Thursday, July 26, 2012

Practicing Contentment

My granddad has Alzehimers and is quickly deteriorating.  My mom and dad just went to visit him a few days ago and he didn’t even recognize them.  Apparently he is confined to a wheel chair almost all the time now because of his frailty.  This breaks my heart, but I can only imagine what it must feel like for his own children to see him in this state. I can’t imagine, nor do I want to, a day when my own mother or father doesn’t even know who I am.

The reality of this disease, and of so many other diseases like the breast cancer my friend is dealing with which I spoke of briefly in the last post, is that it sobers us.  It weighs heavy on our hearts when people we love suffer.  Or even when we hear about the unimaginable suffering happening around the world. 

Which brings me to what’s been on my heart a lot lately: practicing contentment.  I’ve really been struggling with being content lately.  Content with what I do have.  Being thankful for all the blessings in my life.  I can be a pretty upbeat, hopeful person, but I also have an immense capacity to complain, focus on the negative, and wish for difference circumstances. 

Like wishing the ants would just go away.  For good.  And stop crawling around in my dirty laundry. Or brand new trail mix. (The fumigation did absolutely nothing and the ants were back in full force after a day).  
Sorting through the trail mix to weed out the ants.
Or like wishing Kate would stop getting sick every month – this last time she had a four day virus with temperatures up to 104.   
Day four of the virus... thought she was better but while downtown San Jose her temp spiked again.  So glad she's finally better!
Or like wishing this cultural adjustment would just speed up and I’d be able to speak amazing Spanish and stop feeling so stupid all the time even though I’ve lived here for almost 10 months!  There always seems to be something I can find to complain about.

And then I get an email from my mom about my granddad falling apart. And it puts everything in perspective.

Life is too short.  Too fragile.  Too precious to complain all the time.  So I’m making a conscious effort to practice contentment.  And to actually open my eyes, strip off the wool, and SEE the amazing things all around me and in my life.

Here are some of the things I’m seeing:

Loving, Supporting Family(ies)
            We have had so many visitors just in the past two months – Maggie, my mom, and now Joe’s parents.  It is a great blessing to have so much family come and visit us.  Many missionaries don’t get to see their family very often so we are so thankful for their visits.

My mom helping Kate paint.
Joe's dad Bruce and his friend Mark who worked for four days at the Project fixing windows.
My mother in law Anita taping and painting the trim.
Bruce and Joe playing futbol with the workers during lunch.
Grandma and Grandpa hiking down a rather precariously steep trail with Kate.  We turned around shortly after.

Kate and Grandma in the topiary gardens of Zacero.
These guys are just a hoot.
Bruce living it up on the Sky Trck zip line in Arenal.
 Kate Estella
            She is beautiful, strong, funny, creative, independent, lovely…

Oh that double chin.
She took this of herself.  Obviously.
In her new rainbow sunhat and sorta matching pants.
 Sunsets, Sand, Beautiful Tropical Plants
          Kate and I took a 'picture walk' where we took lots of pictures of the beautiful tropical leaves and plants all around us.  Even just being aware of the simple things like this - the beauty of a flower or a sunset - can help us be more content. 

            We saw two sloths in two days while up at Volcan Arenal.  One was a three toed sloth, climbing in a tree.  The other one was a two-toed sloth, sleeping in a tree during a rain storm just 10 feet above our heads.  I LOVE sloths and get over their cute little faces... even if I couldn't quite capture it on camera.

            I have an amazing husband who is my best friend.  We get in fights sometimes, sure.  He annoys me sometimes, yes.  I surely annoy him, probably a lot.  But he is devoted to me and to Kate and does so much for our family.  We celebrate our 11th anniversary tomorrow.  Happy Anniversary Joe!  You never fail to make me laugh.

Joe about to blow out his birthday candles (Kate and I made him a surprise cake.)

This is who I sit across from every day in Spanish class.  His big hair makes him smarter.
I mean, really?
Joe on his actual birthday, the 22nd.  We got to go on a zip line together with his dad.

It's pretty cool to wear your helmet crooked I guess.
Donning Kate's new rainbow sunhat.
 So... it's actually kind of embarrassing to see all the blessings in my life and know that I still manage to complain about things on a daily basis.  

What are the things in your life that you complain about?  What are the things that you can focus on instead, see, be aware of, that can help you be more content?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hats and Glasses

I was inspired to write a post similar to my good friend Lynnea, who is courageously battling breast cancer at the young age of 32, and has an incredible blog about her journey. Her 32nd birthday was just a week ago and she wrote this post: Happy Birthday To Me. If you don’t have time to read it, she writes about several lessons she has learned since being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.  I want to borrow (or plagiarize) some of these lessons here because our lives have some parallels right now.  But before I begin, I want to say that although there are parallels between her life and mine , I don’t want to understate the trial that she is going through and make it seem that we are in the same boat.  We are not.  On the other hand, there are similarities, because we both live in cultures that aren’t our own and we’ve both dealt with health care issues while abroad (again, cancer is way more serious than my infertility. Read more of my story here: His Gentle Guidance, Learning to Wait).

The nine months of living here, and even the preparing to move here, hasn’t been an easy ride.  There have been many blessings of course and we both know that God has a plan and a purpose for our time in Costa Rica.  But oftentimes, we’ve struggled with doubt, fear, frustration, homesickness, anxiety and even on some days depression.  All of these struggles, however, can be counted as a blessing too, because the trials we experience in life and how we react to them will define who we are and who we become.  And I, for one, am very thankful for all the ways that this experience is strengthening us.

