Thursday, October 25, 2012

Worms, Earthquakes, Dead Birds...

This week in San Jose has meant:
·      Making Dutch Baby pancakes only to find two dead ants floating on the surface.  That wasn’t so bad – we just scooped them out – until Joe spotted another dark spot floating just underneath the surface.  Turns out it was a white little WORM with a black head.  I about gagged and needless to say we threw out the batter and started fresh.  After inspecting the Ziploc bag the flour was in, we found a web of worms making a cozy little home inside.  Yum.

·      Experiencing another earthquake – 6.6 I think it measured.  Since the ‘big one’ we had in September, we’ve felt several others.  This one was strong but slow so it felt a lot like being on a boat on the ocean.  If this happened in Seattle it would be Breaking News… but here, it’s a bi-monthly event.

·      Fernando killing yet another feathered creature.  A couple weeks ago, a bird mistakenly entered our house in the morning and hid out all day, only to be captured and killed in the afternoon by Ferocious Fern. (Kate had alerted me to the bird’s appearance in the a.m. but I forgot about it… and so when we came home in the afternoon Fernando was in the middle of his hunt). This week, I heard a strange meowing and looked over to see Fernie flaunting his newest kill – a poor bird lying on his back with his little legs still flinching.  This seems to be happening on a weekly basis around here now… I’m always finding bird feathers flitting around the floor.

·      Planning a Harvest Party.  I just couldn’t let another Halloween go by without any type of celebration so we are inviting people over for a little get-together next week.  Since there isn’t a Joanne’s or Michael’s craft store here, we are mostly making do with things in our closet for a costume.  Kate will be a crayon.  It’s fun and challenging to ‘go with what you got’ and to have to be a little more creative with what’s around the house.
·       And finally, being 16 weeks pregnant! The baby is about the size of an avocado now.  I am just waiting to feel distinct movement now – one of the best things about being pregnant.  This only gets better and better as the weeks go on.  One of the worst things about pregnancy: trying to find clothes in your closet that fit and don’t make you feel like a tent.  This only gets worse. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ministry Update: One Year in Costa Rica

We moved here exactly one year ago. Of course we realized before we even moved here that this would not be easy and that things might look different than expected, both in our personal lives, but also in the work at the Abraham Project (AP).  And this has indeed been the reality.  But we are also very aware that by persevering through the unexpected things we have grown and matured in unimaginable ways. Below is a not-so-short recap of the last year (we tried so hard to be succinct, but truly needed this many words to properly explain what’s been going on; please read on if you care to – there is a very special announcement at the end J).

Since Joe, specifically, came down to raise money for the AP, and he loves to be busy and have a project to work on (apparently learning Spanish and cultural adjustment wasn’t enough for him J), he jumped right into asking questions about the Project when we arrived.  In short, over several months, he started to see some specific challenges the Project was facing that he felt needed to be addressed and possibly changed in order to a) be able to confidently raise money and b) make the AP stronger and more sustainable into the future.  However, the real difficulty came in communicating these ideas/challenges.  The organization and leadership didn’t appear to be open to new ideas. (We have learned a lot since then about cross-cultural communication!!)

Then, our home church came down in March to see about forming a long-term partnership with the Project, but decided not to partner with the AP, citing as their reasons many of the same potential issues Joe had been seeing.  It was a big disappointment to lose such a great partner and donor, but at the same time, an opportunity for the AP to really start evaluating their organization and how to improve.

This decision by our church lead us to put together a document that summarized both the church’s decision not to choose the AP, as well as our own observations, questions, and suggestions for future sustainability. We knew that we didn’t have all the right answers, but we felt very strongly that it was important to ‘officially’ present the challenges we saw to the leadership at the Project.  We presented this in early July, and this led to a bigger meeting that happened in mid-August.  Our last Ministry Update asked specifically for prayer for this meeting.

We haven’t shared how that meeting went yet… One of our biggest challenges has been figuring out how to communicate all this with you – our friends, family, and supporters – in a way that is transparent but also in a way that honors the people who have poured their lives into the Project.  Suffice it to say, during the meeting we continued to feel the way we’ve felt for many months: misunderstood, disappointed, and frustrated.  We haven’t felt like there has been much openness to change or an ability to reflect on what we, or others, have been saying.

So that left us with a big question: Where Do We Go From Here? We didn’t know. That’s where we were in August.

Now it’s October.  And we’ve had more meetings.  One that lasted six hours just last week!  And little by little, we are starting to uncover the misperceptions and misunderstandings that have lead to these roadblocks in communication and in our ability to do what we came down to do. We are aware of our own failings and shortfalls and ways in which we could have gone about this whole process better.  But we also continue to feel very strongly about the need for reflection and change. We are seeing doors start to crack open, but there is a long way to go before they are swinging wide open.  Right now, we are discussing some of the smaller funding needs the Project has and what we can do to address these areas in a sustainable way.  We are taking things one step at a time; being flexible and holding our original plans loosely.

So we continue to persevere, because we believe so much in the work the Project is doing.

We would so appreciate, more than anything, for you to pray for wisdom and discernment for us.  We know so many of you have been praying for us and this is invaluable.  Thank you.  We know God is working through the Project and the people there to bless others, and we also know God is with us and working through us, despite our flaws or the frustrations of this past year.

Thank you, as always, for your love, support, and partnership.

