You just might fall in love.

Obedience to Jesus is a daily thing. It’s unpredictable, and it’s fluid. It can change and morph because people change and morph. Because He chooses to use people FOR people, and that is a complex and fluid thing. We can’t say we’ll love on our neighbors but only for this amount of time and in only in ways that are possible with my schedule and the limited time I have. It doesn’t work that way. We are either in or we’re out. We either obey, or we don’t. We don’t get to pick and choose. It’s the whole package, it’s what we signed up for when we said yes to Jesus and to following Him.

It might be like signing up for a half marathon. This example comes to mind since I’ve been running a lot more these days. (I think I’m trying to run all the stress and anxiety right out of my body!) Two years ago I signed up for one.You sign up thinking it will be fun and great motivator to get in shape. Because some of your friends have fed you that lie, you know, your runner friends. But you do enjoy the first few weeks of training, smiling to yourself as you go on your one mile runs, every other day, thinking this half marathon stuff isn’t so bad. And then you have your first real run. You know, the longest distance you’ve ever ran in your entire life. Which has been like 4 miles up until this point. Running seven miles feels like you are dying. You start to get chaffing in areas you didn’t know could chafe. Your feet feel funny, your knee hurts. Your hips  are aching, why are they aching? What is going on? You have run out of good music, because who knew, when you run for 7 miles, that’s like running for a loooooooong time. If you are super slow, like me, it is about an hour and a half.  And this goes on for months. Apparently some people can just show up and run 13.2 miles, but the rest of us normal, non-runner type people, we have to train months and months to be able to run that far, and that long. And then race day comes. It finally comes, which is terrifying and exciting at the same time. You haven’t actually ran 13 miles yet, you’ve only made it to 10. But the trainers, the people who know what they are doing, say that isn’t necessary. They believe all that training will carry you through, and the race day adrenaline will push you right through those 3 miles you’ve never run before.

Two years ago for me, race day came. I didn’t sleep very well the night before, not just because I was anxious about the big race, but also because I was in a hotel with my husband and 2 small children, who of course woke up every two hours confused where they were and wanting to snuggle with mommy.  I took the bus to the start of the race. There was something sort of magical in the air, this strange feeling of comrodery as everyone else was getting ready to run.  Some people were excited and chatty (those annoying morning people), some were quiet and pensive and others looked like me, slightly nauseous and unsure what to think of all this. Thankfully, thank the Lord Almighty, I was with a friend. Three of us from Houston signed up together, and ran a few times together over the course of our training. This morning, we decided to start together and stick together as long as we wanted/were able. I had never enjoyed running with anyone up until this point. It always felt strained and awkward, what if I am faster than her? More plausible, what if she is faster than me and I am slowing her down? And for goodness sakes, what about the talking.  It gives me such anxiety. I can’t talk when I run. I can hardly breath. So then we’re just supposed to run by each other silently? With headphones in, without? I don’t know what to do! But race day feels different, all bets are off, and we are all there just to finish. To run it, do our best, and try not to fall on our face.

So we start out together. The first mile goes by fast, as we navigate through the crowd. We can’t run very fast, the herd is too thick. I smile as we pass the Alamo, that’s right, the Alamo. My first half marathon is running through San Antonio, past a historic site I’ve always wanted to visit and just never have. I grab my phone, try to take a photo, and laugh at how fun this is. What was I so afraid of?

Cue mile 7. It’ s a hill. I tell my friend, through my gasps, to just go on ahead, I have to walk this baby. Houston, where we lived at the time and where I trained, has zero hills. Not even a gentle incline anywhere. Thankfully, she too wants to walk, having also trained in the land of no hills. We reach mile 9. I’m done. I hate my life. With every single step I cannot stop thinking how much I hate my life. Why did I sign up for this? Why did I pay money to do this?! I tell her go. I have to walk. I’m done. She begs me to continue, pleads at me with some words, and mostly her eyes. I cant. I stop. She gets ahead of me, one step at a time as I walk with my hands on my hips. And then, right before she disappears from my site, I think “oh my gosh, If I don’t stay with her, I will walk the rest of the way. I won’t make it alone.” And with all my remaining energy I run towards her. Fast, quick, with numb legs. I am yelling but she can’t hear me. I look insane I’m well aware. I catch up to her, gasping for air. When I touch her arm she jumps, for she is back in the zone with her headphones on. She laughs and hugs me. And we slow down a bit so I can catch my breath. I’m so thankful for her. The next mile I see my family. We turn the corner and there they are. My husband is frantically waving so I don’t miss them. The kids are strapped into the double jogger with a sign that says, “Hurry home mama, we need a snack” I laugh out loud, and run to them and hug them. There are tears in my eyes! What in the world? Why am I crying? They are encouragement just when I needed it, oh how it does my soul so good to see them. The next two miles feel tortuous. I have to tell myself, again and again, you can do this. You birthed a child. You are amazing. You pushed a human being out of you, this is nothing. Man, we women are amazing huh?! Anyway, it worked. That thought carried me to the end, where I stumbled over the finish line. I grabbed my free juice, water, oranges, and high fives from strangers. I was laughing, wincing, the feeling of relief and accomplishment sweeping over me in waves.

