2013 In the Rearview Mirror

It's hard to believe this is December 31. The end of another year. Oh, but what a year!

We rang in the start of this year perched on our temporary home's second story balcony, watching fireworks exploding across San Jose, Costa Rica (and listening to the cacophonous BOOMS ricocheting off the mountainsides). We will end the year sitting together around the fireplace in our home in Mexico City, either playing a game or watching a movie.

God has brought us through so much and taught us many lessons in the span of 365 days. Lessons of patience as we learned new cultures, languages, and ways of life. Lessons of patience again as we waited for our house. Lessons in trusting in Him for provision after watching our support account shrink month after month. And so many more.

2013 was also the year I achieved a life-long goal. It was the year in which I finally finished writing my first novel. I don't know what the new year will hold with regard to seeing it published, but one way or another, I want to be able to read it in print next year at this time. Even if that means I have to self-publish.

2013 was a great year. I can't wait to see what's in store for 2014.


An Exciting Development

Just before going to bed last night, I decided to check my email. And boy, am I ever glad I did! (Not that it in any way helped me to fall asleep, but that's another matter.)

A family member had emailed explaining that he volunteers at his church with someone who works for a publishing company. He mentioned my novel to her and asked if they accepted unsolicited manuscripts (most do not, by the way). She said yes, but that they usually end up in a giant pile. (Not where you want your novel to end up.) HOWEVER, here's the exciting part. She told him that if I was interested, she would personally give my manuscript to one of their editors to read!!!

Of course, I'm trying not to get too excited.

But this is a huge deal, after all. A professional editor in a publishing company will be reading my novel. Nothing could come of it at all.

Or, I could get back some great feedback.


They could decide they like it. Like it enough to publish it.

For now, of course, I'm trying to be chill about it. In the meantime, I'm praying very hard that God's hand will be in this and that He'll help me receive with grace whatever news is coming.

Thanks for joining with me in this prayer!


Deceptive Appearances: The Missionary Edition

About 18 months ago, I wrote a blog entry about why appearances often deceive us. This is part two of that entry, geared toward those little deceptive appearances about missionary life. Hopefully this is both funny and enlightening.

If I made the casual remark back in the States that my family employed a maid for the period of eight months, I can only imagine the looks I'd receive. I'm quite sure thoughts like these would be running through the minds of those standing around me, How can you afford a maid on a missionary salary? I can't even afford a maid. Must be nice. Missionaries must make a ton of money. Yet, if I made this same comment in Latin America to other missionaries or nationals, nobody would bat an eye. I'd hear comments like, "Our boys fell in love with our empleada ('maid' in Spanish). She was like an abuelita ('little grandmother') to them." or "Boy, I'm not sure I could've gotten anything done without our empleada with all that tile flooring to wash every day (yes, every day. Some Latin Americans wash their tile floors as many as 3 times a day!), or all the clothes to hang out every day."

The fact remains that simple, daily chores we can do in no time at all can take hours in less developed countries. There is often a large gap between the bottom of the front door and the ground, so dust and dirt constantly blows in off the street. And with no air-conditioning, windows are left open year-round, bringing in more dust and dirt. Our empleada was only with us one day a week and she cleaned our tile floors (downstairs) three times throughout her day. Despite all that, by the end of the day, if you walked around barefoot, the bottoms of your feet would be completely black with dirt. And while we had a dryer, using a dryer was very expensive, so everyone line dried their clothing. Yes, even sheets, blankets, and jeans. This was obviously easier to do in dry season; things would dry in half the time. In rainy season however? Fuggetaboutit!

Even if her assistance wasn't the huge enormous blessing it was (don't forget I was going to language school full time, learning a second language!), she gave me the opportunity once a week to practice my Spanish with someone who wasn't being paid to teach me. Part of our time together consisted of a meal eaten just the three of us (Troy, me, and Marta) when we got home from classes (our children didn't get out of school for another 2 hours after we did), and then Marta and I would just sit and talk for 20-30 minutes. This got easier as the year drew on, of course. She helped me enormously! And financially? It was a no-brainer. While I won't give particulars, she cost our family less for 7 hours of labor than it cost for our family of six to eat one meal at McDonald's. Yet, this was a huge blessing financially for her and her family.

So when you hear that a missionary you know or support has recently hired an empleada, you can be happy for him or her, knowing that he or she is receiving a tremendous amount of (inexpensive) help while providing a job for someone who truly needs it.

This doesn't stop at empleadas, however. This applies to the shoe-shine guy, the gardener, and the man or woman who washes the car. The thing many of us in the States have to understand is that many developing countries are what are known as "niche" countries. Every person has his or her own niche in society. Some people are doctors. Lawyers. Policemen. Clerks. Secretaries. Teachers. And some are gardeners. Shoe shine men. Or car washers. A person who shines shoes for a living clearly can't do the work of a lawyer. And so when a lawyer shines his or her own shoes, he or she is seen--by those in society--as taking that job away from someone whose niche it is to do it.

My husband is a very capable man. Before we became missionaries, he worked for well over a decade in maintenance. There isn't a whole lot he can't do. And after a year in Costa Rica without grass, he was looking forward to getting his hands dirty in the garden. Of course, to some degree he still can, as that is a hobby. But we happily pay a gardener and a new recently fired friend of ours to wash our car each week (or as needed) because that's what it means to live in a niche society. Once again, it all costs pennies in comparison to what we might pay in the States for similar services. In a country without food stamps or other forms of government well fare, this is how a society supports those whose lives have been a little harder than those more fortunate.

Aside from receiving services as a fraction of a cost, there are certain items that are cheaper to have made here than to have imported from the States. We have a missionary friend in South America who found a gorgeous sectional couch at a ridiculously low price (far cheaper than she would've paid for the same couch in the States) and excitedly posted pictures of it on Facebook. Not long afterwards, she mentioned she was unsure she should've done so because she wasn't sure how it looked to those back at home. I fear her excitement was a bit dashed with concern for any negative comments she may receive in future.

