Monday, August 27, 2012

Authenticity


It’s funny how I’ve written recently about practicing contentment, but really do a pretty horrible job at practicing it at all.  I’ve really, truly been wrestling with being content this past week.  It’s so easy to just slap words on a blog and think, “oh, I’ve learned a good lesson here… look how I’m being thankful for the things around me and being content.”  But the words really mean nothing unless my life – my mind, body, spirit – start to be transformed in a consistent way.  A way in which I see fruit.  And I will be honest – there has been very little fruit this past week.

So I’m trying to analyze why.  Why I suck at being content.  At least this past week.

Part of my discontentment is because time does seem to go by really slowly here.  Even when we’re busy.  Last week we were busier than usual with something going on each afternoon, but that just left me more frustrated and discontent by the end of the week. 

Maybe contentedness was hard to come by because we had to drive across town a couple times, fighting traffic, once for a dentist appointment where we arrived 30 minutes late, and once to the Immigration Office, where we had to wait…and wait to obtain a piece of paper that allows us to take Kate out of the country (yes, we have to get permission to take our own daughter out of the country now that she is a resident – it’s to protect kids from sex trafficking – but nonetheless it was another annoying visit to a s l o w government office).  
Passing the time at the Immigration Office
It probably didn’t help either that at the dentist appoint I found out I had 3-4 cavities.  Yes, 3-4.  I’ve only had to get a cavity filled one time in my life.  I was not pleased.

This is Kate at her first dentist appt. a couple weeks ago. Unlike me, she luckily didn't have any cavities.
Then Friday rolls around where we finally have an afternoon with nothing to do and what happens?  I feel miserable.  Miserable because I now finally have time, but zero motivation to do anything.  Miserable because I feel stuck at home again without any plans for the weekend.  Miserable because even when we try to make plans, it feels like we’ve been there done that.  Because we have.

But I think I felt most miserable because I feel incredibly guilty and even convicted about being so dang discontent.  It’s embarrassing, really.

I know I have a million things to be thankful for and that all the small, inconvenient or annoying circumstances from the week are nothing really to complain about.  Especially when I remember my friend who had her first cancer radiation treatment on Thursday, or my other friend who is 33 weeks pregnant but is stuck in the hospital indefinitely due to complications, or my other friend who is just going through a heartbreaking miscarriage…  I mean, these things are heavy, and yet the truth is, I still find a way to be down in the dumps.

Ugh.

And so I wrestle.  And start to analyze and talk with God about this stuff.  And over the weekend, I was reminded of a couple things that have helped:

·      It’s way healthier to be honest and authentic about your feelings than to become a fake Pollyanna.  The truth is that our time in Costa Rica has been challenging, and to deny that or pretend that it hasn’t been so would be lying and frankly, prideful.
·      God loves an honest heart.  And plus, he already knows our thoughts and attitudes. You have searched me and known me…you understand my thought afar off…and are acquainted with all my ways. Psalm 139.  We don’t have to  pretend or hide anything.  Instead, we can take all of our emotions, all of our thoughts, and talk to Him to about it.  He loves us just the same.
·      The Psalmists constantly were crying out to God, lamenting, questioning, struggling.  If King David can ask, How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:2), I can too.
·      “Suffering” – whether it’s true suffering or just a frustrating week – is part of life. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trail you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12. And as Christians, we are told to actually rejoice in our sufferings.  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  James 1:2.  I will say that this is the part I really need some major help on – considering it pure joy when things are hard.  But I also recognize that this is a process, and looking back on our journey in Costa Rica so far, I can at least say that we’ve improved in the perseverance category.  I will give myself 10 points for that.

So, these reminders leave me realizing more and more that authenticity is equally important to practicing contentment.  In fact, I think in order to truly lead a life of contentment – one that’s not just defined by empty words – authenticity must always accompany the posture of being content.  That’s how David went from crying out to the Lord in the beginning of Psalm 13 to writing, But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.  Psalm 13:5-6

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Drought


Costa Rica is experiencing a drought of sorts right now.  We are in the heart of the so-called rainy season, where it’s supposed to rain – no, pour – every afternoon for several hours.  But since May when ‘winter’ started, it’s only rained a mere handful of afternoons.

I understand that the U.S. in the midst of a drought too - one of the worst ones in decades.  Obviously, droughts cause all sorts of problems: food prices soar, electricity costs increase, cattle can die  It’s not a good situation.

