Not Letting Go

Over the weekend, I came to the difficult decision to put my story away for awhile. To allow myself time to refresh mentally and physically after the last grueling six months.

I was at peace about this. Felt it to be right.

There's just one problem.

My characters won't let me go. They're never far from my mind. I keep thinking of various plot lines and how they might be concluded.

This is completely unexpected. Usually, when I finally make a decision I feel good about, my mind clears. Quite the opposite has happened.

Imagine you've remembered some items you need to get at the grocery store. Now imagine it's very late at night and you're just drifting off to sleep. Or, at least trying to sleep. But you can't, can you? Not until you get up and finally write down those remembered items for your list.

That's what this is like.

So here I am, alone in a quiet house, the rest of the family at the park.

And I'm about to do the one thing I said I wouldn't.

I'm going to write.


A Hard Decision

For the last year, it has been my goal to finish my novel by December 31 of this year. Today, I accepted the reality that I'm just not going to reach this goal.

I struggled to write today--have been struggling to write--just because of this goal. Why? Why work so hard on something that is just not coming together the way it needs to? A writer's first novel should be something she enjoys. Not something she dreads.

As a perfectionist, I want this to be the very best effort I can make. And what I've been coming up with is certainly not that.

I think I underestimated just how mentally draining language school and learning to adapt to life in a new culture would be. I'm exhausted! Physically and mentally.

So, I've made the difficult decision to put it away until at least after Christmas. Then, maybe, once I've had some rest and taken time to really enjoy this first Christmas away with my family, I'll get it back out and work on it. Hopefully, fresh ideas will come to my refreshed mind.

If not, I'll not stress.

Right now, my only goal for this novel is to finish it and begin the publication process within 2013. I know it will be an up-hill battle, and I'm fully willing to publish it myself if the two companies I've found are not interested.

But I want to enjoy the process. No matter how long it takes.


The Reunion - Prologue and Chapter 1

Many of you have asked me what my novel-in-progress is about. The following is the prologue and first chapter, exactly as it appears in the story. Hope you enjoy it!

The Reunion

June - Present Year

    The minivan crept along the cemetery road past rows and rows of tombstones, coming to a stop in front of one underneath an ancient weeping willow tree. A young woman emerged from the vehicle and reached back inside for a bag and the box of plants sitting on the passenger seat. She shut the door with her leg and carefully made her way over to the tombstone. Next to it was a bench, and onto this she set her armful of plants. Then, she reached into the bag for her gardening tools.
    She knelt in front of the tombstone, digging holes and then planting each of the various bunches of flowers in the loamy soil. Satisfied with her work, she wiped her brow with the back of her hand and settled back in the lush grass.
    With a sigh, she thought again about today’s date: June 2. Had it already been a year? It didn’t seem possible. This was the first time she’d been to his grave in months. She’d last visited eight weeks after the funeral. At first, she was in no shape to even leave the house, sicker than she’d ever been in her life. Then, once she’d started feeling better, their little town of Cancun, Colorado experienced the full brunt of a brutal mountain winter. She just couldn’t risk an accident on the mountainous road between her house and the cemetery--not when she was the only parent they had left. And then in recent months, she’d been busier than she’d ever thought possible. No matter how busy things were at home, or how much seeing his beloved name in stone with those two dates below it hurt, she knew nothing would keep her from being here today with him. On the very worst kind of anniversary.

Andrew Emmitt Darcy 
Safe in the arms of Jesus 

    She ran her fingers lovingly over the name, melancholy once again at the gruesome thought of his life cut so violently short. He’d only been thirty. So young. It still didn’t make sense to her. But did losing a loved one this way ever make sense? She wasn’t the first, and would certainly not be the last to experience this kind of horror. However, there was no comfort in knowing that.
    She listened to the wind whispering its words of comfort through the leaves on the trees, closing her mind to the memories of that dreadful night. Not yet.  She was not ready--there were other things to think of first. Using her sleeve to wipe the tears from her eyes, she brushed her hands off and reached once more for the bag. From inside, she carefully pulled out a small box made of marble.  Lifting the lid, she extracted each item one by one. A picture drawn by her four-year-old son of his interpretation of Daddy singing with the angels in Heaven. A small plastic bag containing several wispy locks of hair taken from her two-year-old son’s first haircut. Another plastic bag containing several pictures. These she removed from the bag and held up, explaining each one.
    “Here’s Emmitt at his fourth birthday party with the toy train set our parents chipped in and bought him. And here’s Will taking his first steps.”  She flipped through the pictures one by one, each memory more bittersweet than the last. She would always treasure these special moments with her sons--Andrew’s sons. They were pieces of him she would have with her forever. They both even boasted more of his features and appearance than hers. Yet, she wished once again that it could’ve been different. That he could’ve been in the pictures, sharing these precious memories with her.
    There were several pictures that had been separated from the others when she’d first removed them from the bag. These she now took in her hands. 
    “When I was here last, I told you that I suspected I might be pregnant.  Turns out that I was. Andrew, I’d like to introduce you to your little daughter, Andrea,” she said, and held up a picture of a tiny infant wrapped in a pink blanket. “I named her after both of us--Andrea Joy.”  One by one, she held up several pictures of their daughter taken at various stages in her short four months of life. “She was conceived that morning....that morning we were together for the very last time. She was my very last gift from you, my love.” A daughter. When Will was born, they’d talked about trying once more for a little girl. While he loved his sons, Andrew had always wanted a daughter. One who would be “Daddy’s little girl”. And of course, she had dreamed of having someone to dress up and show off. Now, they finally had a daughter. A daughter her husband would never hold close to his heart. A daughter without a father to walk her down the aisle when she married.
    It was still incomprehensible to her.
    She returned the pictures to the bag, gently lay them in the box with the other mementos, and then placed the box behind the flowers up against the tombstone. She’d leave them here for him. Even though she knew he wasn’t actually here, it comforted her somehow to know that the box was there.
    She leaned back against the tree, drew her knees up into her chest, and closed her eyes. Even closed, the words on the tombstone were clear enough that they seemed embedded in her very mind. Against her will, the memories of that day flooded back to her. Some of the memories were achingly tender, precious.  But others, like those from that horrible night... 
    The night of the reunion---the night Andrew was killed.

Chapter 1

June, 1 Year Ago

    Emma Darcy awoke to the smell of coffee percolating in the kitchen down the hallway from the bedroom she shared with her husband, Andrew.  There wasn’t anything quite like that first scent of her favorite caffeinated beverage first thing in the morning.  And thanks to Andrew’s Mother’s Day present last month, each morning the coffee pot was timed to wake her up with a fresh brew promptly at six-thirty.  She rolled onto her side and glanced at her husband, only to realize he was already awake and watching her.  She knew that look--he had something in mind.
    “‘Mornin’, babe,” he purred, leaning in for what he intended to be a lingering kiss.
    She grinned at him before covering her mouth with her hand.  “Morning breath, Andrew. Can I please brush first? Can you please brush first?”
    Laughing, he pulled her into his arms and began nuzzling her neck.  “Doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you.” He proceeded to trail kisses along her ear and neck, then started inching lower.
    Emma giggled, placing a restraining hand on his bare chest. “Andrew!  I’m serious! Can’t we at least have a mint or something?”
    He reached over to the bedside table and found a roll of mints left there for such occasions. After unwrapping two of them, he popped one into his mouth and the other one into hers, wiggling his blond eyebrows at her suggestively. “There, is that better? You know the munchkins will be up soon, so we don’t have a lot of time here.”
    “Romantic, honey. Real romantic.”
    He framed her face with his hands. Brushed his lips across hers in a sweet kiss. “Can I help it if I’m madly, passionately, in love with--and can’t get enough of--my wife?” he asked, tenderly caressing her lips with his thumb before kissing them again. “You are so beautiful. What did I ever do to deserve you?”
    She favored him with a watery smile. “Andrew,” she half whispered, half sighed. “I love you.”

