social media apps to “see what everyone else is up to.”

Aren’t we all guilty of it??

We live in a society where long-distance relationships are the norm. It’s not uncommon to keep in touch with family, besties, or even significant others via the interwebs.

The result?

Joy. Depression. Guilt. Inspiration. Comparison. Confusion. Excitement. Motivation. 

This furlough has presented a smack-me-in-the face reality check.

As I have been reconnecting with family and friends stateside, I am continually surprised at the contrast of what is portrayed on our Facebook “walls” versus reality.

A mom who seems to have all of the Pinterest-perfect activities and home decor is struggling to find community because she feels too overwhelmed by her two young children to leave her home.

An individual occasionally documents a super rad adventure on Instagram, but actually lives a pretty mundane life.

Many people have the impression that Ethan and I live a life filled with excitement and constant new experiences. The reality is that we have settled in our Costa Rican home, and while we do have the occasional adventure, most days consist of routines: cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and working.

Even for the photo on our prayer cards this year… August was crying with heat rash and Aubree was sick, so most of our photos actually turned out like this:

46285652-ad68-4e6b-b16c-6d370d12e4f5

I am not against social media in any way. I am actually really grateful that we live in an era where I can stay connected so easily from thousands of miles away.

But as my favorite comedian John Crist would warn, we need to “check our hearts.”

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

-James 5:16

Is it wrong to post our life’s highlights on social media? Absolutely not. But we need to remember the importance of being real with our close friends so that we can actually build one another up and pray for one another. Being connected to social media is not equivalent to being connected to the Church.

I know, for me, I am going to re-think how I keep in touch with my loved ones. It was so hard for me to hear about divorce, loneliness, disease, and struggles that had been going on for months or even an entire year without me having a clue.

Should social media be the place where we are raw and share our most intimate thoughts? No (unless you feel specifically called to do so).

But it also shouldn’t be an escape, a way to avoid genuine relationships that can spur us on in this not-so-Instagram-picture-perfect-life.

Let’s reach out behind the wall and be real. Pray for one another. Support one another. And ultimately:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

-Colossians 3:15

Stunned

For the past two months we have been on furlough traveling the States with our newborn, a 2 1/2 year old toddler, all of the coffee, and an industrial size container of animal crackers.

Lots of people take the time to ask if we’ve adjusted…if we’ve gotten used to the land of flushable toilet paper yet.

Culture shock.

It’s a misleading term because a shock usually comes and goes pretty quickly.

As a family living cross-culturally for two years now, I would choose to change the term to “culture stunned.”

To fully explore the meaning, I looked up some synonyms on Thesaurus.com for the word stunned:

Amazed, confused, dazed, dumbfounded, overwhelmed, paralyzed, rocked, shook up, surprised.

I can relate to ALL of these terms as we re-experience the USA from a new perspective.

I feel AMAZED at the beauty of landscapes, buildings, skin/hair color, and the simplest things as I look at my home country from a totally different viewpoint.

I feel CONFUSED when long-term relationships seem to take more effort than they did before.

I feel DAZED on days where it seems like I can’t snap out of my “brain-fog.” It is like being a different person living in the body of my former self, walking through routines and activities that no longer seem familiar and comfortable.

I feel DUMBFOUNDED when I have to consciously think of responses to questions like “Paper or plastic?”, “How are you today?”, or, my favorite, “What is your phone number?”

I feel OVERWHELMED when I run into the store to grab diapers, there are 12 brands to choose from, and I don’t have a clue how to determine which to purchase.

I feel PARALYZED for no explainable reason.

My whole world is ROCKED when for the first time ever, I see the same desperate need for the Gospel in people’s lives here as in Costa Rica.

I feel SHOOK UP when I am driving down the highway and see a police officer, and realize I have no idea what the speed limit has been for the past fifteen minutes, and can’t even remember what would be a normal velocity for a highway.

I feel constantly SURPRISED at differences. Differences in prices, parenting styles, values, and diets.

Sometimes I question if living cross-culturally is worth the “stun,” but I am beginning to see the growth my family has experienced because of it. When it seems like there is not a single place on earth where we fit in, we rely fully on our identity as heirs of the kingdom.

Having my world rocked by culture shock is exactly what I need sometimes to see beyond skin color and traditions and see God’s people for who they truly are.

The Message Bible translation states it best:

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. -Romans 12:2

So as I continue through this journey of being stunned, paralyzed, and overwhelmed, I look to the cross and point others to it.

And drink a whole lot of coffee because #momtired #livingoutofasuitcase #toddlertantrums.

Gran Yo Soy

I remember being confused when first hearing the lyrics to the song “El Gran Yo Soy” (“The Great I Am”) by Hillsong.

The meaning got lost in translation. I didn’t understand why I was singing about how great I am. But I sang along anyway, thinking that maybe it meant that God made me great or something.

Then one day it hit me… OH! God referred to Himself as “I Am” in the Old Testament. The song actually had nothing to do with me, but it was all about God’s greatness.

In ministry, it’s easy to make the same mistake. I know that Ethan and I tend to look at all we accomplish and say, “Wow! Gran yo soy (I am great)!” Even others state the same thing as they observe fruits of our labor.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” -1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Recently we had to say goodbye to the teens at the clubhouse, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

We had spent the last year and a half investing in them, staying up late to plan lessons for them, drinking coffee with their families, and walking with them through the highs and lows of adolescence. For Ethan and I, they became like our own kids.

When circumstances ripped the clubhouse away from us abruptly, our response consisted of a lot of emotions:

Anger. Frustration. Grief. Sadness. Bitterness.