Folks, we missionaries could not be on the field without your support. You've worked hard to support us. But let me gently suggest that you are not the one supporting us--God is. He is the one who funneled the money we use in ministry through your willing and obedient hands. And we are so humble and grateful that you were willing to be that vessel! Most missionaries I know are a frugal lot who have a hard time considering even their own salary as theirs (which, in essence, none of our salaries are ours, are they?). So, I promise we would not rush out and buy the first pretty couch we found. If you could've seen Troy and me in the month leading up to those actual housing purchases, driving from store to store, ferreting out the best prices.... I actually was scolded in Spanish in three different stores for taking pictures of items we were trying to compare. (I'm so naughty!) We really do try to make the most of each dime God sends to our ministry through you.

So, the next time we post a picture or make a comment and you think, "Wow, must be nice to be a rich missionary with their own gardener and maid", please take the time to talk to us about it first. Or re-read this blog entry.

Because I promise you, appearances can be deceiving!


Celebrate Life

Not the Walmart display. This is just an example from the internet.

We arrived at the Walmart on Friday, grocery lists in hand. After selecting a cart, I walked through the sliding entrance door and froze in the entryway. To my right was a huge altar set up for the Day of the Dead. Death bread. Drinks. Foods. Dishes. Decorations. And the crowning jewel, a huge skeleton in a frilly dress, grinning wickedly at me underneath a gigantic hat. Shivers raced up and down my spine as I stared in utter horror at this display.

Of course, I'd heard of the Day of the Dead before. There is even a growing cult here in Mexico of people who worship Santa Muerte. Widely celebrate in the Catholic church, people will set up altars in their homes with special items deceased loved ones enjoyed in life. The idea? That the spirits of these loved ones will come back and enjoy a feast in their honor. Here in Mexico, November 1 is commonly used for deceased children and November 2 for adults. And this is not the only country to have a day set aside for the dead; many other countries have similar days as well.

A representation of Santa Muerte

Here, between Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations, the focus is largely on death. We choose not to participate in these, but to celebrate life instead. On Saturday, we've invited some of our neighbors to a harvest party at our neighborhood park. We are going to have games, food, candy, a Gospel-centered object lesson with a pumpkin, and a presentation of the Gospel. We want to share with the people around us that they don't have to be so death-focused. They can instead receive Life everlasting.

Our favorite verse is John 10:10b: "I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly."
Worshiping the dead will only leave us feeling empty instead. Like one who is dead.

There is only abundant life in the living Christ. And that is the message I want to share this week to our neighbors. Won't you please pray with me that we can be a light in the spiritual darkness in Mexico?


More Improvements = I Hit My Original Goal

When I began writing in earnest, my original goal was to reach 75,000 words. Last week, when I thought I'd finished the book, I'd only reached 70,000. And I was okay with that. After one editing earlier this week, I added a little over 2,000 words. And I thought I was finished.

But something kept nagging at me.

If my book claims to be one that emphasizes forgiveness and mercy, shouldn't the most pivotal moment in the character's life be worthy of more than just two paragraphs? Most certainly! As it now stands, it was deserving of an entire chapter all its' own. I feel like I've broadened this message and given it more room to sink into my readers than before.

And in the process of what I felt were necessary improvements to the story, I added far more words than I expected.

In fact, I now have just over 75,500 words in my story. Which means that my original goal has now been met.


Fun Part's Done...Now for the Real Work!

It occurred to me last night as I updated this blog how accurate the tag line under my heading is. "An aspiring writer's quest to becoming a published author." Oh, boy, is it ever a quest!

I've often heard that breaking into traditional publishing is nigh on impossible anymore (and, again, why I think there are so many indie-publishers out there). But I'm gonna give it my best shot.

After checking out the submission requirements for several Christian publishing companies, I've discovered two websites that cater to people trying to get published. On one, you submit your entire manuscript and wait to be "discovered". On the other, you pay a one-time fee of less than $100 and submit a proposal (plus a sample of your work). It remains for 6 months. In that time, publishers can look at it and, if interested, send you a contract.

Just to round things out, I also looked at CreateSpace (one of the self-publishing branches of Amazon that lets you publish your novel digitally and in print).

I'm still waiting to hear back from the company I contacted yesterday. Once I do, depending upon what they say, I may go ahead and start the process for the online Christian publishing website I found.

I'm not quite sure which is the best way to go at this point. While I love the idea of "The Reunion" being published by one of the traditional publishing companies, I do not want a writing contract at this time. I've never done well writing under deadlines. In this case, self-publishing might just be a better option all around.

Something to think and pray about, anyway.

At any rate, I realize that the fun part--writing the story--is done. Now the real work begins!

Edited to add - I heard back from the company - they are not accepting submissions at this time. There's a part of me that can't help thinking if I'd finished much sooner and not lollygagged about, I could've sent it straight to my original contact. At the same time, there's obviously nothing I can do about it now, and this kind of thinking is not helpful. God knew the perfect time for me to be finished and He knows just what the next steps should be. I just have to keep focusing on the MAJOR accomplishment I've just achieved instead of the long, hard road ahead of me.


A Brief Blip of Disappointment

I dug out the story again this afternoon and reworked a part that just didn't feel finished. 2,000 words later, it feels finished. Yay!

At that point, I decided it was time to send The Email. Two years ago, I received the contact information for a woman who worked for a Christian publishing company. She seemed interested in reading my story---when it was finished---and encouraged me to keep her contact information. I did. And I emailed her that it was finally finished.

And......she apparently no longer works there, as the email came back to me.


I'm not gonna lie, I was very disappointed. On the one hand, I know this is a long process. But the impatient (excited) side of me hoped that this very first company would love it and want to publish it. Silly, really. Especially when I hear stories about famous (and well-published) authors like John Grisham who kept getting refusals when they first began writing novels.

Still. Can't help how I feel about it.

I've emailed the customer service department asking whom I need to send my submission to (and if they are even accepting unsolicited submissions. Zondervan, unfortunately, is not. At least, not in my genre), so hopefully I'll hear back soon.

Otherwise, I guess it's a waiting game.

(Like so many other things in my life lately.)