    Two hours later, Emma finished drying her hair, then slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops.  Andrew was finishing up in the shower and then they’d decided to take the boys out for breakfast this morning. It was up to her to make sure they were dressed and ready to go.
    She snuck to the room next to theirs and carefully opened the door.  Amazingly, the boys were still asleep. It was practically unheard of for them to sleep so late. Thinking back to the last two hours she’d spent with her husband, she was extremely thankful for their stolen time together. 
    Emma crept to one-year-old William Andrew’s crib and gently peeled back his light blanket. Will was laying on his stomach, knees pulled up and his little bottom stuck up in the air. His blond, curly hair--so much like his Daddy’s--was plastered to his head and the back of his neck in tight corkscrews.  Thumb stuck firmly in his mouth, with plump, cherubic baby cheeks, he was absolutely adorable.  In the toddler bed across from the crib was three-year-old Emmitt Michael. The little boy was another little miniature of his father, except that his hair was not curly and stuck out in large tufts from the top of his head.
    She turned slightly when she heard her husband enter the room, smiling when he slipped his arms around her from behind, drawing her firmly against his broad chest.
    They stood there together, watching their sleeping sons for a few minutes. Then, he turned her in his arms and lowered his mouth to hers for a tender kiss. “They take my breath away---just like their mother,” he whispered, caressing her cheek with the back of his hand.
    Emma melted into his arms. “I love you, Andrew.”
    “I love you more, Em,” he whispered back, kissing her nose. “Shall we wake up the little princes?”
    Forty-five minutes later, the family was settled at the corner booth in their favorite Mom & Pop restaurant, waiting for their orders to arrive. Andrew and Emma enjoyed a leisurely conversation while the boys colored on paper place mats. After breakfast, they took the boys to a park near their house that had a playground geared more toward smaller children like theirs. They took turns pushing Will in a baby swing and chasing Emmitt between the swings and the slides. The family’s delightful morning together was concluded with chocolate ice cream cones from Dairy Queen before it was time to head back home. The boys were exhausted after their busy morning and needed a nap.
    While Andrew made sure the boys were asleep, Emma headed back to their room and pulled out the new black dress she’d purchased for tonight’s reunion.  It was hard to imagine that it had already been ten years since high school graduation! Where had the time gone? She stood in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the closet door and held the dress up to her body, trying to imagine how it would look once she’d completed her hair and makeup.
    Andrew stopped in the doorway of their room and leaned on the jam, his muscular arms crossed in front of him. He caught Emma’s eye in the mirror and a slow, seductive smile spread across his handsome face. “I confess I can’t wait to see my hot wife in her sexy new dress.”
    She rolled her eyes at him and tossed the dress onto the bed. “I’d hardly call it that, Andrew.”
    He sidled up to her and grasped her slim waist.  “Consider what I normally see you wearing, babe. T-shirts and jeans. Trust me, it is sexy.”
    Emma favored him with a sly grin and cupped the back of his head, pulling him toward her for a kiss. As often happened between them, the kiss quickly intensified.
    Reluctantly, he broke the kiss and distanced himself from temptation. After a quick glance at his watch, he groaned. “As much as I’d love to crawl into that bed with you and show you just how sexy I think you are, it’s time for me to go. I’m gonna be late if I stay much longer.”
    Emma sat on the bed, watching him pull together materials for both of his classes. “I can’t wait until you’re finished with your Master’s, honey.”
    “I know, Em, me too. You bringing my suit tonight?”
    “If you like. The black one?”
    Andrew nodded.
    She rose and wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
    “Count on it,” he whispered, resting his forehead briefly against hers before giving her a last lingering kiss. “I doubt I’ll be able to concentrate in class, I’ll be too busy thinking about going home with the hottest girl at the reunion.”
    Emma laughed and blew him a kiss.
    After watching Andrew’s Durango pull out of the garage, she checked on the boys one more time and then headed back to her room to rest awhile.  She knew her husband would find something to do to keep them both up late tonight and she’d need every minute of rest she could get now.

    Dr. Justin Bennet slid several coins into the vending machine and pressed the button for some water. Twisting the cap off, he brought the bottle to his full lips and guzzled almost half of its contents.
    “Thirsty, eh, Bennet?” came a thick Southern drawl from slightly behind him.
    He turned and grinned at the sweaty man who’d spoken. “You ought to know, Williams, considering I beat your sorry self at tennis just now.”
    The other gentleman laughed heartily. “That’s a good one. Keep on tellin’ yourself that if it makes you feel any better,” he quipped as they made their way toward the gym’s locker room. “And what does Cancun’s Bachelor of the Year have planned for tonight?”
    Justin rolled his eyes and groaned. Not that again. He could not understand how in the world he’d even been nominated for that title, let alone actually winning it. Surely there were men on the list more befitting the title than him.
    “As a matter of fact, I’m going to a high school reunion.”
    Williams’ face mirrored his displeasure. “Sure you can’t get out of it? There’s a great party tonight at the Chief of Staff’s mountain cabin.”
    Those kinds of parties held about as much thrill for Justin as that blasted Bachelor of the Year title. His idea of fun was not spending an evening watching colleagues from the hospital get plastered. Social drinking held no appeal. Not anymore. What was enjoyable about becoming so inebriated you couldn’t remember what you’d done the night before? Not to mention the physical after-effects of being drunk. He’d left all of that behind him years ago, thanks be to God. “Thanks, but no thanks. You know I’m not into that.”
    His friend punched his arm and chuckled. “And that’s why you won the title, my friend. A respectable, successful surgeon who’s a gentleman to boot. You truly are an enigma to the people of this town. Have fun at your reunion,” he called as the two headed to separate parts of the locker room.
    “I fully intend to,” Justin whispered softly.
    After all, she would be there.


Time's a Flyin'

It suddenly occurred to me tonight that we have something like 68 days left until the end of the year. Which means there are only 68 days left for me to accomplish the other goal I set for myself last year: to finish my novel by the end of the year. Eep! 68 days is not a lot of time. Particularly when one is also attempting to learn another language and has the bulk of each day taken up with classes, homework, and studying. And that's just me. Factor in my normal housewife jobs as well as helping the kids with their own schoolwork... I typically hit the sheets at 10 completely wiped.

So I'm either going to have to set a new goal for myself, or I'm going to have to recruit some help from the hubs. We shall see..


When the Earth Moves

(From our ministry blog about our first earthquake yesterday.)

Yesterday began like a normal day. We got up at 6, everyone got showered and/or dressed for the day, we ate breakfast, the kids and I fixed their lunches, and we made sure all the previous day's homework had made it successfully back into the bags for the short trek to school. Just moments before we left the house, Troy huddled us all together and read the Psalm for the day (Psalm 5), then Cody led the family in prayer.

Here is Psalm 5 in its entirety:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

In the morning you hear my voice... Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them... For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

These are verses that were especially poignant to us later in the morning.

School begins at 7:30. After the first hour, we take a short break and move on to our second class. For me, that means staying in the same room for both hours (both hours make up my grammar class). My room is on the second floor of the building. With the windows open and the ceiling fan on, there is the most delicious breeze up there. Troy's two morning classes are downstairs (I believe his last 2 hours of the day make up his grammar class, but I'm not positive. As it always took me at least a month into a new semester during his seminary days to know his schedule, so it is here. I'm happy enough just to know my own!)

Just after we'd begun the second part of my grammar session, my desk started shaking. At first, I thought the man behind me had his feet on it and was really nervous about something. It was that soft. Then, the shaking became more intense and I realized with a jolt that he was not shaking my chair: we were experiencing our first earthquake! The first bit of it lasted just a few seconds, then it briefly stopped. We all looked at each other and at the teacher. He was perfectly calm, and looked as if he believed it was over. But it wasn't. When the room began very intensely shaking (I was actually getting quite nauseous at this point from the motion), my teacher marshaled us out the door. He remained calm throughout, but the sharpness in his tone relayed the urgency of the situation. As calmly as individuals who have never experienced an earthquake can be, we quickly walked down the stairs and congregated on the sidewalk in front of the building. I was immediately panicked for the children. Were they okay? Were they hurt? Were they as scared as I was? I felt a check in my soul about immediately rushing to them, and I believe that was a good thing. Troy is much calmer in emergency situations than I am, and as his class evacuated, instead of heading to the parking lot (which was what the rest of us were told to do), he immediately went to check on the kids. Because of his attitude upon discovering them ("Hey, guys wasn't that cool?"), the kids had a better initial outlook upon the situation than they would've if Mama had come flying down the stairs, gathering them all up in her arms and weeping over them.

Once the adults had gathered in the upper parking lot (our designated meeting place for emergencies) and the kids had gathered in the lower playground (their designated meeting place for emergencies), the adults met in the chapel to pray and to catch our breaths. Most of the Spanish teachers are women, many mothers concerned about their own children. It was at that point that someone looked up the information. That the epicenter was in a town on the NW Pacific coast (about 88 miles from San Jose), that it was a 7.6 on the Richter scale, and that due to its location, a tsunami warning had been issued up and down the Pacific coast from Mexico to Peru. Thankfully, it was cancelled shortly afterward without any tsunamis reported. We rejoiced that, aside from some books that fell off the shelves in the library and a few clocks that fell off the wall, there was no damage to the campus. There were no injuries, and everyone was okay. What a miracle!

I couldn't help but remember the Psalm Troy had read just a few hours before. God had indeed been our refuge and our shield during the earthquake. He protected us from harm. He protected the campus from harm. In all of Costa Rica, there was only 1 death reported, and that was a heart-attack due to fright! Praise the Lord! Yes, there was some damage closer to the epicenter, and so we need to keep those families and communities in our prayers as they work to clean up and rebuild.

Our own home didn't come out of it completely unscathed either. During the earthquake, our hot-water pipes (we have a regular, full-sized water heater, something that is extremely rare in Costa Rica) burst and flooded our first floor. If it weren't for the large gap underneath the front door and the fact that our front terrace slopes down to the street, we would've come home to a real mess! As it was, water filled the utility room, the downstairs bathroom, the kitchen, the front bedroom, and then the living room before pouring out underneath the front door. As God would have it, our next door neighbors do most of their language study through tutoring, and so they were all at home during the quake and noticed water first trickling in the street in front of our house and then gushing. We still have not gotten a cell phone, so they called the school and someone at the school found Troy and brought him to the house so he could let them in. Someone else called our landlord, who came right over. Our neighbors and several other families as well all came over to help in the cleanup. By the time school let out early and the kids and I came home about an hour or so later, the 2-3 inches of water in our house was gone (yay for tile floors and squeegees! I don't even want to think how badly it would've been if we'd been in the States with carpet or wooden floors!), the landlord's furniture was upended so that it could dry, and several fans were placed throughout the first floor to help speed the drying process. Of everything that could have been ruined (mostly electronics), only the power cord for our computer was ruined! Everything is back to normal in the house, with only a couple fans left running to dispel the moisture from the hard-to-reach places. I am so thankful for our ILE family who rushed into action to help us in our time of need. We truly are blessed to be here among such amazing brothers and sisters in Christ.