Wow, that took a really long time to get to my point. My point is this, obeying God can be like a non runner trying to run a half marathon. We sign up to run the race, to obey God, and somehow we’ve disillusioned ourselves into believing it won’t be hard. Or we won’t have aches, pains, problems, times we question our sanity. That somehow we can run the race, heck even finish it, without training. Practicing. Failing. Trying again and again. Not to mention, we run it better when we are running it with others. Something I honestly, 100% didn’t see coming. I never like running with anyone until that day. Without Stephanie by my side, I most certainly wouldn’t have ran the whole thing. I might have finished, much later and having walked a large majority of it. But I did better, my best, with someone by my side.

We need to train.  We need to practice listening to our coach, trusting the training schedule. Putting our trust in the one who has run a race before, and knows from experience what we need. If we desire to obey God, then we have to practice it. We have to push through the awkward. We need to strengthen our obedience muscles, the ones that will obey when everything else inside of us or around us screams we are done. The muscles are what keep us going, the parts of us we have trained to say “I don’t care how you feel, this is what we signed up for.”  Keep going, just until that next tree. Just until that light. Around the next corner. Because, until I actually ran a hard race, I didn’t know how hard running can be. But I also didn’t know how amazing it was either. I didn’t know my body could be pushed like that, I didn’t know what I was capable of. And somewhere, in the midst of the pain and the aches and the pavement and the sky, and the sound of my own heart beating, I fell in love.  I fell in love with running. It made me better, made me work hard, made me do something I honestly thought I could not do.  Because sometimes the really tough things are the most beautiful things. And if I would have quit that race, I never would have experienced that. And I can’t help but think, the same goes for the race we are running with Jesus. If we just want the finish line, the glory and accomplishment at the end, but don’t want to run through the blisters, sore muscles, and awkward parts, then we miss it. We don’t get to see, feel, breathe, ache, enjoy, struggle as we run the race if we quit when it gets hard. And, obeying Jesus is hard. But just like running, if we can push through the hard things in life and obey Him through the little and big ways, then we might just come out on the other side. And when that happens, I’m convinced we’ll come out even more in love with Him.

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A biased viewpoint.

Come, sit down, and let me tell you a little bit about what is happening in my tiny corner of the world here in Nicaragua. Because, you see, sometimes things are so hard, so confusing, a bit scary, and overwhelming that we find we cannot even speak of them.  So I have barely spoken about what is happening here, because even as a writer, I cannot find the words. The following is simply my heart, sharing with yours. As if we were sitting across from each other. Face to face. And you have asked me, as many of you have now, how is Nicaragua? What is going on there? I’ve skirted around the question, unsure what to say or how much to divulge. But my heart is burning in my chest. The world around me, in this tiny country in Central America, is literally falling apart and there is hardly a peep about it in the news. So, here goes. Disclaimer: If you’re looking for just straight news on the situation, then move along. For just the facts, for pure journalism, this is not the right place. Because this is one woman’s opinion, a slanted, biased viewpoint, and I apologize if I sound on edge, heartbroken, confused, mad, and weepy- because, well, I am all those things these days. So come, with your ears and your heart, and let me tell what isn’t on the news. (And also, I beg you, please do not comment and tell me and family to leave, for my dear friend, even though you might mean well in that comment, my heart cannot bear to hear it.)

On April 18th, everything changed here. It didn’t feel like a huge change on that day per say, but it was a day when the Nicaraguan people decided to protest/march, something that isn’t tolerated here. The did so peacefully, and the government, well, the government over reacted. We’ve all been there, right? We might yell at our kids, smack our dog, or throw some choice words at the person who cut us off. But the end result, here, wasn’t that mild.People were killed. Killed for protesting peacefully. So naturally, Nicaraguans were outraged. I’d say most human beings were outraged, those that knew anyway. And somehow, when the government was confronted about it on national television, they said not a peep. No apology, no nod, no words to offer solace or to find those responsible and bring justice. And people were shocked. And then it happened again, and again, and again. The death toll is up to 200.  Peaceful protest were at first met with rubber bullets, then real bullets, then snipers, and the death toll keeps climbing. And the people have demanded talks, consequences, and ultimately they want the removal of the current president. A president who claims Nicaragua is place of democracy, when his actions, words, rules, mannerisms all whisper and scream, dictator.