It didn’t seem to make sense. Why would God allow such an amazing ministry to be put to an end so quickly, when there was so much fruit!? What is going to happen to our students after we leave? Who is going to disciple them?

And in the midst of all of our emotions and grieving, our pride was exposed. Our pride had spun out of control, and we were taking the Lord’s work into our own hands. We honestly believed that it was up to us to bring the Gospel to these adolescents.

But it wasn’t us, it was the Holy Spirit working through us to draw His people nearer to Him.

We do not understand why the Lord has allowed this to happen, but we know one thing for certain: whether our role was only to plant or water, He is the One who will bring the growth.

We say it all the time: This is not our mission, it is the Lord’s. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to share the Gospel with the youth of the clubhouse, but let’s be real. It was not our efforts that brought those kids to Jesus–it was the work of the Holy Spirit. It was God the Father pursuing His children passionately. It was the Gran Yo Soy who gave the growth.

So instead of worrying about these youth, I will pray for them by name every day because at the end of the day, they are better off not in my hands, but in the hands of the Great I Am.

Spa Day

Baby number two’s due date is this week, and the panic has set in.

It’s not so much that I am anxious about having ALL of the baby things or nervous for labor, though those thoughts have definitely been running through my mind.

It is the realization that our family of three is about to become a family of four. And when I look at my sweet 2-year-old, I am realizing that she is no longer going to be my baby.

Of course I can’t wait to meet my son and snuggle him, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to a season of just me and my little girl.

So in an attempt to squeeze in one last *Instagram perfect* memory with my spunky toddler, I planned an elaborate spa morning for us. Girls only.

Face masks. Essential oil lotion. Nail polish. Manicure kit. Hair ties. UberEats Starbucks order.

Yes, this was going to be an epic day.

**Did I mention that I suffer from a severe case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)?**

The morning started off great. We were chanting “Spa day! Spa day!” during breakfast. We rushed Daddy out the door because *NO boys allowed* and got right to it.

Within minutes, the crying began. Out of excitement she had rubbed the facemask into her sweet eyes. It became a pretty quick downward spiral from there.

The nail clippers became a toy for her baby doll, she ran away three times, she screamed the whole time I clipped her nails, and she asked for the “paint” a million times because she wanted to dump out the polish.

The final straw was when we ACTUALLY got around to painting her nails, and she itched her legs until they were smeared terribly.

That is when my hormones and FOMO mixed together to create the perfect tornado of irrational emotions, and I snapped, “ENOUGH!”

I proceeded to inform my toddler that spa day was over and it was too bad that we couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Ouch.

She looked up at me with those precious brown-green eyes, and all I could see was sadness.

She was frustrated that she didn’t meet my standards.

She was hurt that I had snapped at her.

She was heartbroken because she had disappointed her mommy.

Those eyes convicted me.

What am I doing? She is TWO years old! All she wants is my time, love, and attention, not an elaborate event.

After apologizing, I explained to her that my reason for all the hoopla was to show her that I loved her SO very much.

Relieved, she clung to me and quietly replied, “Love you berry much.”

We agreed to change “Spa Day” to “Girls Day” and enjoyed our UberEats Starbucks delivery while reading books, playing Play-Doh, and rocking baby dolls to sleep.

Because that is what matters to a child: undivided attention, doing something they love.

So many lessons were learned that day:

When we put too much pressure on making memories, we crush them. It is the collection of organic, unplanned moments that form lasting memories.

It stinks to make mistakes as parents, but the power of forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

I tend to go off the deep end when pregnant…

You can never go wrong with Starbucks.

Will my little girl remember our spa day mishap a year from now? No (thank goodness). Will she doubt my love for her? Absolutely not.

The reality is that every day has its ups and downs, and we are going to fail. Oh mama, do we fail. But when we live this messy life allowing room for grace (even for ourselves), the result for our children is better than memories of Disneyland or the perfect shopping trip. It is the comfort of knowing that they are unconditionally loved.

And, that, NO spa day can ruin.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  -Ephesians 6:4

IMG_6185

Apart from Me

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart from me, you can do nothing.” -John 15:5

Sometimes there is nothing more sobering than Scripture. When I read this the other day, my reaction was something like:

Nothing? Sounds more like a threat than a promise. 

Let’s face it, I like to take credit for the work that the Lord is doing.  Comedian John Crist would definitely advise me, “Check your heart.”

The last few weeks, Ethan and I have had the opportunity to slow down and spend time reflecting.

Our sending organization Mission of Christ Network advised us (with more than a gentle shove) to take a break from ministry to await the birth of our baby boy. One of the goals of this hiatus is to re-focus ourselves on family, stop going 100 miles per hour, and adjust to being a family of four.

Though now we see the value in this time, our initial reaction was:

But the mission! Won’t it completely fall apart without our expertise, experience, and passion? *insert gagging emoji here*

Wow. Pride at it’s finest.

Throwback to the second part of John 15:5: “Apart from me, you can do NOTHING.” 

And here we are… hanging out in San José, reflecting. Waiting.

The worst part (which is actually the best part at the same time)? We cannot bury ourselves in the work and daily tasks involved in running the clubhouse. We have to face who we really are.

The result? We are shifting our focus to abiding in the LORD, to making our family our first ministry, and to shedding our pride. This is HIS mission, and at the end of the day, God doesn’t rely on us to accomplish His tasks. He is not panicking because we are in San José instead of working in Parrita. He’s got this.

Instead every day He is leading us closer to Him, and reminding us of the importance of abiding in Him.

Because apart from Him, we can do NOTHING. 

And, I have decided that IS a threat–a threat to our pride. But also a promise that when we abide in Him, He will follow through and there will be fruit.