Okay, I Wrote a Novel.... What's Next?

I have a sinking feeling that all that work I just finished was the easy part. Now comes the challenging part.

Honestly, I have some idea of where to go from here but not really. There is a plan, yes, but if that doesn't work out...

First, I will let it simmer for about a week and then do another reading. Once I've made any corrections that need to be made, I'll start the process of submitting it to editors. And I'll keep doing this until I find one that wants my book. However long that takes.

I've got one possible contact but that's it. So if anyone has any editorial contacts they want to send my way, I'd love to have them. There is always the option of going the self-publishing route, but after dreaming about this since I was about 10, I'd really like it to be traditionally published.

Even if that means I submit it over and over and over until I find someone who wants it. (But I pray it doesn't come to that.)


It Is Finished

4+ years and 70,000 words later, it’s finished.

My first novel is done.

It is so strange to write those words and even harder to take them in. Justin and Emma have been with me for so long now that it’s very difficult to imagine days not spent in their presence. Their story has changed so much from what I originally intended. But in a good way. I always intended this to be more Emma’s story than anything. And it still is.  I wasn’t prepared, however, for the fact that Justin had a story to tell as well. So I’ve decided it’s not necessarily Emma’s story or Justin’s I’m telling---it’s their story. Their combined story of grace and forgiveness.

What’s also hard for me to take in is that I’ve completed a full-length novel. Up until now, the only stories I’ve ever completed were short ones of no more than 20 pages in length (at the longest). And now... 70,000 words written.


And I don’t know how to feel about that. I’m giddy and sad all at the same time.

Is this normal? Who knows.

There’s also an element of fear.

What if nobody likes it? What if people hate it and leave me scathing reviews. Or, what if none of the publishing companies want it???

On the other hand, just whom did I write this for anyway? For other people? Or for me? If I’m pleased with the story, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says. In fact, I can about guarantee someone (most likely multiple someones) won’t like it. And I’ll probably cry and be depressed.

But that’s okay.

I just have to remember why I wrote it.

There is one undeniable fact to remember:

I wrote a novel.

And that’s something to be ridiculously proud of regardless of what happens.


Sharing the Burden

August 15, 2013 will always be a special day for me. It is the day that my family of six arrived in Mexico City to begin our ministry among our brothers-and-sisters in Christ to the lost of the city. Troy and I first received our calling to serve in Mexico in 1999. Later, God changed the organization--and location--where we would serve to One Mission Society in Mexico City. We were accepted to OMS and appointed to MC in December, 2007, and began fundraising the following May. Therefore, this special day had been long awaited (14 years from the time we initially received our Mexican calling; 5 years after we began fundraising). Long anticipated and longed for. There are no words to adequately describe my emotions that day. In a previous post of our ministry blog (link at the top of the page), I tried to describe some of them. Suffice it to say I was a weepy mess all day. From the time we checked our bags in (although those were more tears of relief that it was done), to handing our tickets and passport to the agent at the gate, to the initial take off and landing, to walking outside after easing through customs and immigration and finding Steve, our field director, waiting for us, to the drive back to the seminary in the NW part of the city, to our first Sunday worshiping with our Mexican brothers-and-sisters in Christ at the Campanario church (interestingly enough, the very same church we attended 5 years ago when we visited MC with the kids), to the kids’ first day of school at Mexico City Christian Academy yesterday... Many, many moments where tears of gratitude, of extreme happiness would overcome me and rain down my face.

Of course there have been (and will continue to be, I’m sure) moments where I feel completely over my head. I’d never seen the city from the sky before. Let me tell you, it is quite overwhelming. Everywhere your eye falls, there are streets. Buildings. Houses. People. People who don’t know that Jesus came to set them free from a life of sin. People who don’t know that the saints they turn to for comfort can no more fill that hole inside them than I can.

There is a voice in my head that says, “You are just one person. What can you do for so many?” Of course, it’s not anything I do that matters. Jesus can reach out to these people Himself--He doesn’t need me. I’m blessed to be the vessel chosen to minister to His lost children. A few people came up to me this weekend, wanting to express how thankful they are that I left everything behind to come here and minister to their people. To reach the lost. Even as I type that, it gives me chills. There were many people along our fundraising journey who questioned us. Why, after struggling for so long in our funding, were we still determined to go to Mexico? Why not just stay and reach the Mexicans at home? The mission field has come to us, they said. And for some, this is true. But we knew with every fiber of our beings that God was calling us to go. The look on these faces, the tears of humble gratitude in their eyes as they thanked me confirms that we were right not to waver. I don’t know that we can reach the lost in Mexico any better than her own sons and daughters can. But we have something very special in common: we both feel a deep burden for these men, women, and children who live in spiritual bondage.

And so the ministry begins. Together.


Learning to Lean Not on My Own Understandings

We had a lovely evening with friends tonight, sharing a meal and talking. It was such a pleasant time together.

Then, we received news that I didn't want to hear.

The family that had planned to move into our house and had said they'd buy the majority of our stuff from us has changed their mind and has decided to go to a language school in their country of service. We're talking about a large amount of money's worth of stuff they'd bespoken. All I could think about was how we now have only two weeks to sell this stuff, and if we don't that's just that much less we'll have to set up housekeeping with in Mexico.

In all of our preparation, Troy's been the one who has been concerned about the visas and how short a time we've had to begin the process. I've said to many people, "If God wants us to have the visas before we go to Mexico, we will. If not, He has another plan in mind. Nothing I can do will speed up the process one bit, so why worry about it?" In a sense, I've bragged about how much I don't worry about stuff. Whatever happens happens. 

Well, tonight I proved myself to be a big, fat liar.

The minute I heard we were going to have to try to resell our stuff, I immediately was in a panic. What if we can't? What if we have to leave some behind? What if we don't have enough money to adequately fill our house in Mexico (when we first started raising support, we, having never completely furnished a house before, cut our housing budget in half. In. Half. Now, looking at how expensive beds are, we are wishing we hadn't done that. So if you're reading this, you're a missionary, and you're contemplating cutting your budget to save yourself a few hundred dollars a month, DON'T.)? For the last year, we've lived without things on the walls, with stuff that really isn't ours, and I'd really looked forward to "fluffing our nest". To really making this next home ours. And I felt like that had been taken from me. Because of course, I panicked to the degree that I just knew we would have nothing with which to build a home. (Not true. We have some budgeted in our support, and we've been saving our own personal money to help supplement.)