And here we are today.

Things have escalated. People who once were fighting with words are now using slingshots and home made mortars/bombs. They have built road blocks all over the country, they hoped to slow the economy and bring the president to the table to talk. He’s circled the table, and left, and circled, and left. And people are pissed. They have demanded his departure, and it sure feels like he doesn’t wanna go.

Meanwhile, every single person who lives in this country is holding their breath. Waiting.

And as we wait, we all do different things. A lot of us pray. Everyone is crying. Many are weepy. Mothers can’t sleep. Universities (the heart of the movement) have shut down. People are taking to the streets. There is fighting. Families are fleeing the country. Road blocks are getting worse, locking people inside or outside of towns. Businesses are shutting down either due to fear of being vandalized or lack of patrons and they can’t afford to stay open.  Tourists have left. Factories are facing closure because they can’t meet their deadlines when supply chains are compromised. Stores and gas stations are being robbed or looted because there is no police around (they are only out fighting in neighborhoods). The famous and beautiful Leon, the place our first child was born, looks like a war zone. We have employees stuck inside the town, because of road blocks they cannot leave the city. Just today they walked, blocks and blocks, of a strangely deserted town to catch the bus on the outskirts of town to come into the office. Friends who live inside the city hear gunshots all day long.

I am not entirely sure how to process all of this. Partially that’s because I am a foreigner here. This is not my country. It is a country I call home, one that I have come to love deeply. We live here. I am raising my children here. We have a business here. But we also have passports. We have a way out if it really gets that bad. A fact that makes me feel both sick to stomach and thankful at the exact same moment. And that admission, well, it makes my heart sick. Because that means so many cannot leave. So many don’t want to leave. (my hand is raised in this category as well). And we all wait, we wait to see what is going to happen.

In just two months this has become the new normal, so I can usually talk about the facts without crying these days. But, I pause to take a breathe and you ask me, but how are you doing?

I look down.

I’m sad. I’m heartbroken. I’m angry. Some days I’m scared. Some nights I cannot sleep. My stomach is in knots. Most days I’m proud of Nicaraguans for standing up to a dictator, come what may. And come what may, is overwhelming. It’s meant death for children, students, adults. It’s been beatings and people going missing. It’s meant loss of income, loss of jobs, loss of businesses, loss, loss, loss. Last weekend, it was a fire that killed an entire family, a family who refused to let a sniper plant himself on their roof, and so they set fire to their home out of retaliation. Four adults, and two innocent, beautiful children burned alive. A five month old, and a 2 year old. And when I saw that on the news, as a mother and a human being with a heart, I could.not.get.my.shit.together. Unimaginable loss.

But, but. Despite all this, dare I whisper, there is beauty.

Beauty in chains of oppression being broken. Beauty of watching people stand up for what is right, for democracy, for basic human rights. Beauty is occurring around me in new friendships, beauty in neighbors checking on neighbors. Beauty in striking up conversations with strangers since everyone is unsure, confused, scared, and questioning. Beauty in branching out and making new friends, because so many   foreigners have left.

And beauty in Jesus.

Because, as I heard one woman so vulnerably admit something it dawned on me. She asked, “but if I can’t cross town, to continue the ministry I am doing, then why am I here, or rather why should I stay here?” I understand her question, but aren’t we missing the point? It’s one thing to stay in the midst of such hard times when you feel your task, job, business, mission is still happening. But when that is in question, when the future is uncertain, when each day brings more uncertainty, then what can we do?  Well, that’s a dang good question. We can live life showing the love of Jesus, as we’re supposed to be doing anyway. We can be with, pray for, take food to, anyone who is scared, or anxious, or stressed out. Because every single person is feeling those emotions these days. We can circle our wagons so to speak, and come together shoulder to shoulder, as we figure out how to exist in this new norm. We can loudly and boldly proclaim the gospel because we are in the trenches together. And it’s happening. I see it. I’ve met brave souls doing it. The love of Jesus is real, thick, authentic and coming from hearts that are scared, strong, determined, brave, and trusting in Jesus through this.

