Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ten Lessons Learned

We have been here for almost 8 weeks now.  We won’t sugar coat the experience and say it’s been all been a brilliant adventure.  On the contrary, we want to be honest and say it’s been a tough adjustment. Sometimes in those tough moments of being in another country, we wonder, “Is this worth it?”  “Did we make the right decision?”  There have definitely been quite a few bumps in the road, but despite these struggles and our own doubts and questions, when we reflect on the past two months we know we are here for a reason.  And along with the bumps there has already been a trunkful of lessons learned.  Instead of focusing only on the hardships – whether big or small – we want to share the life lessons we are learning. 

1)   Be patient: We are struggling to learn the language fast enough so we can be self-sufficient.  But we’ve only been here for 8 weeks!  The language will come – poco a poco as I said in the last post.  Anything worth doing or learning takes time, dedication, and patience.
2)   We all have to do things we don’t like: Kate doesn’t like school, cries every morning, and clings to us when we drop her off.  We know she’s fine, but mornings have not been fun.  But like the rest of us, she has to do things she doesn’t like sometimes, and school will grow on her I’m sure.
3)   Let go: Things are SO expensive here that it can be incredibly frustrating to buy anything when you know you can get it for half the price in the states.  Or when you already own it…  We needed a little shelf.  It cost $44 – a cheap little wire one – and it doesn’t even stand flush on the floor.  Things like this can really be irritating!  But we just have to let it go.  Money and possessions are just that: money and possessions.  We must be frugal and smart with our money but we also must let go of constantly comparing prices to the states.  We are in Costa Rica.  Not in the U.S. 
4)   Taking action is better than complaining: I have a chronic backache.  It is affecting every day life right now and nothing I do seems to make the pain stop.  It hurts to sit, stand, lie down, exercise, stretch, walk, play… At the moment I’m not sure what to do about it and I keep complaining about the pain.  But the complaining is getting me nowhere.  It’s time to take action and go see a doctor.
5)   This too shall pass: Joe was really sick last week.  We dubbed it “Dengue Fevere 2.0.”  No, he didn’t really have dengue, but it was the sickest I’d ever seen him.  He barely got out of bed for 3 days and it was a tough week on our family, especially over Thanksgiving. Those three days of illness, loneliness during the holiday, and being homesick seemed to last forever… but they did pass.  This phrase is one of the best to remember in so many life situations.
6)   Get over it: There have been a variety of little inconveniences throughout our time here.  As I’ve written, our internet was out for a week, our water got turned off, and the skies continue to be gray.  And then there’s been some gross food stuff: there was a web in a bag of walnuts I bought, the cinnamon sticks I bought at Pricesmart (Costco) were rancid, and I just ate a bowl of cereal yesterday with sour milk.  But we are learning to just get over it and move on.  
Is this not the grossest thing ever?  Both Kate and I had walnuts on our oatmeal before realizing there was this web!
7)   Endure: Spending the holidays away from friends and family has been/will be difficult. The Thanksgiving buffet was actually great, but we still missed our traditional day spent with family for sure.  But this is part of the experience and we will endure and survive just fine.
8)   Have perspective: We had some drama with our newly purchased Christmas tree. We bought a fake tree on Sunday.  We had these grand plans to put it up on Monday night, listen to Christmas Carols, and make sugar cookies.  Only, as we start putting it together, we realize it was missing three branches!  Right in the middle.  I was just so worn out from everything I started to cry.  I was trying so hard to be positive and to have a plan for celebrating the Advent Season… and then the stinkin’ tree is missing branches.  This problem is a lot bigger when you don’t speak the language and aren’t quite sure if the store will take it back.  So we go back to Universal with a friend who is fluent, and it takes them 45 minutes to “assemble” the tree in the backroom.  They bring back the box all taped up and say, “You’re good to go.”  Christmas-tree-set-up-day 2: Kate’s begging us to unpack the tree again.  So we get everything out of the box… only to realize that this time they didn’t put the BASE back in the box!!!  So once again, we can’t put up the tree.  We were SOOOOO mad.  Okay, it was a little funny too, but honestly when you’re in another culture these are the kinds of things that just really get you down.  So we returned once again to Universal yesterday, and thank God, our tree is finally complete, branches, base and all.  We both wanted to throw the tree across the room and boycott the store, but we also needed to have perspective.  It’s only a tree.  And with having perspective, we also learned to always check the box!
Joe finally putting up the artificial tree - all parts included!
9)   Do something you love: I am the artsy/crafty type.  Even in the midst of the stressful moments, it’s been really important to fit some “crafts” into my schedule. I’ve been trying to paint when I am able (watercolor) and I made the extra effort to find and purchase some craft supplies to make a little Advent calendar out of matchboxes.  It was incredibly fun and therapeutic.
Little candies are in each matchbox.  I still need to put a little star on top.
10)  Hope: I finally want to share something a little more personal. If you’ve been keeping up with the blog since the beginning, you know that I was worried about my ability to have more kids after my ectopic (tubal) pregnancy (Night Waking Fears).  Three weeks after moving here, we went to the doctor to finally get things checked out.  It turns out that I have two problems that are preventing pregnancy: a blocked tube on my right side, which can only be (possibly) re-opened by surgery, and an issue with my right ovary, which can hopefully be fixed with medications. This was devastating news to hear just three weeks after getting here.  First there was the shock and disbelief, then the sadness set in.  And of course, millions of questions, many of which will never be answered. But then after moving through the shock and sadness, peace set in. In the midst of this struggle, God has drawn close. I still don’t understand why this is my struggle or what will happen in the future, but I do know this: everyone faces hardship. And adversity is always an opportunity to grow in faith. I am not in control.  God is. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been constantly reminded of God’s immense and unconditional love for me.  And even in the moments of doubt and sorrow, I know He is with me.  That He has a plan for my life.  It may look different than what I wanted/expected, but I know my life is in His hands.  And this has given me profound Hope.  So we continue to hope and pray for the future, for healing, and for a future healthy pregnancy.  You can hope and pray with us.