While the furniture dried, we decided to do something fun, and so hopped in a couple taxis and went to eat lunch at the mall food court (Wendy's burgers and Frostys taste exactly like those back home! Yay!). After lunch, we walked through one of the department stores and saw that they had not been as fortunate during the earthquake. In their home section, there were glasses, vases, and picture frames broken. There was glass on the floor where they hadn't yet had a chance to clean. Some of the glasses in displays had tipped over into other glasses and shattered. It was a mess.

At home, we let the kids eat the sandwiches they'd prepared for lunch and then Mama made a double batch of the Ghirardelli brownies (a store called Price Smart sells a huge box of brownie mix. You get 6- 8x8 pan-sized packets, or 3- 9x13 pan-sized packets in each box, depending upon how big a batch you want to make) that are soooo good. If we always do ice cream after painful medical procedures, I figured something warm and sweet was in order after a major disaster.

For the most part, while we didn't enjoy the fright of the experience, most of us realized that it was not something that would be repeated. We might feel aftershocks, but we knew they wouldn't be as severe as the original quake. We also weren't expecting a quake with each loud sound (earthquakes are quite loud!). But as the day progressed, it became clear that some of the kids--Tori in particular--was actually quite terrified of a repeat performance. Every little sound spooked her. To top it all off, we had quite a thunderstorm last night--something else that just freaks her out. Between the storm and her terror over the earthquake and that another one would come, or that something would fall on her head, it was quite a long time before she was able to get to sleep. I even appealed to many of you and our other supporters and friends on Facebook, asking for prayer for her and for the other kids. At about 11 PM, she came into my room literally shaking in fear. I had her snuggled under the covers with me and spent about 15 minutes holding her tightly and praying over her silently. I rebuked the fear and Satan's attempt to paralyze her with that fear. I prayed God's peace over her, especially that God would fill her with a soothing peace and calmness to help her immediately be able to rest. She went back to her bed and I did not see her the rest of the night. She told me this morning that as soon as she laid down, she went right to sleep. Praise God for answered prayer! Thank you for praying for Tori especially. God answered our prayers for her last night!

This morning, it became clear to me that she was not the only one who'd been struggling with fear during the night. One of the boys said to me when I came downstairs, "Mama! We're still alive!" I pray that as each day passes, the fear that we will have another earthquake, or that things will fall on them in their sleep lessens and passes. I pray that my children--all of us--remember our verses in Psalms.

Yesterday, when the earth moved, God was our very real refuge and shield. Praise God! Let us remember that any time our world seems to move--whether literally or because of situations or circumstances beyond our control.


First Day of Language School

I think I'd like to make a t-shirt that says, "I survived my first day of language school without suffering a breakdown." (Or without killing anyone.)

Yes, it was a lot to take in. And yes, I struggled with some of the pronunciation. But then again, so did just about everyone else in my beginner's section (praise God I'm not alone!). I've also been told that the real breakdown comes about 2 - 2 1/2 weeks in, so I guess that means I'm in the "honeymoon" phase of learning Spanish.

Over the last two weeks that we've been here, I haven't been able to communicate. But I've listened to those who can. I think this has been very helpful for me. A big part of learning another language is listening. In fact, our homework assignment tonight for one of my sections was to come home and watch some Spanish television or listen to some music in Spanish. That, I can do! And have been doing!

While there are still sounds that I struggle with (the double R sound in particular), I've actually started making these sounds as long as I don't over-think them. This has been my biggest struggle in the past, I think. I've convinced myself that I can't roll my Rs or pronounced the R flap. But I've heard myself do it! So I believe a retraining session is in order. I need to remind myself that, as long as I don't over-think it, I can make those sounds. I may not be able to just sit here and roll some Rs off for you, as if making car sounds with my son's toy cars. But when using those words in a sentence or when repeating them, making those sounds is certainly within my grasp.

I'm honestly very encouraged about how this year will go. I'm not naive enough to think every day is going to be this wonderful. And I'm not naive enough to think I'll just "get it". No. I realize it will be a struggle at times. I realize there will be tears (mine and my professors'). There will be days I want to chuck it all and hop the first plane back to the States.

What I'm so grateful for, however, was that God helped me get through today. As we learned with Tayler's hospitalization those first five weeks of her life, the key is to take each day at it comes. When I get up tomorrow morning, God will give me the grace, strength, and ability to get through tomorrow. That's it. The next day when I get up, He'll do it again for that day. By taking each day as it comes, we will get through the first month. The first trimester. And then, the entire year.


And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

This morning was our second Sunday here in Costa Rica. Back home, we come from a very traditional church with excellent music. If it's particularly rousing--if--we might clap a bit. We lean a bit more toward the "high church" side of things. And this is what I've been accustomed to for almost the whole of my life.

I would never classify the church we've attended here as "high". And if you've ever attended worship in a Latin American church, you know that it's anything but docile. It's quite rousing. You can tell the new missionaries, or the ones who are more accustomed to the high church setting. We stand there, hands to the side (or firmly thrust in pockets), and participate as best we can in an unfamiliar language. Boy, do we stick out like a sore thumb.

There was another new family, whose first time attending was this morning. Indeed, this was their first Sunday in country. I delighted in watching as their young daughter worshiped. She clapped. She jumped up and down. Most importantly, she wore the most beautiful smile of joy on her face as she participated in worship with our Costa Rican brothers and sisters. I think she was greatly disappointed when the worship portion of the service was over.

Several of us are a bit more bashful in new settings and can appear a bit stand-offish. Not intentionally, of course. We just struggle with new things and not knowing what to do or say. This morning, I am happy to say that I was prepared for the Costa Rican greetings and leaned right in for the hug and kiss on the cheek that is customary. I was prepared for it. In fact, I only stuck my hand out for a handshake for those who first stuck theirs out. Anyway, after the song service, the kids are dismissed to attend children's church. Some of the kids were a bit more wiling to do this than others. But our new little friend? She was excited to meet new people! Her mom told me after church that she walked around telling everyone what her name was! It was if she didn't know the concept of a stranger. To her, these were not "strangers"; they were simply new friends to be made.

And it struck me that this is yet another example of why Christ admonishes us to be like little children. Their willingness to do new things, try new things, say new things--without fear of embarrassment is truly something we should strive for. There are not strangers, simply new friends to be made--especially friends who love Christ. And they have a willingness to abandon all cares of what they look like to others and throw everything they have into worshiping God.

So while the sermon was excellent this morning, the real message to me came from watching this sweet little girl as she allowed herself to become a part of the body of Christ in ways I struggled with.


New Posts

I've written a couple new posts for our ministry blog (Disciples of All Nations), so if you're interested in reading them, please click on the link at the top of the page.

The kids are also finishing up their first blog entry since arriving, so be sure to check out their blog (Mini Missionary Adventures, in my links) for their thoughts on Costa Rica.


New Experiences

This week has been chalk full of new experiences for each member of the family. Here's a break down of our first week:

Monday: Flight to Costa Rica via Atlanta. The kids' first plane rides. After our arrival and a bit of a rest, we embarked upon our first trip to a Costa Rican Walmart. It is very similar to it's American counterpart. However, here there is really no rhyme or reason for the placement of the goods in the store. Clothes are right next to the food court (that alone is different -- there is a huge food court with several different American fast-food restaurant options inside), next to batteries, next to electronics, next to towels, next to hardware. And the sugar is not in the baking aisle. Unless you go there often enough to become familiar with the store (and due to the high costs, we will not -- there's another difference; Walmart here has more department store prices than American Walmarts), it's best to just start at one end and work your way to the other.

Tuesday: Our big brother took us to a couple stores, one kind of like a Home Depot (I don't remember the name), and the other a small neighborhood grocery. After lunch, he took Troy and another couple shopping at the Price Mart (like a Sam's Club). I got a little bit of unpacking completed. Had our first taste of Costa Rica pineapple (sooooo good!) and baby bananas.

Wednesday: Our first trip to Parque Copa, where most of the missionaries hang out. It is absolutely beautiful! The view from that park is nothing like anything we've seen before. We learned a very hard lesson, however. Due to our proximity to the equator and/or the altitude (I'm not really sure), it is essential to apply sunblock whenever you plan to go outside. After spending the morning walking around and then about an hour hanging out at the park, we came home burnt to a crisp! Quite a bit of the unpacking was completed.

Thursday: Troy went with our Mexico City teammate, Jonny, back to Walmart. Hiring a cab and getting around is a bit easier for Troy, as he was formerly fluent in Spanish. Much of his conversational Spanish is beginning to come back. In the afternoon, he and the kids walked through the area around our house, peeking in and out of the shops and picking up some more groceries and supplies. I was thrilled when they surprised me with a teapot and later, some flowers. They also brought home some of the most delicious bread I have ever tasted, fresh from a local bread shop.