So onto some lessons I’ve learned about surviving and thriving while living in Costa Rica:

·      Keep your sense of humor.
o   Joe and I laugh a lot together.  We have to in order to survive on some days. Like last Wednesday when the exterminator was supposed to come to kill all the ants.  We had everything bagged up: food, clothes, cosmetics.  We even had a reservation at a hotel (thank you mom).  But then the guy comes and it starts to rain, and he says he can’t spray because of the weather.  It won’t be effective, he tells us.  And gosh darn it, we need that spray to be effective.  The next earliest appointment we could get was Monday morning at 8 a.m. which meant four more days of living with ants everywhere.  Yes, we were mad.  But we also laughed.  And that helped.  A lot.
·      Make plans with friends.
o   Sometimes when we’re down, our tendency is to isolate ourselves.  At least that is my tendency.  But we were made to be in community.  And we are so blessed to have some pretty awesome friends here.  Inviting people over, ordering pizza, drinking margaritas, and laughing all night is a great way to battle the blues.
·      Exercise regularly.
o   I feel stronger and healthier when I exercise.  And it gives me much needed endorphins that help me cope better with slow, more difficult days.  Kate likes to do it too and will go change into her ‘exercise clothes’ and sometimes she gets real serious and takes her shirt off.

·      Read God’s word and pray as much as possible.  But skip church if needed.
o   Church is important, but to me, going to a 3-hour service in another language sometimes does more harm than good.  The most important thing for me is to talk with God throughout the day and read my Bible.  The Bible has brought me immense peace throughout my life, but especially during this season.
·      Don’t ask “Why me?” – it is a tempting but extremely dangerous question…and one that causes an endless spiral and doesn’t have an answer (lesson from Lynnea).
o   For me, the ‘why me’ comes with our struggle with infertility.  We are now 4 months past surgery and 21 months into trying for kid number two.  We never expected this.  It was not in the plan.  But isn’t this life?  And aren’t struggles like this how God teaches us to be more like Him? That’s why this ‘lesson’ is so vitally important because the why me will never get me anywhere.
·      Hope is a powerful force. Despair is an equally powerful force. And I have the choice. (Lynnea)
o   Again, so well-said and true for us, whether it’s something like adjusting to a new culture or hoping for another baby.
·      Yell or throw something if you really need to. No one keeps it together all the time, nor should we have to. (Lynnea).
·      Get out and go places.
o   We’ve been incredibly blessed to have lots of family come visit us and we’ve taken the opportunity to get out and enjoy this beautiful country.  It keeps us going and gives us joy.  And Kate learned how to swim - or survive in the water at least.  See video below.
Sunning our legs at Playa Samara.
Aunt Maggie teaching Kate how to blow bubbles.

·      Be silly and have fun.
o   Aliss is this department store here that I love, that sells everything from crazy sunglasses to high-end dishware.  I like the crazy sunglasses.  One day while my mom was here, we went to the mall and went crazy with the hats and glasses.  I get frustrated with the lack of options for recreation here, but you just gotta make the best of it.  And Aliss in the mall offers some fine recreation… not to mention this mannequin we saw in the Tommy Hilfiger store that is wearing some very ill-fitting jeans.  This is how my 85 year-old granddad with Alzheimer’s likes his pants to fit. (It was much better and funnier in person).
Not sure if this is the image Tommy was going for.

So these are some of the lessons we're learning... I'm sure there'll be many more.  Thanks Lynnea, for your inspiration, heart, and courage. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Do Ants Have Tongues?

Do ants have tongues?  This is a real question Joe asked me just the other day. 

Situation: my mom decided spur the moment to come visit us and so of course brought us lots of fun treats.  Like a big ol’ bag of peanut M&Ms.  So we are enjoying our treat when Joe asks me this ridiculous question.  “Do ants have tongues?” He wanted to know if ants could get into our M&M bag and “lick” the M&Ms.

The problem really isn’t whether ants have tongues or not.  Or whether they can lick.  Because really, once ants get into the candy bag brought from the States, or the $5 dollar Cheerio bag you splurged on, or the bag of Wholesome Fruit and Nuts brought to us by my dear sister-in-law Maggie just 3 weeks ago, the problem isn’t that ants might have tongues or that they might lick. 

The problem is that the ants Got In. 

The barrier of 3 layers of Ziplocs somehow failed.  The ants are IN the bag of food instead of out.  And they are crawling all over, all in between, all everywhere in that precious bag of food.

Your food is basically screwed.

And really, the bigger problem is that there are ants outside the bag in the first place.  Enough ants on your counter, running to and fro who knows where, scurrying up and down walls, into your cabinets, onto the floor, to attach themselves to any small parcel of food. 

We’ve dealt with the ants in the kitchen since we moved here.  It’s part of life in Costa Rica.  And these ants are so tiny that it is almost impossible to exterminate them because it’s hard to find their nest.  So we’ve tried our best to ignore them.

But then, suddenly, they started to multiply.  And multiply.  And it became increasingly difficult to use the ignore-them-and-they-will-go-away tactic. 

You can’t ignore them when they are advancing across your bedroom floor by the hundreds.  Or emerging out of books on your bedside table.  Or stuck like glue to your Burt’s Bees night cream on your bathroom counter.  Or marching around your yoga mat in the living room like it was the city of Jericho.

This kind of ant behavior will not be tolerated.  It is time to exterminate.

So we are calling in the professionals.  They will come tomorrow and spray both inside and outside of our house.  I have been very resistant to spraying inside because of course chemicals will be sprayed where we eat, sleep, breathe.  But enough is enough and we just can’t take it any longer.

So whether ants have tongues or not, they hopefully all will be dead by tomorrow.