Here is a poem, a passage, and a verse that have provided comfort during some of the more challenging moments of being in Costa Rica:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

 From Practicing His Presence, by Brother Lawrence, 1688 (if you don’t know it, a famous piece of Christian literature, recommended to me by my Uncle Chip)

We have a God who is infinitely gracious and knows all about our wants… Now, what should be your attitude?  How do you react to the Lord when He brings things like this upon you?  You should hope in Him now more than ever.  Thank Him as I am thanking Him, for the favors He does give you.  What favors?  For the fortitude and patience He is giving you during your affliction.  They are a clear proof that He is caring for you.  Comfort yourself then, through Him, and thank Him for everything. (p.79)

…We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  Romans 5:3-5


  1. Jennie and Joe,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so plainly throughout this process! I am sure that all of these little inconveniences start to add up and drive you crazy, but I know you can face them and move past them. You are very brave for doing what you are doing, and I am proud/happy to know you! We all miss you back here. We are hosting the holiday party for our baby (toddler!) group next weekend, and you will be just as missed as you were at the Halloween party! Sending hugs, happy thoughts and resilience your way.

    Lindsay, Paul & Hooper
    P.S. I'm SO sorry to hear about your back. I've been dealing with back pain this past week, and it is so frustrating. I hope you start to have some relief, Jennie!

  2. Prayers of hope and encouragement coming your way! We can identify on many levels and we know trusting Jesus is our (and anyones) only hope for peace and joy. Gene and I recall many tears shed during our first few weeks of adjusting to life in France, which happened to include Christmas. We were a sorry mess. But, it got better. So, so much better!
    We're enjoying the journey through your posts. Lots of love to you both and to sweet Kate.
    Catherine, Gene and the girls

  3. We are praying for you guys!! Love reading your blog.