Friday: We walked several blocks to the Jumbo (imagine a Kroger) for our groceries. What an experience! I was surprised by how many American brands there were, and most of the produce was at least recognizable. It is still disconcerting for me to have people speak to me in rapid-fire Spanish, expecting me to answer. I'm sure my eyes glaze over and there must be a most vacant expression there. The day when I can understand and respond back to them will be a most welcome day. I've gotten very familiar with the phrase "no comprendo - no habla espanol." I'm also not accustomed to hearing salsa music played over the grocery store's sound system, nor am I accustomed to seeing a man from the store walking around with a microphone, announcing what I can only assume are the specials. (You'd think after my experiences with the singing meat-market guy at Kroger, this would be old hat.) Perhaps the absolute strangest thing that happened occurred before our excursion to the grocery store. I was checking email in the living room, with the front door open to let in air (we have a screen door). The front gate was locked and dead-bolted, so I wasn't concerned about people walking in. When I looked up, however, I noticed this older man walk slowly past the left side of our gate and then stop at the door in the gate, look up at our house, and just stare at the house. He didn't knock or try to come in. He just stared. Then, after several minutes, he moved slowly on. Folks have told me not to be concerned, that it happens. It just was very weird. In Jackson if someone so obviously "cases" your house, it's never a good thing. Perhaps my proudest moment yesterday, however, came just after the old man walked on. Another man came to the gate and knocked on it, clearly wanting something. Knowing that Troy was upstairs finishing getting dressed, I yelled out the open door, "una momento!" and raced up the stairs. I was about half-way upstairs before realizing what I'd said. Without any forethought at all, my brain conjured this simple Spanish phrase, and it shot out my mouth before I could think twice about it. (I probably should've added "por favor", but again, there was no rational thought put into it.)

Saturday (today): We've had a big day already. This morning, we walked to a farmer's market with our big brother and his family for our fresh produce for the week. At the park, tables snaked back and forth up a hill, some covered with tents, some not. On the tables were all kinds of fruits, most recognizable. Thankfully, Mark had given us a sheet listing all the English names of the fruits and vegetables with their Spanish translations (including articles -- I'd have no idea if something is "el" or "la" otherwise). There were so many to choose from! Corn. Red beans. Black beans. Green beans. Onions. Garlic. Ginger. Celery. Lettuce. Tomatoes. Pineapple. Apples. Strawberries. Cherries. Mangoes. Watermelon. Carrots. Potatoes. All kinds! We settled on the necessary vegetables (potatoes, onion, garlic, beans) and decided that we'd alternate which fruits we buy each week. This week we bought strawberries, apples, peaches, and plums. We already have some watermelon and a pineapple, so we didn't guy those. Next week we want to try mango, grapes and cherries. There were also little fruits called King Kong Boogers (!). I haven't the foggiest what those taste like, or what they are most similar to. They are small, lightweight, and have a bunch of seeds inside. If you shake them, you can hear the seeds rattle. There's also a fruit that looks like a sea anemone on the outside. You cut it open and inside is a single fruit that looks like a large grape. It is soooo slimy! The texture is almost impossible to get past, but if you can, they are actually quite good. Next week we'll try to bring our camera to the market and get some pictures. This afternoon, we're meeting our teammates, Jonny & Gemma, and their family at Parque Bosque and taking taxis over to a "mall" for some hang-out time. For supper, we'll eat at one of the American fast-food restaurant options in the mall food court.

Tomorrow, we'll be worshiping for the first time in Costa Rica. I'm not sure yet where we'll head, or with whom. We're hoping to find a restaurant nearby where we can sample some Costa Rican cuisine after church. Monday is our last free day before orientation. And then the week after next, school officially beings.

Many new experiences await.


Raw Emotion

(We have officially arrived in Costa Rica! If you have not yet read the extremely detailed account I wrote of our journey here, head on over to our ministry blog and read it. The link is included in my reading list. There's also a list of 25 things that are different about living in Costa Rica.)

We've mostly been in a honeymoon phase with regard to life here. But life in a foreign country is not always rosy. I want to be upbeat and positive about my time here, as we are guests in the country. However, I also feel that it's important to be real. Adapting to another culture is not an easy thing. You realize that those things that you take for granted, or that you thought were not important to you are incredibly important. Some days you can go with the flow and adjust to doing things differently. Some days you can't. This is one of those days for me.

The last time we moved, 8 years ago, I made a list of all the household items we'd need to buy. Then, we loaded everyone in the car and headed to Walmart. Within one--or at most, two--trips, everything on that list had been purchased for a reasonable amount of money. A couple days after the big move, I had our house mostly established (this does not mean I had the boxes unpacked. Far from it).

So this is the expectation I had in my head as I prepared to make a home for my family here in San Jose. I sat down upon our arrival and began a list of items we needed to buy for the house. Some items were already furnished. But some were not. Or, there were not enough for our family. I made a master list and expected to be able to purchase everything on that list within a day or two. After all, they have a Walmart here, and we were planning on going to it Monday evening. What I didn't count on was that Walmart is the pricier option here. There are far cheaper places to get household or food items. That one-stop shopping I've grown accustomed to at home is not how things are done here.

Here we are, three days and five trips to various stores (including two Walmart runs) later, and I still don't have everything checked off my list. And because we do not have a car, trips must be made when someone with a car can give us a ride, or, as in this morning's case, you must hire a taxi or two to ferry you and your stuff to and from the store. You can't just put the kids in the car, drive to the Walmart, get the items you need, and then drive straight home. I suppose if we had a car, this process would be easier. But then again, we'd still be driving to several different stores to buy what we need. Now my husband, on the other hand, is loving this! He's enraptured by the thought of having to walk to the hardware store, the bread store, the meat store, the pharmacy, and the general grocery. He loves it! He'd much rather walk, take buses, or taxis than have other missionaries drive us around.

With regard to our house, Troy will tell you that the "home establishing" process is mostly finished. He'd say that we have most of what we need. And he's right. A lady, however, would look around and notice the lack of pictures on the wall. Flowers or knick-knacks on the tables. Bedspreads on the bed. Fluffy rugs on the floor. None of these are things we brought with us from home. Everyone always encouraged me to bring our special pictures and knick-knacks--those items that make home "home". But all of our pictures are puzzles I'd glued together and framed. I doubt they'd have traveled well, and as this is a short term, I didn't want to risk it. Aside from a few things, I really don't have any cherished knick-knacks. Candles are far more important to me, but again, I didn't think they'd travel well.

I know that everybody has bad days. Today apparently was mine. It didn't help matters that I forgot about applying sunblock on any of us yesterday before visiting the park and was horribly sunburned. And as I was wearing my sunglasses, besides the overall lobsterish complexion, I have raccoon eyes. It's not pretty, and serves as a rather painful lesson on the importance of daily application of sunblock. Especially with my fair skin. And especially given how much closer to the Equator we are.

I promise to keep these pity-parties to a minimum. It just didn't seem realistic for me to always seem to be upbeat and positive in my posts. I wanted them to be real. To show some raw emotion, both positively and negatively.

EDITED TO ADD: Now, a few hours later, I'm doing much better emotionally. Troy and the kids did some exploring around our area this afternoon, so I finished the dishes, put on my "Pride and Prejudice" soundtrack, and just enjoyed the strains of that soothing music mixed with the sounds of a gentle rain. When they arrived home, they surprised me with a teapot. Now I can make hot tea without having to heat it over the stove in a pan. I was surprised that having a teapot was that big a deal to me, but it was. And then after reading this post, my darling husband and oldest son dashed down the street and came back with an enormous bouquet of fresh flowers they bought at a flower shop down the street. I am blessed with a sweet family who believe it is important to cheer me up when I'm feeling down.



I'm not sure why it's taken this long to really sink in that we are actually leaving the country in only twelve days. But it has. 
Until today. 
Why today? We received the email confirmation that our airplane tickets to Costa Rica have been BOOKED! Paid for! We're flying out of Jackson on Monday, August 20 (I feel the need to say it again -- in only TWELVE days) at 6 AM. Okay, so that part's not too great. It means that we'll have to be at the airport before even the sun wakes up. After about an hour long flight, and then another hour/ hour-and-a-half layover in Atlanta (that part I'm not real thrilled about, either. I wish it were a tad longer, truth be told. The idea of racing through an unfamiliar airport with six carry-ons, six backpacks, and four children whose first airplane flights will have only been that morning, frantically trying to find our correct gate, have time for everyone to use the bathroom, and then get on the plane, is not a welcome one), we should arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica just before lunch time. That part is amazing. Provided that it doesn't take too long for us to get six carry-ons, six backpacks, seven footlockers, six suitcases, and six people through customs, we should have plenty of time to settle into our new house. (This is, of course, assuming that all of our luggage arrives with us in Costa Rica. I don't like to make assumptions, especially when luggage and airports are involved. But in this case, I choose to trust that God will have it covered. As He's taken care of everything else so far.) 
We leave the country in twelve days. 
Twelve days
It's finally real.