So I decided to post a "prayer request" on our Facebook group.

But what was the very first post in my news feed upon logging into Facebook? A friend had posted Proverbs 3:5-6 - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

Wow. God could not have sent me a clearer message had He picked up the phone and placed a direct call to our house. He showed me what I should've known all along, that, although I may not necessarily fret about the visas, I most definitely do lean on my own understanding. I try to plan my own way. Figure things out for myself instead of just trusting God to provide. You'd think after 4 years of fund-raising I would've learned this lesson by now.

Guess not.

I'm still, and probably for a long time to come, will be learning not to lean on my own understanding. Learning to completely submit to Him, yes, even in my desire to make a home for our family (a good desire at that). And trusting Him to straighten my paths and provide the things we need in His timing and in His way.

Even if we don't sell a thing, this is the best thing to happen for us because it is another opportunity for us to learn how to completely trust in Him.

And I thank Him.


Staying Connected

During a phone call with my mom this evening, something was finally put into words than I've felt at times while away from our friends and family this year. My mom, a former missionary herself, mentioned that after receiving letters about what everyone back home was doing together, she often felt left out. That her family had forgotten all about her. And something clicked deep within.

That's exactly how I've felt on occasion: after looking at the pictures of family fun together. Or hearing about programs at church we would've participated in but missed. Seeing pictures of my baby nephew as he grew up---in a completely different country than his Aunt, Uncle, and cousins.

Of course, I know our family and friends have not forgotten about us, any more than we have forgotten about them. Yet, this is still something we've experienced. This is the part of being a missionary that nobody warned me about. Or if they did, maybe I wasn't listening or didn't take it to heart. Yes, there would be moments of culture shock or moments of sheer homesickness. But feeling like your family had forgotten about you? Hadn't thought about that one.

On the flip side, I haven't necessarily gone out of my way to reach out to our family and friends, either. We have a phone with a US phone number that we pay a monthly fee for regardless of how much or little we use it. Communication is not a strong suit of mine. It's far easier to type in a note on Facebook, "like" a comment, or shoot a quick email than to make the effort at real communication.

So if I've felt forgotten, maybe my family and friends have too. And in a digital age when mail doesn't have to take more than a few weeks, or we can pick up the phone and make a call without it costing a small fortune, there really is not excuse for not staying connected. This realization is as freeing as it is convicting.

And so, my family and friends, I will try to do better at staying connected. Not just for my sense of connectivity, but for yours as well. Just as we want to feel a part of what's going on in your life, I know you want to be a part of ours.


65,000 Words and A New Goal

Tonight, I inched across the 65,000 word count on my novel. 65,000 words. That is huge!

There's not much more of the story to tell, and so I doubt I'll reach my goal of 75,000 words. But I'm okay with that. 65,000 - 70,000 words for a first novel is pretty good, isn't it? It's certainly the longest story I've ever written, and definitely the most time I've put into writing.

My new completion goal is to finish by October so that I can send it off to the publisher's. I haven't a clue how long the editing process takes, but it would be really cool if it were ready for publishing by Christmas. What an amazing Christmas gift that would make----for me. Regardless of whether or not anyone else actually buys my book, knowing I actually finished one is reward enough for me.


Present Tense

Lately, so many little things seem to annoy me:

The never ending mess in the house. Clean up one room, turn around for five minutes, and it's dirty again. The sheer frustration of mopping the floor one afternoon and that evening walking around with black feet because the dirt has crept in under the door and soiled the floor all over again.

The one tiny little Lego that maliciously crept to the middle of the stairway just as I was innocently walking down the stairs barefoot. The tidal wave of stuff that threatens havoc on each of the rooms in the house. Seriously--where did it all come from?? We didn't arrive here with much, I promise. It's worse than those obnoxious kid's meal toys that accumulated around our previous house faster than rabbits.

The endless amount of homework and studying. I'll shortly be 38 years old, and I have a husband and four kids to be a wife and mom to. Who has time for homework or studying? There ought to be a law prohibiting homework after you turn 25. You can easily spot the third trimester students on campus. We're the ones stumbling around like the walking dead, mumbling conjugations under our breaths. Most of us have absorbed so many of the these that they've squeezed out other information in our heads. Information that used to be important---like our names, for example. I had a middle name once, but who can remember? I can remember my kids' full names at this point only because they insist on writing them out on every drawing they make.

Never being able to go anywhere as a family without walking, stuffing ourselves on city buses like sardines in a can, or shelling out the big bucks for two taxis. The feeling of truly being hunters and gatherers as we patronize at least four different stores each month just for our grocery staples. Sometimes the one thing I miss the most about our life in the States is the ability to drive (drive!) to Kroger or Walmart and purchase everything on my list without breaking the bank.

Probably the biggest thing that annoys me right now is the waiting. Waiting to finish language school. Waiting to get to Mexico. I've gotten so focused on the next step that I've mentally checked out. After all, haven't we been waiting 14 years for this (from the time we received our calling to Mexico way back in college)? I think a little excitement is allowed, right?


And then yesterday I was dumbfounded when my youngest son began crying in earnest. Thinking he was hurt, I asked him what was the matter. "I don't want to leave!" he wailed. He and the other children have, in our short time here, really embraced Costa Rica and the people they've met. This is home to them. Their thoughts are not already in Mexico, as ours are. They are here. In the present. Living each moment to the fullest extent. There are friends to play with, friends to say goodbye to. Tests to take. Parties to enjoy. Still an entire summer to be enjoyed.