Joe, Jennie, Kate and finally Baby #2 expected in mid-April (see Una Luz)

Una Luz (A Light)

Most of you know all about our fertility struggles.

It started with an ectopic pregnancy in January 2011.  We thought everything had healed properly, but it hadn’t.

Three weeks after we arrived in Costa Rica in October 2011, we found out my right fallopian tube was permanently blocked.  (At this time I also was misdiagnosed with PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome - and was on medication for four months before finding out that the ‘cysts’ were really just normal blood vessels).

Then there was the surgery to remove the damaged tube this past March.

Even though the rest of my reproductive system was healthy and normal, by July we were seriously starting to doubt whether we could get pregnant on our own due to some other symptoms I was having.

In fact, we were starting to consider going back home to get fertility treatment.  We even started packing a few bags!

And then out of the blue, one day in early August there were two faint red lines on little home pregnancy test.  Could this be real?

It was.

Due to the previous ectopic, I had to get my hormone levels tested three times right away, and then had to get an early ultrasound at 6.5 weeks to make sure the baby was in the uterus. (It was an excruciatingly long wait for that very first ultrasound.)  But on August 20th, we found out the baby was where it should be and we even heard the heartbeat for the first time!

And so we are so excited to finally be able to announce that Baby Westfall #2 will arrive sometime around April 12th of 2013.

This journey over the past two years has created a lot of emotional stress, doubt, and even questions like “why now God?” especially when we found out about the blocked tube.

But now, we can see God’s hand and perfect timing in it all.  First, we were supposed to come to Costa Rica.  Had we known about the blocked tube before we left, we probably never would have come.  Second, through this trial, we had to lean on Jesus in a whole new way, and even with our doubts and questions, our faith was matured and strengthened. Third, if I had been able to get pregnant on our time line, we would have had a second baby sometime in the past year, which now looking back on other challenges we’ve faced here, would have been just too much.  God’s timing literally has been perfect.

In Spanish, "to give birth" is “dar a luz” – or literally – to give a light.  This such a light for us.  Such an answer to prayer.  Thank you to all of you who have walked through this journey with us and have prayed for us.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Books are an important part of my life.  I have always loved to read but in recent years have really become more of a consistently avid reader; there is always a mountain of various books on my bedside table.  This year in Costa Rica, reading has become an even more vital part of my life.  Spiritually, I’ve been challenged in ways that has produced a hunger to deepen my faith.  So I’ve bought and read lots of books that are in the ‘spiritual’ category.  I’m also always looking for a great story that transports me to another place, that is beautifully written (or at least well-written), inspires or intrigues me in some way, and expands my own view on life.  With less recreation options here, novels have become perfect entertainment.

So here are a few of the books that have been especially meaningful, challenging, or just plain entertaining: (in no particular order)

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.  I just finished reading this novel while in North Carolina.  I had never read any of Kingsolver’s books (she is probably best known for The Poisonwood Bible) but I fell in love with her exquisite writing and beautiful descriptions.  The story takes place in a small southern farming town as well as the Appalachian woods and reading it gave me a little piece of the wilderness and nature that I so often crave here in the midst of the concrete of San Jose.  Plus, the story weaves in information about the intricacies and fragility of ecosystems that I never would have thought to be so fascinating.

Radical by David Platt: the most recent book I’ve completed.  Joe just finished it too.  Totally challenged us and how we live out our faith.  Do we really believe in what Jesus said, what he did, and who he was? Or “are we manipulating the gospel to fit our cultural preferences?”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  A classic, gothic novel.  A story of obsession and revenge.  It was intriguing, dark, intense… I found Heathcliff to be the most despicable character ever. “And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

Loving Our Kids On Purpose by Danny Silk.  My favorite parenting book ever.  This is a book I’m always going back to.  Totally turns traditional parenting techniques on their head (especially Christian techniques) and shows parents how to raise their kids in the freedom of Christ.

Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Colin.  Yes, I was addicted like almost everyone else who read these.  The first is the best since it’s such a new, crazy concept.

If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn.  Like most people, I struggle with the question, “why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” Many atheists point to the evil in the world as the main reason why there cannot be a God.  I’m still not finished with this book because it’s intense and heavy.  But I bought it because I knew Alcorn would do an excellent job of addressing this question and backing up it up with scripture.  Learning a ton…

Managing the Non-Profit by Peter Drucker.  Joe bought this one on my Kindle, searching for some answers for some of the challenges he’s (we’ve) experienced while being at the Abraham Project.  It’s been extremely helpful.

Culture of Honor by Danny Silk.  An excellent book about leadership in the church, but it is applicable in many situations.  Again, another book that has helped us navigate through our work at the AP.  One of the main premises is that we cannot lead (or be in any healthy relationship) by trying to control the other person.

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy. One of the best, most memorable books I have ever read.  It is Pat’s memoir about his time teaching on an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina to a group of completely ignorant students, due to their poverty, isolation, and a school district that is neglecting them. As a teacher, it was both inspiring and discouraging at the same time.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy.  Gorgeous writing.  Intense story. “She had awakened something in me that had slumbered far too long.  Not only did I feel passion again, I felt the return of hope and a clearance of all storm warnings in the danger zones of memory.”

Prayer by Philip Yancey. “Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to.  Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.”  I love anything Yancey writes.  This is no exception.  He is so authentic and honest.