In many ways, the last two years since deciding to come to Costa Rica have seemed like a drought in our personal lives, at least on paper.  Since starting the blog, I’ve written a lot about some of the difficulties, fears, and trials we’ve faced:

·      Moving out of our house (I still cry when looking at these pictures)
·      Saying goodbye to our friends and family
·      Kate being sick, again and again and again
·      Learning the language
·      Enduring all sorts of gross creatures and insect infestations
·      Facing an ectopic, infertility, surgery, misdiagnosis (the doctor I was using when we first arrived uses an ancient ultrasound machine and misdiagnosed me with PCOS. He put me on a medication that I took for four months, until the doctor in Seattle who did my surgery told me what looked like cysts were actually just blood vessels.  This was one of the most frustrating things we’ve experienced here).

But unlike a real drought, this season of dryness in our own life has actually produced amazing fruit.  Personal seasons of drought often do.

·      We’ve learned tons of lessons along the way and grown personally and spiritually in ways we would have never imagined.

·      We’ve learned to wait and be patient… for so many things.  This has created character we didn’t have before.

·      We’ve learned to live with less stuff.  Whenever we move back to the States, we will make a conscious effort to live with less and practice some sort of minimalism.

·      We’ve had extra time together as a family.  Kate spends as much time with me as she does with her daddy.  This never would have been the case if we’d stayed in Seattle.  I would have worked full time this past year as a 4th grade teacher.  Joe would have worked too obviously.  (Nothing wrong with this scenario, by the way).  But with this extra time together, we have bonded and grown more than ever, as a little family of three.

·      We have made incredible friendships.  Both with Gringos and with Ticos.

·      We are finally starting to feel at home here in another country and have a strong handle on the language, although I still speak v e r y slowly, and have to conjugate verbs in my head, and based on what we’re now learning in Spanish class, have to ask myself, ‘does this sentence require the subjunctive mood?” (a ‘mood’ or verb tense we really don’t have/use in English)

·      We are more hopeful now than we were a week ago about our future at the Abraham Project and the opportunity for us to help it become more sustainable.  In our recent Ministry Update, we talked about the meeting that was going to take place this past Saturday.  Well, it did, and we feel like it was successful.  We still have questions and concerns that need to be addressed before moving forward, but we feel like it was a step in the right direction.

With all these things above, and many more not mentioned, we can easily see God’s work in our lives – the fruit being produced – through this experience.  Joe has this corny tank-top (yes, a tank-top) that says, “Make It Rain”.  Although there are days when it really feels like a drought, there are many others when we feel and know that God is ‘making it rain’ and we are flourishing. And above all, his will is being accomplished in our lives.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:10-11

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lights Out, Glow Sticks On


The electricity around these parts can be a little wishy-washy at times.  Take, for example, two months ago when the power went out for eight hours one day because the city was ‘doing some work’… All I saw was a couple guys trimming the bamboo that faces our house (it was so tall that it was running into the power lines).  That took all of 30 minutes.  But the power was out all day long.  We started to worry about our food in the freezer and the fridge, but luckily the electricity came back on in the evening.

But then the next afternoon it goes out.  Again.  And this time, the guard on our street couldn’t tell us a reason for it.  It was just our street.  Not even the neighborhood.  Once darkness fell, we had to get creative and light lots of tea lights and even make a homemade lamp out of a bright flashlight, a white paper cup and some Jenga blocks.  (The high ceilings made out of wood just absorbed all the light when we set the flashlight facing up, so we had to make a shade for it so it would illuminate the space).  It looked something like this:


This time, because our food had half thawed the day before, and we didn’t know how long the lights would be out for, we decided to take all our spoilable food over to a friend’s house to store in their fridge.  Of course, shortly after we got back home, the power went back on.  But it was okay because it made for a memorable evening.

But by far, the best ‘lights out’ experience I’ve ever had in my life was last night. (The only experience that might rival it was when the power went out in junior high and we got the rest of the day off… I actually remember that day so clearly because I got to go home with my good friend Eryn Haines who lived very close to a certain cute boy named Joe Westfall, and we ended up going over to another friend’s house where he was and jumping on a huge trampoline all together… it was pure junior high bliss!) But back to last night.

We were finishing up a lovely dinner and a deep conversation with our friends Amy and Jonathan, the kids were happily playing make-believe… when suddenly we heard the huge BOOM of a transformer blowing close by.  And that was it - the lights were out.

With a cell-phone illuminating the pitch-black room, something routinely annoying as the power going out quickly turned into a moment we won’t soon forget, as Amy ingeniously remembered a box full of glow-sticks and – can you believe it – glow in the dark balloons that she just happened to have.

We then busted out my Ipod, put it on their battery-powered Bose, and turned on Carly Rae Jepson’s CallMe Maybe (which, by the way, they had never heard and was the reason why I had brought the Ipod in the first place… these long-term missionaries, man, they need to be educated on pop culture!).