I realized tonight that if I spent every waking minute cataloging all of the things that annoy me, or allow myself to mentally check out of my time here, I will miss a great deal. I'll miss meaningful relationships. Miss valuable lessons God may be trying to teach me. God has placed us here. Now. For this duration. Yes, I'll continue to be tired. Would that change in Mexico? Probably not. Yes, my house will continue to be messier than I'd like. Will that change in Mexico? Definitely not. True, I won't have homework. But there will be a number of things that require my time and attention as well. And if I continue to focus on the negatives--things that I can't change, by the way--I'll essentially be letting my grumpiness steal the joy I could find in each moment.

We've spent a lot of time in my grammar classes studying the past tense. It's complicated. There are three forms to describe past tense. We've also studied future tense. It's not a picnic in the park, either. Perhaps the easiest to work with is the present tense. I think there's a lesson there. Not that life now is easy. Far from it. The present tense has it's irregularities to deal with. Just like daily living. But taken as a whole, if I focus on enjoying each moment, each day, things are a lot less complicated.

Just like the present tense.


What Makes a House a Home?

Since yesterday's post, I've been thinking a lot about Yankee Candles, home, and how scents can make you feel home. That got me to wondering: what makes a house a home? What is the difference between a residence to spend your days and nights in, and a home where a family lives?

Only one of the homes we've lived in has been anything remotely considered big (and even that one would still be small on many standards), which has been interesting considering we are a family of six. But we've made it work. I may not have have been in love with our previous house, for example, but for seven years, it was home. Why? What was it about the house that made it home?

Of course, home is anywhere my family is. That's a given. But it's more than that, as our arrival at this house in our transitional country showed me in August. Our former house was lovingly decorated by me. We own a mishmash of furniture, none of it anything remotely resembling quality (with perhaps the exception of our bed) furniture. We don't own any expensive paintings---all of our wall coverings were Thomas Kinkade jigsaw puzzles I'd pieced together, glued, and then framed. Nothing fancy. Our family pictures were encased in cheap, Walmart frames. The biggest extravagance in the house were the Yankee Candles I'd collected over the years.

My in-laws, former missionaries themselves, had wisely advised me to bring all of my cherished pictures and knick-knacks that made home home for me. But as we're only gone for two years this time, I really didn't think I'd need these things. And let's face it, glued-together puzzles would most likely not travel well. So, they went into storage. With all of our other pictures and knick-knacks (and my candles). We did bring a digital photo album that had a bunch of different family pictures on it. Those, I deemed at the time, would be the most important thing tying us to home.

But I was wrong.

In all honesty, I haven't turned it on above five times. And those times it was on, I did it more for the kids than for me. I haven't really even missed my lovely framed puzzles. Our walls look extremely bare, but that is because there are few nails (and it's very hard to hang pictures on cement walls) on which to hang pictures. So, we've compensated by hanging things from the ceiling. You think I kid, but I do not. We made colorful autumn leaves out of construction paper and hung those this fall. At Christmas, we decorated construction paper trees, ornaments, and candy canes (with glitter!) and hung those. We intended to do spring flowers, but haven't quite gotten to them yet, so the white strings still hang from the ceiling, waiting for the next decorations.

The one thing, surprisingly, that has helped me feel the most at home were those candles! Who knew? For some missionaries, it might be different things. For me, it was scent. Cinnamony scents in the autumn. Pepperminty scents at Christmas. And now, springy, fruity scents for spring and summer. All make this house home. When I walk in the door, the scent of the candles greets me and instantly soothes.

I look forward to making our next house a home in Mexico City. And you can bet that it will include Yankee Candles.


Intentional Thankfulness

Each November, just in time for Thanksgiving, there are those who turn to social media and post one thing they are thankful for each day of the month. It is amazing how the atmosphere of Facebook changes overnight. Instead of endless political diatribes, or hurtful, negative commentaries about people's lives, my Facebook newsfeed is filled to overflowing with things my friends are thankful for. And I love it. And relish each post.

In chapel this morning, we were reminded about the intentionality of thankfulness. A thankful heart is not something innate, not something we were born with. On the contrary, our tendency is to be negative. Selfish. Demanding. And so it takes great effort...intentionality...to refocus our attention outwards again. Joel talked to us about the importance of keeping a thankful heart before God---in every circumstance. It's a hard concept, yes, and must be something we achieve through constant, continual practice. But what I love about this idea is that instead of being defined by my problems or trials, God gets the glory and we're reminded of not only how He's worked in our lives in the past, but how He's using even the tough times to help us grow and mature in Christ.

So, I want to bring back a little bit of that November Thanksgiving attitude. Here are a few things I am thankful for this afternoon. And of course, I am so grateful for my family, friends, and my Savior. Those should be on everyone's list! But how about some other things we might not think about? May my list inspire you to create one of your own!

This afternoon, I am thankful for...

1. ...time alone. Especially after my mommy meltdown from a couple nights ago (read the blog entry. It wasn't pretty). Troy and the boys are at soccer practice, and the girls are at the neighbors' house playing for awhile.

2. ...the sound of the rain. It is a gentle rain, not the rip-through-metal rain we had the other day. And it is so peaceful.

3. ...my growing Yankee Candle collection here in Costa Rica. Over the last couple years, I had amassed quite a collection of candles and accessories, but I chose to leave them all behind in storage rather than run the risk of anything being broken or lost. Boy, was that a mistake! I had no idea how important candles had become to me, or how much I identified those delicious smells with home. I will never forget the joy I felt when we found a few small candles at a Hallmark store in a nearby mall. Cinnamon! Black cherry! Heaven. Some people might call my collection selfish or unnecessary. But it isn't unnecessary to me. These familiar scents connect this house to my feeling of home. And when you're living in a foreign country, surrounded by a new language, that is a very huge deal.

4. ...my teapot. Who knew a kitchen device could be so important to a person? Especially when I'm always letting my tea steep so long it grows cold and has to be microwaved anyway?

5. ...a warm cup of tea. Made with a dash of milk and a couple teaspoons of sugar.

6. ...chocolate.

7. ...my "Pride & Prejudice" movie soundtrack. If you've never listened to it before, you have no idea what you're missing out on. I'm not usually a big classical music fan. Instead, I tend to prefer 80s and early 90s music (or contemporary Christian). But this is the one CD I turn to again and again when I am stressed and need to relax. I played it Tuesday during my mommy meltdown, as a matter of fact.