Review for "Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance" by Julianne Donaldson (Kindle Edition)

Up until this point, my favorite romantic hero has been Fitzwilliam Darcy (picturing Matthew Macfadyen, of course. You Colin Firth lovers can HAVE him as far as I'm concerned!). And then I was referred to a funny little spoof video by the Pretty Darn Funny comedy troupe called, "Jane Austen is My Homegirl". (If you haven't seen this video, and you are a Jane Austen or "Downton Abbey" fan, you need to quit reading this review, head on over to Youtube, and watch it here: http://youtu.be/-b_xiWmFWgY) One of the ladies in the video specifically mentions reading "Edenbrooke". It sounded so absolutely dreamy that I simply had to read it for myself.

I won't give you a detailed synopsis, as I'm sure others have already done so. But if you enjoy Regency novels with plenty of chemistry between the characters WITHOUT all the sexual content (totally unnecessary), this proper romance may just be for you.

Going back to my earlier statement regarding Mr. Darcy... Despite his  pride and (at times) snobbish attitudes, he is passionately in love with Elizabeth just as she is. He wouldn't change a thing about her. Honestly, that is what I love about Philip. He loves Marianne *because* she speaks her mind, is unafraid to be silly (aka her propensity for twirling, which usually gets her into some physical calamity), and is comfortable enough to be herself around him. She's unlike all the rest of the society ladies--including her twin sister--who would do anything to ensnare him for his fortune and/or his title.

And the chemistry between them! Oh. My. The two best scenes involve love letters--his to her (although she hasn't the foggiest notion he's in earnest), and then hers to him. They rarely even so much as touch each other, and their kiss is left until the very end of the book. Yet despite that, it is more than evident that there is a spark between them. In my opinion, it takes a whole lot more talent to demonstrate passion and chemistry between characters WITHOUT using sexual content than it does to write a steamy love scene.

I will definitely read anything else this author writes.

(Okay, so have you watched the video yet? If not, what are you waiting for????)


Baby Watch Survival Kit

As a mom of four, I unashamedly love to give unsolicited advice (this gets me into trouble at times). It's a rite of passage among moms, really. But after our recent hospital experience, I've come to realize that I have even more knowledge I'd like to pass along.

Everyone is aware of the bags that most moms- and dads-to-be bring to the hospital for the arrival of their babies. (Some people choose to wait until the last minute to pack these bags, but as my personal experience shows, you can't really know when exactly that baby is coming. Even when you have scheduled c-sections.) What many people do not know, however, is that it is essential for those who will be hanging out in the maternity waiting room to have some level of preparedness as well. And so, I've put together a little list of things you might find handy when the time comes. It goes without saying that, like the hospital bag for mom and dad, you should not wait until the last minute to assemble most of this stuff.

I call it: The Baby Watch Survival Kit.

You will need to place the following in your kit:

  • Non-perishable snacks (vending machines eat your money. Which is why I paid $1.25 for a small bag of M&Ms). This should ALWAYS include chocolate. Nothing soothes the savage beast like chocolate.
  • Bottled water. If you are lucky enough to have a hospital that provides free beverages for family members, yay for you. But this is not always the case.
  • A light-weight blanket. I can't prove it, but I have the sneaking suspicion the nursing staff cranks up the air-conditioning in the waiting room to discourage families from completely camping out.
  • A travel pillow. When The Call comes in the wee hours of the morning, or labor progresses into the night, you will be tired. And a backpack filled with snacks, magazines, an iPad, an overstuffed wallet (well, due to the vending machine's earlier snack, it wasn't as overstuffed as it could've been) and rolls of breath mints does not a pillow make.
  • Reading material. And plenty of it.
  • A camera with extra batteries. To record for posterity (or Facebook) the waiting room hijinks. And---oh yeah, the baby's birth.
  • Headphones. Because someone will invariably drag out the "River Sounds" deluxe MP3 set and that only makes you want to pee (this may or may not have been me. I admit to nothing).
  • Card games like Uno, Skip-bo, Phase 10, etc. If you really want to get to know the obscure relatives you never see, bring out Apples to Apples----but only if your laboring family member is the only laboring Mama on the maternity floor and is stationed at the polar opposite corner of the hospital from you, OR if the waiting room is soundproof. Which, c'mon. Really, they should be.
I hope these little suggestions are helpful the next time you're on Baby Watch.


Meet my precious new nephew, Benjamin Roshan. He arrived via c-section in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Measuring 19 3/4 inches long, he literally weighed his birth date (7 lbs, 11 ounces)! In 37 years of life, I have never heard of this happening.

Already, he's wrapped us around his little finger, as is clearly obvious by the look of utter rapture on my face as I gaze at him.

He's sporting his dad's dark hair and chin, but he resembles my sister. Especially across the eyes. My mom held him against her shoulder at one point, looking out, and as our eyes met, it was like looking at a baby picture of my sister's.

Throughout the long day yesterday, my brave sister endured many, many, many, many long hours of labor only to have a c-section. She is one tough Mama!

While waiting for word of his imminent birth, or after receiving news from the doctor, I was just reminded again and again of my firstborn's birth over 12 years ago. Maybe it's because I was waiting for her firstborn to arrive in the world that I was reminded of mine. The long hours waiting for her. The news of her fetal distress and necessary c-section. Sheer joy when she arrived tempered by sheer exhaustion. I had developed pre-ecclampsia about a month before my due date, and so not only was I administered pitosin to induce labor, I was also administered magnesium sulfate to keep my blood pressure from skyrocketing. It also made me very sleepy. Shortly after her birth, she began displaying signs of further distress. Late that night, she was flown via helicopter to a children's hospital in Iowa City. We learned the next day that she'd been born with a heart defect called Transposition of the Greater Vessels. She endured corrective open heart surgery when she was 12 days old. Twelve. Days. It was exactly five weeks to the day before she was able to come home from the hospital. There are many more stories I could tell you about that time, but this entry is not really about Tayler.

It's about Ben and his Mama.

One of the first times my sister ever saw me holding my newborn daughter, she turned to our mom and said in great wonder and amazement, "She's a mommy!"

Walking in this morning and watching my sister care for her newborn son as best as she can given the c-section, I had a similar epiphany.

After waiting for so long for God to bless her with a baby of her own, today that blessing became a reality. That wonderful little bundle named Benjamin has made her a mommy.

And we are all smitten.


A Precious Gift

My only sister is having her first baby very soon. Maybe even as early as next week. For some, this would be a joyous occasion. But for her, it's miraculous. After two miscarriages, we all feared she would never have the babies she'd dreamed of having.

But God knew better.

As a missionary, you give up many things. Seeing family. Missing birthdays, holidays, special events. You also gain the riches of ministry and the blessings of new friends. For me, last summer especially, the one thing I knew I had to give up was the chance of being here to greet any children she'd have. I welcomed each of my husband's two nephews when they were born, and my sister was there to welcome each of my four babies as well. But to miss the opportunity to be the Auntie for her children? A huge sacrifice, indeed.

But God knew better.

Late last year, during the holidays, my sister shared with a few of us that she was pregnant. How mom and I cried tears of joy! The first thought that ran through my head was that I would actually be able to be here to see and hold my niece or nephew. What a precious gift! God's timing... Impeccable. Perfect.

Before even receiving the news from our mission organization last month that we'd been cleared for language school, we'd made plans and booked flights for me to spend several weeks in Iowa. Just so that I could be here for the birth of my newest nephew (yes, it's a boy!). Originally, we'd planned for me to remain for the entire month, with Troy and the kids driving up for an extended visit after Benjamin's birth. And then the news came. We talked about the implications of me being away for several weeks during the most critical packing time. And while I know he would prefer to have me there, assisting in the process, my sweet husband sacrificially allowed me to come. Knowing that the full responsibility for packing the rest of the house and all of the details at home would fall solely on his shoulders. Granted, he is a much better packer than I am (my packing exploits are legendary within our family circles. Four words best describe them: "trash", "bags", "last" and "minute"). So here I am, in a place devoid of disarray. While my husband is surrounded by packing boxes and a decade of detritus. A huge sacrifice, indeed.

I anticipate long, leisurely conversations with my family members (my mom and my sister in particular) over these next days. And I eagerly look forward to that phone call that lets us know it's time to head to the hospital. That first glimpse of "our" new little one. The first time I snuggle sweet little Ben in my arms. When I'm on the field and away from him for two years, I'll always have these memories to think back on.

All because my husband gave me this most precious gift. I'm not sure he'll ever know what this means to me. But it's not something I'll forget for as long as I live.

Thank You, God, for giving me such a caring, tender, selfless man. For blessing our family with Benjamin. And for the perfect timing that enabled all of this to be possible.

All precious gifts, indeed.

Another Great Lesson

(From our ministry blog, dated July 3, 2012)
From the last couple posts, it's evident that we are stressing out (just a bit) about the paperwork and all the many other details that need to be completed before we leave. There have been some restless nights and stomach upsets as a result. 
But why? Isn't our God big enough to take care of all these details? If He's big enough to give us this opportunity--completely apart from anything we accomplished on our own--then surely He's big enough to handle the details. Right? Well, we sure weren't acting like He was. 
Until today. 
Just before lunch time, a special delivery was made to our door by the post office. Six mailers. And inside these six mailers were.....six PASSPORTS. Passports??? After only EIGHT DAYS!? I took one look at those passports and immediately burst into tears. The kids kept eying me strangely, trying to ascertain why in the world Mama was crying (again). What they didn't understand, and what I couldn't at that moment articulate, was this: It was another lesson from God. Another gentle rebuke. "Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt Me?" 
You'd think after a similar moment only weeks ago, I would've learned my lesson. But apparently not. I've never heard of anyone getting passports back after only eight days (when mailed in). Even when expedited. And especially not for a family of six! And yet here they were today. It was like God was saying to me, "Quit stressing out about this! I've got this covered, My daughter!" 
This is a lesson I need to keep remembering when I'm tempted to stress and obsess.