A crazy, blissful, joy-filled dance party in the dark ensued.  Three kids, four very mature adults, glow sticks waving, illuminated balloons flying, all of us jumping, singing, and dancing.  “Hey I just met you, and this is crazy…”

I didn't bring my nice SLR Nikon, so there was no real way to capture the bliss-in-the-dark moment, but here you get the idea (Jonathan, don't hate me for putting this awesome picture of you up on the blog!)


A tiny flash of the glow stick here...
video

(Above is a video as the dance party continued to J. Lo's On the Floor... you can hear me, embarrassingly enough, shouting 'on the floor')

It was crazy-fun for sure.  And I just thought to myself, can the lights go out every night so I can have an excuse to dance in the dark with glow sticks to Call Me Maybe?

It doesn’t get much better than this.

* * * * *
P.S. I just have to add that we introduced my father-in-law to Call Me Maybe when he was here a couple weeks ago and he liked it so much that it was pretty much on constant replay any time we got in the car.  And now, Kate is obsessed with it and every morning on the way to school she asks to hear it and then goes into full American Idol mode – singing the lyrics into a banana or popsicle stick or maraca – whatever we have on hand to act as a microphone.

P.P.S. I also have to agree with our friend Eric who mentioned on Facebook something like "People shouldn't shame people for liking Call Me Maybe".  True.  It may be a cheesy, teeny-bop song, but it makes me happy every time I hear it.  You can't really argue with joy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ministry Update


Below is the email we just recently sent out... for those of you who didn't get it, or were just dying to read all this news all over again :) If you aren't on our email list and want to be, let us know.  We don't email out that often, don't worry!

Dear friends and family –

Many of you have been following our blog (www.tresriosproject.org) and have read stories and seen pictures of our life here in Costa Rica.  (If you like hearing what’s going on with us more often, consider subscribing to the blog so you get it in your email inbox.  Just enter your email at the top where it says Follow By Email).  It’s been a while however since we’ve sent out a ministry update.  Here are a few highlights:

Analysis of the Abraham Project
·      Even though our primary focus this first year in Costa Rica has been adjusting to the culture and learning the language, we’ve also been getting to know the Abraham Project (AP) better in order to help it move into Phase II (If you don’t remember, Phase II is the plan to build four more children’s homes on the new property adjacent to the current Project.  It currently operates two homes).  Our main purpose in moving here was to do exactly this: to help the AP grow, to raise funds for the new homes, and to strengthen the AP’s long-term sustainability. But before being able to even start on these goals, we needed to really know and understand how the AP currently operates.
·      After several months of taking part in various meetings and many discussions with the current leaders and missionaries here on the ground, we did a deeper analysis and evaluation of the AP.  Specifically, we looked at the current organizational and leadership structure of the Project and whether it is prepared to move into Phase II and handle a 200% growth.  Our assessment included some potential weaknesses in the current organization and some suggestions to address these issues so that the AP can be successful for many years to come.  We presented this analysis to the leadership in late June.
·      The leadership reviewed our suggestions in July and we have a meeting on August 11th where several people invested in the Project will discuss how we successfully move forward into Phase II and how we become a stronger organization as a whole.
·      You can pray that this meeting goes well and that the leadership understands and is receptive to the necessary changes that we think need to happen in order to make the Project more sustainable into the future.  Change is always hard so we are praying for everyone involved, including ourselves, to be humble, open, and willing to hold things loosely.

Teams
·      In other news we hosted our second ‘team’ in July.  Really the team was Joe’s parents and one friend they brought from their church.  For a week, they worked on remounting all the windows on one of the houses at the Project, as well as replacing the rotten casings and painting the trim.
·      In mid-August, a big team of high school kids comes from First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, the church Joe used to work for, to work at the AP.  It will be great to see several people we know and get to serve alongside of them.

Family News
·      Again, most of this is on the blog, but for those of you who haven’t seen it lately or at all, lots of family has visited us lately and we’ve been able to travel around beautiful Costa Rica with them.  Most recently we took Joe’s parents to see Volcán Arenal where we all really enjoyed the natural hot springs.  Joe and I celebrated our 11th anniversary at hot spring ‘spa’ while Kate hung out with her grandparents.  It was wonderful. 
·      We are continuing to pray about our future plans in regards to fertility.  It has been quite a journey of waiting, learning to be patient, trusting in God’s timing and plan in this process.  At this point, however, we don’t feel comfortable receiving any fertility treatment down here, so we are prayerfully considering going to the States for a time to receive treatment there.  You can pray for wisdom and discernment as we make some decisions in the next few months.  We’ll keep you posted!

Thank you to each one of you for your friendship, love, and support.  We could not be here without you.

Joe, Jennie, and Kate (and Fernando, our Latino cat)