May God help me to remember to continually turn to Him in thankfulness. For all the good times. And for all the bad. What if you and I each wrote down one thing we were thankful for every day for a year? What would that look like? How might our lives--and the lives of others around us--be changed? Something to think--and pray--about.

 Edit: It occurred to me that it's easy to thank God for the lovely things, like my candles. But it's a lot harder to thank Him for the hard things. And so I want to add one more thing I'm thankful for.

8. ...for my kids' fights and times they frustrate me. Why? Because it shows me I need to work on my patience. I am not a patient person. I'm fully aware of that, but never more so than when I'm screaming at my child because she's chewing gum in my ear, of all things. Really? Is that worth screaming about? No. My kids are normal kids who need Jesus every moment of every day. Just like me. Their fights---and my reaction to them---are an instant reminder of my weakness and should inspire me to cry out to Him for help.


The Hardest Job I'll Ever Have

The hardest job I'll ever have has nothing to do with writing. Nor does it relate to any anti-human trafficking efforts I'll someday (Lord willing) make. It's not even the 2 or 3 year stint as my church's nursery director, although that's closer to the mark than anything else.


The hardest job I'll ever have is one I began on March 9, 2000--the day my oldest child was born.

Motherhood is the hardest job I will ever have. (I feel like that sentence should be in giant, bold letters.)

Some days, it's the biggest joy of my life. Hearing the kids giggle together over something silly. My youngest son coming to me the other day saying, "Y'know one thing I'm thankful for? I'm thankful for Clayton, because he helps me. He taught me how to make a circle with tape and now we're making a poster for our door." Having them play for hours together without fights.

But other days....

Like today for instance. I had just reached a level where I'd had enough. Enough of the many questions. Enough of the smacking while chewing gum (and in my ear, no less). Enough of the noise. Enough of the whining. And because I'm trying very hard to be a better mommy and not yell (a horribly bad habit I've gotten into), I was struggling to hold the shattered threads of my will together. But they were not making it easy. In desperation, I begged for just a few moments of peace. Just a few moments where nobody talked to mommy. Unfortunately, because of my past actions, as soon as I was even the least little bit short, and because I kept pleading (very emphatically) for them to give me a few minutes alone, they didn't understand. One of my children thought it was because of her. She looked at me, giant eyes swimming in tears, and wailed that nobody would let her talk. I pulled her onto my lap and something within me broke. I cried and cried. She looked at me, baffled as to why mommy was crying. But it wasn't something I could even explain to her.

I can tell my husband I need some space and he understands and leaves me alone. But this is something my children--at least the younger two--do not yet understand. To them, if I do not want to sit next to them, answering a million questions, or listening to every detail of their day, I am angry with them. Not so, not so. Sometimes, mommies just need a break. I know someday they'll understand that concept. But it didn't help us today.

I read a blog the other day that talked about how horrible motherhood is and that women with no children really have no concept of how awful it is. Something deep within me shrank away from this. That is not at all the message I want to convey. Yes, it is definitely not the portrait given us by Norman Rockwell and his ilk. It's messy. And unpleasant. And painful. And tedious. And there are days, like today for me, where you feel like you would give the last piece of chocolate in your hidden stash for 5 minutes alone behind a locked door. With no interruptions. But it's also not something awful, either. Even on my most sleep-deprived day, covered in spit-up (or worse), with the house a sty around me, I could still hold my babies in my arms and marvel over them (this was best done while they were asleep, of course, and is why, I'm convinced, God made them look so angelic as they sleep). 

It's not awful. It's. Just. Hard.

But aren't the hardest things in life often the most rewarding? If everything was easy, would we appreciate it as much? If not for those hair-raising fights my kids get into most mornings, I would be unable to really appreciate the moments of laughter. Of shared fun together. Or when they surprise me with comments like my son's.

There isn't a title on this earth representing anything I have ever done, or will ever do, as important as the one I have now: mom.

It's hard. No doubt. But so worthwhile. And until my kids fully understand the concept of "alone time" or until I become a more patient person (whichever comes first), I will just have to rely on God to help me get through days like today.


Lenguaje Bible Study (Language Bible Study)

(The following is the devotional I wrote for my lenguaje final. It is in English and Spanish. It is the first time I really made the effort to write something and translate it into Spanish all on my own, without just plugging it into an online translator. I only used the translator once for one sentence, as it was abstract, and restricted myself to using only my Spanish dictionary for the rest. This is a testimony to how far God has brought me in the last eight months--in the last month, really.)

Exodus 17:8-16

After leaving Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years because they did not obey God. During this time, groups of people in the land attacked them. One of these were the Amalekites.

Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands."

So, Joshua lead the Israelites against the Amalekites. Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed the hill and stayed. While Moses raised his hands, the Israelites were winning. But, Moses' hands grew tired and he lowered them. When this happened, the Amalekites were winning. As long as Moses' hands were raised, they were winning. Aaron and Hur got a rock for him to sit on. Then, when his arms grew tired, they held his hands up -- one on one side, one on the other. In this way, they remained steady until sunset. God gave the Israelites the victory over the Amalekites.

Moses' arms were raised for hours and hours. Try raising your arms in the air for five minutes and see how difficult, how painful it is. I imagine they were sore and shaky. I imagine he wanted so badly to rest his arms. But God had told him to keep them raised for a purpose.

God may ask us to do things that are hard or painful for us to do. Things we, like Moses, can't do on our own. He prompted Aaron and Hur to support Moses by holding up his arms. Just as Moses needed supporters, so do we. We need people to pray for us unceasingly. We need people to work alongside of us. We need people to encourage us.

But just as Moses' arms grew tired, I imagine the arms of Aaron and Hur grew tired as well. Yet there was no one there to hold their arms.

We are missionaries and ministers of the gospel need people to come alongside of us and hold our arms as we minister, yes. But we also need to pray for and encourage those who support us in this way. Aaron and Hur could literally see the results of their efforts -- the Israelites were victorious! But our supporters, often times, do not have the luxury of being on the battlefield with us. It should be our joy to share with them the rewards of our labors -- stories of lives changed, prayers answered, and miracles given.