The Princess of Lists in Her Element

The list-making is in full swing.

Let's see, I've got a list of things to do before we leave for language school. There's also a list of things we need to remember to pack. And then there's the list of items we want to get rid of. Earlier this week I had a list of family members and close friends we wanted to alert, but thankfully, that list has all been checked off. Then, unrelated to our language school lists, is the list of items I need to pack for my Iowa trip in just under two weeks. Along with that, I'll probably draft a list of items Troy will need to pack when he and the kids join me for the goodbyes on my side of the family.

At this rate, I'll need a list to keep track of all my lists.

Anyway, today I even got to check items off my main list (things do do before we leave). Passport application appointment schedule? Check. Scheduled for Monday morning. Once we've applied for those, I can begin the very long, very drawn out process of applying for student visas. When I inquired yesterday what needed to be done, I was shocked. For a long time I've heard horror stories about governmental red tape in other countries, and we're about to experience a little bit of that ourselves. Before even leaving home.

Here's how this to-do list will go, just to give you a taste of the red tape:

1. Take birth certificates for Jenny, Clayton, and Tayler as well as our marriage certificate (which we're still waiting to receive a copy of in the mail) to Secretary of State in downtown Des Moines and have them aposillized.

2. Mail Troy's birth certificate to Texas to be apostillized.

3. Go to police department and formally request copies of our (non existent) police record for the last two years.

4. Take birth certificates for Tori and Cody as well as the copies of the police reports to the Secretary of State's office in downtown Jackson to be apostillized.

5. Either call Costa Rican embassy in Houston and arrange to mail all documents, along with our newly issued passports (once they arrive in several weeks) to them, or physically take all documents to Costa Rican embassy in Houston and have them stamp our passports with the student visa.

Let the work begin.

Sinking In

This is gonna be a multi-post week (even if we can't actually post this yet for a few days, and even if you'll actually get to read all these posts in succession).

Yesterday, June 19, we received part 3 of The Phone Call from headquarters. We are officially cleared for language school! We've been given permission to broadcast the news (believe me, it has been so hard not to hit that "publish" button! Once, I accidentally did, so I had to quickly go back and delete the post), but we wanted to wait until after we'd had a chance to announce our news to our home church on Sunday. In the mean time, we've told our family, a few of our closest friends, and several of our fellow field missionaries and other missionaries who have been in our shoes and know what this week means to us.

Yesterday afternoon, we were formally invited to Costa Rica to attend language school, and today I submitted an information form for the school admissions office to review. After it's been approved, and headquarters sends the check for our registration, we'll be officially enrolled in The Spanish Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica! Then, our airline tickets will be booked. The next big legal issues we have to take care of are our passports (an expensive proposition, especially since we're expediting them), and applying for student visas. Having a student visa as opposed to a tourist visa will enable us to remain in the country the full year without having to leave and return every 90 days. They are a bit more expensive than tourist visas, but well worth the extra cost when the convenience is factored in. In order to obtain these visas, we have to have copies of our birth certificates and our marriage license notarized (not the word, but I can't remember what the actual word is) by the Costa Rican embassy here in the States. Well, this is what I've heard we have to do. I fully intend to contact the language school for help with this one.

Some of our missionary friends, particularly those who have served/are serving on our Mexican field, have already given us some great advice about packing, what to take, what not to take, what kinds of things to do, etc. The Queen of Lists certainly is in her element! (Well, okay. My mom is probably the Queen of Lists....which would then make me the Princess of Lists.)

It's starting to sink in that this is actually happening. Wow! Yesterday we were shocked and excited. Mostly excited. Today, knowing the up-hill battle I'm facing as I struggle to learn a language with sounds that frustrate my tongue (thank You, Jesus, that it's not Mandarin Chinese), I am freaking out. Scared out of my mind! Aack! How can I leave all that is familiar and go to a place where they don't speak my language??!! And beyond that, how in the world can I live in the 3rd largest city in the world???? The thought of driving in Mexico City has always terrified me. It's one thing, however, to know that somewhere, off in a very vague future, I'll be driving in the World's Largest Parking lot. But knowing I'm a mere YEAR away from that reality..... Well, this is the stuff of nightmares.

On the other hand, I know full well that fear is not of God. It's! Not! Of! God! Fear is a tool of the enemy to keep us from doing what God has called us to do. And I'd rather die than let that happen. Seriously. I have the deepest conviction that the next two years are going to really stretch me as a woman, as a mom, a wife, and as a Christian. They are going to be the hardest two years of my life. But I have a feeling they are also going to be the most rewarding. When I come out on the other side, I'll be able to look back and see all that God has brought me through. The fear of driving. The struggles with learning Spanish. The shyness in meeting new people. The nervousness for my kids. The homesickness. All of it.

And I can honestly say that I'm excited to experience every minute of it knowing that God has something amazing planned for our family as we minister to those He has called us to. And as they minister to us in return.


Ready, Set, GO!

(Written June 18, 2012)

We got part two of The Phone Call from Bill Oden at OMS headquarters this morning. Our field director is very excited about the new plan to shorten our first term to two years! He'd really like to see us in language school this September.

What does all of this mean? It means, quite simply, that come the end of August, the entire family will be boarding a plane and leaving the country. (Gasp!) Instead of talking about "mights" and "possiblys", we're making plans and coming to some definite realizations.
  • This year we won't have to decide which family to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's with. Because we will be spending those holidays in an entirely different country than everyone else. Preferably on a beach.
  • I will be celebrating my 38th birthday next year with an amazing trip to the beach--and not the dirty brown waters in the Mississippi Gulf. My first-born will become a teenager in a foreign country.
  • When we leave Iowa at the end of July, I won't see my brand-new (well, as of July) nephew again until he is 2 years old (unless my sister and brother-in-law bring him to Costa Rica or Mexico City for a visit. Hint, hint!). That one's not a fun realization. It's one that has quite literally broken my heart to imagine. 
  • Once we board that airplane in August, we won't see any of our family members for the next two years, unless they go to the time and expense to visit us. Thank God for modern technology like Skype, email, Facebook, and blogs! But the fact remains that, no matter how healthy my one remaining Grandparent is now, not one of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Will God call her Home while we're out of the country? I can't say. And I dearly hope not. But I will have to prepare myself for that goodbye, even if it's one that I don't end up having to make.
  • We will have our work cut out for us, both in the packing process, and once we arrive in language school. I speak not a lick of Spanish. In fact, my pitiful 2-years of high school French continually pop to mind whenever I try to think of certain Spanish phrases, so I imagine this will be very interesting.
  • Most importantly, we will need your prayers in the weeks and months to come. Desperately. There's the house to pack, garage to sort through, storage to arrange, luggage for six to amass, plane tickets to book, passports and visas to arrange, applications to fill out, legal details to figure out and arrange, many goodbyes to be said, and probably many more things than I can think of now. And that's just before we leave the country! That doesn't even include all the minute details we'll have to take care of once we arrive in Costa Rica. The lovely thing about the language school in Costa Rica is the Big Brother program. A current student will be assigned to our family to help us transition into life in San Jose. He or she will pick us up at the airport. Find housing for us prior to our arrival! Then, help us get settled into a new culture. As part of the program, we get to in turn provide this assistance to another incoming family during our stay in Costa Rica.
Thank you so much for your prayers and your support of our family over the many months we've been at this. You've helped us reach this very special day. I still tear up every time I think about what today means. This is the fulfillment of a calling God placed on Troy's life when he was a teenager. The fulfillment of a calling God placed on my life as a college student. And the fulfillment of a calling God placed on our hearts as a couple during a missions trip to Mexico back in March of 1999.

We've been ready. We've been set. And now, finally--praise Jesus!--we are GOING!

The Most Incredible Development on the Most Incredible Day

My New Year's resolutions for this year were to be finished with my novel (getting there -- I'm perhaps halfway to that goal), and to be funded and in language school in Costa Rica. What if I told you that at least one of those goals had just become possible? And since I just mentioned that I still have at least half of the novel yet to write, the logical conclusion is that the goal reached was language school.

If you guessed that, you'd be right.

We had completely written off being able to leave in August, as we're still only at about 55% funded (and have been stuck there for about a year). We'd begun to make plans to pack up our belongings and possibly move in with my mom in Iowa, with the new goal of leaving for language school in January. To be honest, we'd both accepted this and were excited about six more months of getting our ducks in a row--making use of that Rosetta Stone software we've had on the computer forever, helping the children firm up their reading/spelling abilities, learning a modicum of self-control and getting in shape in the process. All things that would've made our transition to life in Costa Rica easier.

And then yesterday (Tuesday, June 12) we received The Phone Call from headquarters.