Éxodo 17:8-16

Después de que los israelitas salieron de egypto, ellos anduvieron por el desierto por 40 años porque ellos no le obedecían a Dios. Durante ese tiempo, grupos de gentes en la tierra atacaban a los israelitas. Unos eran los amalecitas.

Moisés le dijo a Josué, "Escoge algunos de nuestros hombres y sal a combatir a los amalecitas. Mañana yo estaré en la cima de la colina con la vara de Dios en la mano."

Entonces, Josué se dirigió a los israelitas contra los amalecitas. Moisés, Aarón y Jur escalaron la cima y se quedaran. Mientras Moisés levantó las manos, los israelitas ganaron. Pero, las manos de él se cansaron y las bajó. Cuando eso aconteció, los amalecitas ganaron. Aarón y Jur fundaron una piedra para que Moisés se sentora. Entonces, ellos le agarraron los brazos a Moisés y se los levantaron -- uno a cada lado. De ese modo, ellos se quedaron constantes hasta la puesta del sol. Dios les dio a los israelitas la victoria sobre los amalecitas.

Los brazos de Moisés se levantaron por horas y horas. Usted trata de levantar sus brazos por cinco minutos y ve que dificil y que doloroso es esto. Yo pensé que los brazos de Moisés sería doloridos. Yo pensé que los querría descansar. Pero, Dios le dijó que los levantara por un propósito.

Dios podrá pedirnos hacer algunas cosas dificiles o dolorosas para nosotros. Cosas, como Moisés, nosotros no podriámos hacer solos.

Dios se dirigió a Aarón y Jur y les pidio que apoyabaron a Moisés para que levantaron sus brazos. Como Moisés necesitó apoyo, así nosotros. Necesitamos a las personas que oraren constantemente. Necesitamos a las personas que trabajen con nosotros. Necesitamos a las personas que nos den ánimo.

Pero, como los brazos de Moisés se cansaron, yo pensé lo mismo para Aarón y Jur. Aún, no hay personas que levanten sus brazos.

Nosotros, como misioneros y ministerios del evangelio necesitamos a la gente que venga y levanta nuestros brazos mientras nosotros ministramos, sí. Pero, nosotros tenemos que orar por aquellas personas que nos apoyan. Aarón y Jur pudieron ver el resultado de su esfuerza -- los israelitas tuvieron la victoria. Pero, muchas veces, nuestro apoyo no tiene el lujo de estar en el campo de batalla con nosotros y ser testigo de esas victorias. Nosotros debemos compartir con ellos las recompensas de nuestro trabajado -- historias de vida cambiadas, oraciones contestadas y milagros dados.



I've been told by writers that you're never supposed to edit while you write. By the time the book's done, it's supposed to be in a very rough form (hence the term "rough draft"). That will not be the case with mine, as I have long formed the habit of editing while I write. Not to say, of course, that it won't need a bit of polishing here and there. But when I've written that last word (probably months from now at this rate!), it'll be ready to send on.

For example, this week I began at the very beginning and have been reading my way through, editing as I go. In December, I'd asked a handful of my friends to read the book (as it is so far) and play the critic. One such friend mentioned a couple areas where she thought my newly widowed character was acting a bit too flirty with another man. I didn't at first see it. But as I re-read that passage this week, I could totally see what she was referring to. Those sentences have either been completely removed or have been edited.

Next, I added a completely new scene where I'd always thought one lacked. I'd alluded to some horrible past event, yet never written it. For some reason, I just could never get it "right" before. This week, I was finally able to come up with a few paragraphs that are exactly what was needed.

Back to editing. When I write a sentence, passage, or chapter, I often have in my head the way it's supposed to go. Sometimes, however, that doesn't quite translate well onto the computer. Coming back to the book after I've had a break, re-reading it with fresh eyes, helps me to see glaring mistakes, passages that don't flow well, or even spelling and grammar mistakes (yes, I do make them!).

I'm quite sure that when it's finished and has been submitted for consideration, there will be things the editors want to change, if they are even interested in it to begin with. I've never heard of a case where this wasn't so. And especially for a first novel.

Until that glorious day when the last word is written and the book is ready for submission, I will undoubtedly reread it countless more times.

Editing as I go.



It was almost two years ago that God first brought my attention to the human trafficking issue. I'd heard about it, sure. Who hasn't? But certainly not in the detail to which it was first presented to me. I walked away from that two day seminar absolutely fired up to action! I wanted to tackle the issue head on. Then, as I've often related, passion cooled. Life commenced. A little over a year later, we visited a church near our mission headquarters, intent upon speaking to the mission's committee about supporting our ministry. God had other plans; little did I expect what was to come. There was a special speaker that morning, from a ministry to children of prostitutes in an Asian country. Women who are being exploited. In one morning, God reminded me of the issue He'd brought to my attention over a year prior. This time, I recognized the calling for what it was and acted upon it. I contacted the head of the anti-human trafficking department within our organization. Seven months later, I attended the 6-week training course at our headquarter campus (see earlier blog entries from that time period, if interested).

There have been little things over the many months that have served to confirm for me that this is exactly what God has for my ministry. I may not know exactly what it will look like, what exactly I'll do. But I do know one thing. He is preparing me for something big. I can feel it deep within my soul. I cannot share all the details, but this week after an email from our directors, I received yet another confirmation from God that this is indeed His path for me. Every step forward I make is a step He has ordained. It is humbling in the extreme.

I can certainly relate to Moses. Who am I, Lord, that You would choose me for this ministry? Without even knowing what will come, I know I am utterly unprepared. This unknown--this realization of something big on the horizon--is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I know I can't do it on my on strength. But where I am weak, He is strong. And in my weakness, His strength shines through all the greater.

I would love your continued prayers for all of those who are actively in this fight. Whether we are on the prevention side (like I will be), the intervention side, or the restoration side, we all desperately need your prayers. 27 million people are currently enslaved. That's a HUGE number. And it seems like such an impossibility. But I believe our God is the God of impossibilities. I would also love your continued prayers as God reveals to me what His plans are for me and for our field of service.