Would we be interested in a two-year term: 1 year of language school followed by 1 year in Mexico City? After the completion of those two years, we'd come home and attempt to raise funds for a full four-year term. The thought process behind this is that it is much easier for missionaries to raise support for a longer term once they've actually had some field experience. People like to hear those stories of lives changed. And new missionaries who haven't yet been to the field do not have stories of their own to tell. We can only borrow other people's stories, which is nowhere near as effective. After several years of fundraising, we have enough in our account, or enough already coming in, to support a two-year term. It has yet to be approved by our field director, but the departmental heads at OMS headquarters are very excited about this, so we're cautiously optimistic as well.

What does this mean? It means that at the end of August, we'll be flying to language school in San Jose, Costa Rica. It's happening. It's actually happening! We've got two months to get our stuff in order. This means we've got 12 years of stuff to sort through and either toss, sell, or store. We must get passports for the entire family. We must book tickets. And probably a number of other things we don't know about but are necessary when preparing to spend two years abroad (two years abroad!).

I woke up yesterday questioning whether or not this was ever going to happen. And then by the end of the day, I was already thinking about what spending Christmas in a tropical location will be like, and what it will mean to watch both "Hobbit" movies dubbed over in Spanish (oh, I devoutly hope that's not the case. I'd much rather watch them in English with Spanish subtitles). Deep in my spirit, I can sense God saying to me, "Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt Me?"

It's a day I will never forget for as long as I live. A most incredible day.


God's Funny Sense of Humor

Sometimes I think God has a funny sense of humor.

Today, the kids and I were in a neighboring city getting gas before my son's guitar lesson. After I'd finished filling the tank, a woman approached me, explained that her card was declined, and asked if there was anything I could do to help her. For some reason, it didn't occur to me at the time that I could go inside and pre-pay for a few gallons of gas for her--enough for her to get home. All I could think of was the $1 I had in cash. When I explained to her all I had was $1, she repeated her question. I reiterated that I really only had $1. For some reason, I just assumed she was asking for cash. It really didn't occur to me that she was asking for more. She walked away, and I got in the car. Now, our weekly tradition is to get beverages to take to the lesson. But I felt funny about going inside and getting drinks for everyone when I'd just told her I only had $1 in cash. So we went to another gas station. I have to admit that it still hadn't occurred to me that there was more I could do for her. Yes, I was that dense. As I was paying for our drinks, however, it finally hit me. And I felt horrible. We had to drive by the first gas station on the way to the church where our son has his lessons, and I noticed her car was still there. To be honest, I knew God was nudging me to help, but I was being stubborn at that point. My stubbornness lasted the rest of the way to the church. Once we realized we were there ahead of the teacher, I knew what I had to do. We turned around and drove back to the gas station. I got out and was walking over to her car when I saw a man filling her car for her. Someone else had done what I should've done to begin with.

The whole way back to the church, I apologized to God for being so dense. He gave me the perfect opportunity to help someone, and even some extra money with which to do it, but I just didn't get it. I wasn't prepared. So I told Him I'd be more prepared to help the next person He sent for me to help.

And boy, He didn't let me forget it. Here's where I think He has a sense of humor. In a recent blog post, I admitted to my tendency to be selfish with my belongings, or share them only grudgingly. Especially with our neighbors. Just whom did God send for me to help? The neighbors. Troy was out with a friend, and a dear friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in several months was hanging out with me at the house. We were just trying to decide which movie to watch when the neighbor's daughter came to the door. Her Mama wanted to know if I'd drive her to the nearby Fred's for a few items before they closed. With Troy gone, I wouldn't have been able to do it. But as my friend was visiting, I knew there would be someone with the kids while I was gone. And yet, my first reaction was to roll my eyes and grumble about taking 20 minutes away from my time with my friend.

Then, God gently (He's always gentle with me--even when I don't deserve it. I should take that lesson to heart with my own children. But that's another post for another day) reminded me of my promise from earlier in the day. To be ready to help the next person He led my way.

See? Sense of humor. I think it might take awhile before my first reaction is "sure, I can help".  I'm a work in progress. And I'm thankful that God is patient.

With a wonderfully funny sense of humor.


Cancun Chronicles

What started out as a stand-alone novel (and could still be, really) will end up being a series. I hope. As of now, I am tentatively planning on calling the series "The Cancun Chronicles", as all of the stories will be based in the imaginary town of Cancun, Colorado, and will involve some of the same characters. Not very original, I know. But thinking of creative story titles has never been my forte.

The second book in the series is actually a story I began writing when I was sixteen years old. I dearly wish I still had those notebooks. It would be interesting to read what I wrote over 20 years ago. Anyway, today I am plotting out characters and story-line details to this second story, to be called "The Roommate" (keeping with the R-words in the title).

I'd really love to have at least a third book in the series, but right now I'm fresh out of ideas. When I first began writing the second book back in high school, I'd originally intended for the lead male character to get in a wreck, develop amnesia, and disappear, with almost everyone believing he'd died or abandoned the family. The next two stories would be about his daughter's search for her father. But I've since decided that is way too soap opera-ish for my taste.

Considering the fact that I have yet to finish the first book and write the second, I think I have some time to figure things out.


What's Mine is Yours

On Friday the kids and I were listening to the radio while running errands. The DJs were talking about households in which married couples have separate checking accounts and each pay a designated amount of the monthly bills. To be honest, I’m not a big proponent of this. Granted, I understand there are circumstances where this is necessary. And can be healthy. But in a typical marriage, I just don’t see the point. What if one of the spouses makes more than the other? Do they have to pay more of the bills? How do you determine who pays what? And once bills are paid, how do you split the extra left over at the end of the month (assuming there is). What about homes where only one of the spouses has an outside job? You can’t put a monetary value to what the stay-at-home spouse does in the home. Cooking. Cleaning. Taking care of the family. And, in many families we know, educating the children at home. How do you affix a price for all that they do, especially when they’re not contributing anything financial to the pot? This just places way too much emphasis on money, in my opinion. I prefer to see all money earned deposited in a shared account with all expenses coming out of that shared account. That way, it’s not my money. It’s not your money. It’s our money.

Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about sharing. We drill into our children’s heads from a young age the importance of sharing. But no matter how many times we tell them, it’s something they struggle to comprehend. I mean, let’s face it. Sharing is hard. My 37th birthday is coming up in about a month and it’s a concept that is still hard for me! You want to borrow any of my movies, books, or CDs? Fine. No problem. What’s mine is yours. On the other hand, if you expect me to share my stash of M&Ms with you, you’re gonna get your hand slapped. For real. Jenny doesn’t share chocolate. So when I say, “what’s mine is yours”, I don’t really mean it, do I?

But aren’t we as Christians supposed to hold our possessions loosely? Including our chocolate? (As painful as this notion is.) If this is so, then I need to quit glaring at Troy whenever he helps himself to a handful of M&Ms. I need to quit hiding “my” goodies from the family. And here’s another one that is personally hard for me: I need to stop rolling my eyes and heaving that deep sigh when our neighbor comes to the door again to borrow some sugar, the phone, salt, batteries, toilet tissue, or any of the many items I’ve loaned over the years we’ve been here. Yes, I often feel like her own personal convenience store. But that’s something I’ve got to work on. Something God’s been speaking to me about (and with sometimes multiple-times daily knocks at the door, He’s had many opportunities to do this) over these months. The painful truth is, if I view everything I have as His--which it is--then I shouldn’t have a problem giving it away or lending it in the first place.

Because it was never even mine to begin with.

And that includes M&Ms.


Deceptive Appearances

We've heard all of our lives never to judge a book by it's cover. That appearances can be deceiving. So why is this a lesson many of us have still to learn? Recently, I witnessed someone critically eying our electronic devices and the TV screen we were using to project missionary video clips. Without even bothering to ask me about them, I heard a muttered "must be nice to be a rich missionary".

Appearances are deceptive, after all.

What they didn't know was that almost all of our electronic devices have been generously given to us over the years. And the TV screen we were using? Purchased used from a friend of ours for a price below retail to replace our 20-some-year-old TV. The one device we actually purchased was for work purposes, to be used in place of the iPhones and Blackberries so prevalent today. Like the iPhone owned by the grumbler, in fact. But what do I know? Maybe someone gave them that phone and is paying the monthly fees on their behalf.

Appearances are deceptive, after all.

When you see someone using their iPhone or iPod during church, do you assume they are playing games or texting? I know I've been accused of such behavior. (First of all, I don't text. It annoys me. By the time pick out a message, it would've been faster to just call.) Perhaps, like me, they are using the Notes app and taking notes. Or keying in prayer requests as they are made. Or perhaps they have a Bible on their device and are following along in the Scripture passage.

Appearances are deceptive, after all.

We judge people on height. Weight. Level of fitness. By how much or how little money they have. By the clothes they wear. By their race or color. We judge people based on their appearance. But what if we're wrong about them?

Appearances are deceptive, after all.


A Story To Tell

Since I first became so burdened for the issue of human trafficking, I've wanted to write a story about it. While the characters and setting would be fictional, what happens to them would describe what happens all too often. My goal is to write a story that makes readers aware of the scope of human trafficking, what is involved, the depth of the depravity, and how sometimes things are not always what they seem.

I mentioned this to Troy the other day and he's already given me a great plot idea. I want to finish the novel I'm currently writing and then begin tackling this idea. There will be a lot of research involved, and I will need to be bathed in prayer. Such a dark subject matter will undoubtedly weigh me down spiritually and emotionally.