You Write What You Read

We've all heard the expression, "you are what you eat". I personally don't believe there's any credence to this. I do, however, fervently believe that what we read affects us profoundly.

Just this past summer, I stumbled upon a story I wrote in the sixth grade. Rereading it gave me perhaps one of the biggest laughs I've enjoyed in a very long time. Oh, the writing. Oh, the grammar. Oh, the spelling! (Yes, the self-professed "grammar nazi" wasn't always thus. And proof that even the worst grammar offenders can, indeed, change.) But it also reminded me of another story from sixth grade that, unfortunately, wasn't saved. My teacher at that time, Miss Kelley, a former nun, was the original grammar nazi. She always required us to ask to be excused by saying "may I" instead of "can I". One day in class, for example, a boy, bless him, needed to use the bathroom. However, he forgot the magic words, asking instead, "Can I use the bathroom?" Her response was a raised eyebrow and the words, "I certainly hope so", without granting permission. He tried again, once more forgetting the words. By that point, it was urgent, and the "potty dance" had commenced. The rest of us were trying to feed him the necessary words in frantic whispers, but he was too panicked to comprehend what we were saying. He looked at her one more time and bolted from the room. Anyway, this paragon of grammatical perfection posted several assorted illustrations on the classroom bulletin board, and asked us to write a story using at least one of the pictures. I came up with a fantasy story that used every single one. My antagonist was a dragon named "Smog". Sound familiar? If you're an avid Tolkien reader, it certainly should. I'll mention here that, at this point in my life, "The Hobbit" was my absolute favorite book, and I'd read it many, many times. After working very hard on this story for several weeks, I was shocked to discover she'd awarded my hard work with an A+. Let me say, Miss Kelley never gave students an A+ on anything! She believed that there was always room for improvement. Yet, she gave me one nonetheless. I regret deeply that I didn't save this story. I'm sure it would also hand me a big laugh, like the one that was kept. But the fact that she saw something in my sixth-grade writing worthy of such a high honor is very humbling to me. To date, it is by far my highest writing achievement.

Several years later, as a non-Christian teenager, I read a bunch of fluffy, sexy, romance novels (exactly the kind I can no longer read). While I've never in my life had an interest in writing sex scenes, the romantic fluff inspired me to write numerous short stories about teenage romance. I'm honestly quite thankful none of those were saved.

Even today, as I've read back through the parts of my novel that have been finished, I can detect traces of other various books in the writing. Bits of novels by Jane Austen, Karen Kingsbury, Jan Karon, and Francine Rivers, to name a few. I may not have gone many places in my life, seen many things, or met many people. But I've done all of that in the pages of books I've read. The descriptions of places have impacted me. Characters I've met in beloved books have become cherished friends.

All of these things have changed the way I perceive the world, as strange as it sounds. And they've certainly changed the way I write.


Beautiful Word Pictures in Isaiah 61

For one of my classes, we have to choose a few verses each week to read. We read them in Spanish, give a brief explanation of what they mean, and then explain why they are important to us. This week, I decided to look at the first three verses of Isaiah 61, the chosen verses that represent Hope61.

I can't tell you how many times I've read over these verses with out really reading them. Until tonight. Picture after picture kept leaping off of the page and striking me in the heart. Beautiful word pictures that demonstrate what God can do for the broken. The unlovely. The unloved. I understand like never before why these verses are were chosen to represent what we do. I want to share these word pictures with you as well.

Isaiah 61:1-3

"The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor."

God called me to serve Him as a missionary when I was 21 years old. Not many years later, He called me to go to Mexico and tell the people there about Him. Recently, I believe He's added yet another calling. I am to tell those who have been exploited or used by others about their value and worth in Him. About how they can have a new life in Christ.

"He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,"

This was the first of the word pictures to strike me, and it literally gave me chills. Imagine a beautiful vase. Now, imagine how that vase looks after it's been dropped. It's shattered. Pieces perhaps missing. No longer beautiful, right? With glue, it can sometimes be made new again. Not the same as it was before. But more beautiful. Especially when you put a light inside of it and see the light emanating from the cracks and chips of the vase. Beautiful. God's Word alone can heal a broken heart. With the good news of the Gospel message, we can "bind up the brokenhearted". Heal their wounds. Heal their very hearts.

"to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,"

Freedom to those enslaved. Praise Jesus! But the only way they are going to have release from the darkness of their internal prisons is to become renewed. To accept Jesus as Savior and allow Him to renew them from the inside out.

"to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God,"

This is a reminder to me that God is in control. Terrible, evil things happen every second of the day. But He has not abandoned us. He is a just God who hates evil even more than I do. Who hates injustice even more than I do. As Gary Haugen stated in his book "The Good News About Injustice", justice is not just a "cause" with God. It is His very character. His very Being. He will see that those who perpetrate these evil deeds are brought to justice. They will have to stand before Him and confess their deeds just like the rest of us.

"to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--"

The only comfort for those who have been broken, used, abused, etc. is Jesus.

"to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

This is a beautiful picture to me. Imagine someone in the ugliest rags. Filthy. Hair matted. Stinky. Now imagine they've been cleaned. Arrayed in fresh, lovely garments. Instead of matted, stinky, ashen hair, they wear a crown. The life of someone who has been exploited is not pretty. They've gone through terrible things we can never even imagine. They bear scars we will never see. But through the redeeming grace of God, these lives can be transformed. Turned into something beautiful!

"They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

This one is the most powerful picture to me of all. My husband tells me that of all the domestic woods (not counting the exotics), oak is one of the most prized among woodworkers for its sturdiness, value, and beauty. Oak trees withstand at times great tempests. As do the exploited. A soul reborn, renewed through Christ Jesus is as the sturdy oak. Unmovable. Possessing great beauty and value to its Carpenter. These transformed lives become a living testament to what the saving grace of Jesus can do in a person's life.

They are living, walking, breathing displays of His splendor.