To tell the truth, it will take a great amount of courage for me to write a human trafficking story. Supernatural courage that I can only receive from God. While this story is at least a year off, I'd love you to begin praying for this now. Thank you!


Not My "Pride and Prejudice"

I stumbled upon a book the other day, another Jane Austen "Pride and Prejudice" fan-fiction novel, to be exact, that just really made my blood boil. This one, like many others, is nothing but a glorified bodice-ripper featuring Jane Austen's beloved characters (it's main question was "what if Darcy and Elizabeth decided not to wait for marriage to consummate their relationship?"). What really grated on my nerves was their claim that it mimics Jane's style and characters. Really. Really?! Hmm. I don't remember her characters having sex in the books (well, except for naughty Lydia, but we certainly didn't have to read about it in detail). For crying out loud, Jane Austen was a minister's daughter! Why should I be surprised, however? It seems people want to sexualize or make sexual relationships where there was never intended to be one. Like between Frodo and Sam in "The Lord of the Rings", for example. Or even with Jesus and Mary Magdalene! Good grief, people. There is more to life than sex, and not everything in life is about sex.

Darcy and Elizabeth would never have considered a premature roll in the hay because morally upright people in those days--like our two characters--would never have done such a thing. Fast women were looked down upon. One of the things about Darcy that everyone loves is his devotion and commitment to Elizabeth. As a man devoted to the woman he loved, he never would've put her in a compromising position. Never would've even considered it. Writing stories that detail their sexual acts--married or unmarried--really detracts from the romantic story. As a man, would Darcy have had an improper thought or two of his bride-to-be? Probably. But he was too much the gentleman to ever act upon it. And as passionately as this couple loved each other, we don't need someone to draw us a picture to know they enjoyed a fulfilling sex life after their marriage. Writing about it is really nothing more than glorified porn.

I honestly don't mind the continuations and the "what ifs". But making the characters do and say things they would never do or say is a desecration of the beautiful story Jane Austen wrote and that many of us cherish.

If authors insist upon incorporating such trash into their novels, I heartily wish they'd choose other characters. Show some respect for the classy, tasteful, timeless romance that "Pride and Prejudice" is.


The Story So Far

As of tonight, I've completed the first eight chapters (including the funeral chapter). Yay! I'm thrilled to be past that point of the story, free to focus on other issues that appear in Emma's life.

Thus far, I've completed the first eight chapters, as I said, plus an additional six chapters that were completed during my "jumping around" in the story phase. All combined, there is just under 47,000 words in my story so far! I'm well on my way to accomplishing the goal I set for myself of reaching 80,000 in this first go-around.

There's a long way to go still, but tonight I'm thankful for these first eight completed chapters.


Unexpected Lessons, Unexpected Blessings

As I've mentioned before, I think, there was not room campus for us after March 2. So, after staying at a very nice place that caters to folks in ministry (they don't charge, but operate solely on donations) for a week, he and the kids brought me back to campus Sunday night and went on back to the cabin. They were going to pick me up Thursday. Well, early in the week the van started acting up, so on Wednesday, Troy ended up taking it to a mechanic the manager at the cabin had referred him to. They were delayed a couple days and weren't going to be able to pick me up until Friday.

Friday, they picked up the van and were on their way back to the cabin to get our stuff when it started smoking and leaking oil. Thankfully, a sheriff pulled in behind where Troy had pulled off the road and radioed for this mechanic to come out with his tow truck. It was the transmission, unfortunately. I am very thankful for this mechanic, however. He’s an honest guy who wants his customers to get the best deal. He told Troy that he’s in the diagnosis business, not the “fix it at any cost” business. He wants to make sure he figures out exactly what the problem is and then do his best to fix just that at the lowest possible cost to his customers. We are both so thankful that the van did not break down on the road--that would’ve been the absolute worst scenario possible. Troy’s actually also thankful that it happened here, where we had a reliable mechanic, and not in Jackson. While he’s skilled enough to do the job himself, it’s not the sort of job one can do alone. And unfortunately, our more mechanically minded friends have all left Jackson. Nor does he know a reliable mechanic in the area he could really trust.

At that point, I would've had someone drive me out to join them if not for a certain voice mail I received on Wednesday. A woman from the Medicaid office called as a "courtesy call" (although there wasn't ANYTHING courteous about her tone) to let me know that I'd missed the kids' re-certification appointment and had until Friday at noon to appear for it or my case would be CLOSED. In a panic, I called her and explained that it's pretty hard to show up for an appointment that (1) you didn't even know about, and (2) when you're in a completely different state. I told her the absolute earliest I could appear was Monday. She gave me grace until Monday, but no more. And with Tayler's procedure scheduled for April 5, we could NOT afford for them to close our case! Especially since it takes them a MONTH to process the paperwork.

Since the van wasn’t ready, I went ahead and booked a flight home. I was able to find a one-way flight from Indy to Jackson (through Houston) for about $325 (all fees included). Not too bad! This is even about $200 cheaper than the flights were when I looked into flying up for my training session way back in February! And that was with less than 24 hour's notice! God definitely had His hand in that, I believe.

The problem was that I have an insanely ridiculous fear of flying (not the actual flying part. It's the GETTING to the airport and dealing with connecting flights that freaks me out. I really don't mind flying, except that takeoffs and landings always hurt my ears), but God really helped me. I was able to be calm and ask questions when needed. I mean, the last time I flew was back in '99, so things have changed a little since then.

Everyone on campus and here at home have been so good to me. One of my Hope61 co-workers drug her kids out of bed on Saturday to pick me up and take me to the airport at 7:30. Our director's husband is personally calling area churches asking if they can help us out with costs. A friend drove 30 minutes out of her way to pick up the rest of the stuff I couldn't take and then drove it out to where Troy and the kids are staying (an hour from her) so that they don't have to backtrack and pick it up once the van's fixed. A man from our church here at home picked me up at the airport and helped me put the relays back in Troy's Jeep and get the tire aired back up so it would be ready for me to drive. As he left, he even gave me a little gift card for the Kroger so that I could get myself some groceries. It ended up being just a few dollars more than what I needed to restock the house with groceries after almost six weeks away! The cabin place told Troy and the kids they can stay as long as they need to--and are even allowing them to use their personal washing machine and dryer (as there is no laundry facility on site), as well as giving them rides to and from town when needed. The wives of the managers (there are two couples managing the property) have provided several meals for them and one even sent over some “new” games for the kids to play. One of the couples had Troy and the kids over for dinner Sunday night and they all sat around and played our “Apples to Apples Family” game. So glad I brought it! A dear friend of ours even offered to give us a van and find a way to get it to Troy in Indiana!

So many other things that I can't even mention. God is providing and working out snags for us. This has been a great lesson for us on faith and trusting God for His provision. Troy told me that it's sparked some really great conversations with the kids about this, and he's thankful for all the one-on-one time he's had with them the last week. This is literally the most time he's spent with them alone, and he's loving it. I thought Mama would love it too, but I miss my family. I'm going to use this time to get some writing done (as I wasn't able to get much done while we were gone), get some cleaning done, and just enjoy having the house to myself. That’s another gift from God in itself, actually. I was disappointed that I really didn’t have much time to write, and now God’s given me all this time by myself in a quiet house to do some catching up!

There have also been some frustrations along the road. Monday morning when I went to pick up our mail, as we'd expressly asked them to hold it at the post office until we could pick it up, as they often do, they disregarded my request. I drove all the way over there only to have the woman tell me it was out for delivery. And it was a lot, too. I shudder to think about what would've happened if I hadn't come back in time. Of course, there was the usual mail that didn't belong to us mixed in with it, one piece a package for the 722 WEST Northside Drive address (we're 722 EAST Northside Drive. We get mail for them, a daycare center, A LOT). I hope they weren't waiting for that long.

Then, I arrived at the Medicaid office and had barely sat down before my case worker informed me that they closed my case on Friday. Even though we'd spoken and I'd told her I couldn't appear until Monday. She said she had no control over it, but I think she could've gone to bat for me if she'd felt like it. I was angry, but tried to calmly explain that while the rest of my family was still stuck with a broken-down vehicle in Indiana, I'd flown back over the weekend specifically for this meeting. Then I explained WHY this was so urgent. She thawed and expressed some sympathy for Tayler at that point, promising to do her best to push the paperwork through. We'll see. She also had more paperwork that she surprised me with -- I had to go to the seminary and get someone to write a letter showing the dates Troy had been employed there. Even though it's been over six months since he last worked there and TECHNICALLY, they are only supposed to need your most current paycheck information. I went to the financial officer at the seminary, Mrs. Leigh, and started crying before I could even explain what I needed from her. I've submitted all required information. Please pray with me that she will indeed push the paperwork through and Tayler's appointment will not need to be rescheduled.

This was not at all how we anticipated the end of our time in Indiana going. By any means. But God has been faithful to provide in ways both little and big. We continue to trust that He will provide the needed funds for the transmission, that He will give the family traveling mercies as they drive back to Jackson (hopefully either Friday or Saturday), and that He will work out all the details surrounding Tayler’s heart procedure and our Medicaid status.

Exodus 14:14 - “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

1 Samuel 12:16 - “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes.”