 

One particular friend had memorized Psalm 91, before all this began, and I find it fascinating how God can prepare our hearts even when, or especially when we have no idea what is coming our way. So I think I’m going to do the same, because I cannot stop thinking about and meditating on these words,

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust”.

So let that ring true in my heart, Lord. Let me trust in YOU, and not what surrounds me. Let me be reminded that you are my refuge, and my fortress. Because those words are not any more true than they were two months ago, but when circumstances have changed and life is hard, the Bible has a funny way of coming alive in new and different ways. I guess add that to the list of beautiful things happening despite what is happening around us.

Here are a few photos. Credit is listed below them, some I took screen shots of our local news and am not entirely sure who to give credit to…

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Summertime Travel Tips

Anyone else pack a bit, ehem, prepared when they go on a trip with their kids? I mean, I went away last month with my husband for our anniversary and I was so casual about packing that we actually had to turn around because I forgot the sunscreen, for our beach get away. 

But when it comes to a trip with the little people in my life? I have issues. My motto? More is better! Bring it all!  In my defense, that is partially  because we live in a country where there aren’t 24 hour convince stores on every corner, stocked with diapers/wipes/medicine/blankets/food/milk/toys or whatever else I might have forgotten or might need at 3am. But I guess if I’m being honest, my overpacking existed even when we did live in the land of milk and honey. So, what I’m trying to say is, I’m trying to be better.

We just spent the weekend at the beach, and of course our car was fully loaded down, for just three days.IMG_1404

I kept taking things out, really trying not to over pack, and yet here we we were filled to the brim. As I was doing this, I kept thinking, it’s a lot work to go anywhere with small kids. Is this really worth all the extra work? Yes, yes it is. Well, most of the time it is. Because a change of scenery is good, for everyone. Even if vacations don’t look like they used to (did we really used to go to the beach and relax on the sand, read, go for long walks, surf, eat?) Feels like a lifetime ago! But it’s okay that vacations look different. And feel different. And come with more stuff, as we pack up our family, as we  still seek to pursue adventure, fun, and re-connect with loved ones. We will not be deterred! We cry, over carseats piled with snacks and toys. We will seek adventure! We say, as we strap down surfboards, now along with boogie boards, swim floaties, and pack n’ plays. We will save money! We chime in unison, as we pack 5 bags of food to make our own meals. (side note: Another thing we are learning, even when trying to save money, it’s always a good idea to eat out one a meal a day, if at all possible, so it actually feels like a vacation for mama!)

So as we enter a time of summer, travel, visiting family and friends, I thought I’d share some of my tips and woe’s in hopes to help your own family vacation perhaps go a little more smoothly. Cause I know I’m always on the hunt for help when it comes to traveling with small human beings!

Bag o medicine. Even if where you are going has a 24 hour convince store, who actually wants to get in the car and drive to get medicine if one of your children wakes up sick? This bag has Tylenol, Benadryl (ya know, for the kids who touch/eat everything!) , Band-Aids, Neosporin, thermometer, a few essential oils (like Thieves and Snifflease), Vicks, Nose sucker, and Zyrtec (sometimes my kids get a raspy cough in a new place, and my doctor said it’s usually allergies, so he recommended giving half an Zyrtec).
Bag o clothes.  Obviously, this just has clothes. But I’m learning to bring extra jammies because let’s be real, kids love to pee and poo on themselves when they sleep and you’re in a new place. Nothing better than waking up disoriented to a kid who has wet the bed (or worse!) and you’re scrambling to find something to put on them at 2am.

 Bag o tricks. These are my secret weapons. We’ve traveled with our children ranging from newborn to 5 years old, and I have really come to appreciate these random items! 1. Night light. Often where you’re staying is new, which makes navigating at night difficult, or practically impossible. I plug it in the bathroom, or just in the kids room, and it makes a new dark place not so scary at night for them, and easy for me to see them when they wake up needing something during the night, as they often do! 2. Paper plates and cups. If you’re trying to save money and packing some food for meals, the least you can do for yourself while you’re on vacation, is not have to clean the dishes as well! 3. For this particular beach trip, I packed one bag to bring to the beach. I was committed to only having a small snack, water, diapers, and baby powder while at the beach. (usually I am quite loaded down, so this was a big success!) 4. Which brings me to my next point, Baby Powder. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to do the beach with small kids without baby powder. It gets sand off your kids like magic. Trust me, you can only tell them to go rinse their sandy hands in the ocean before lunch, to then have them walk back to you and somehow still have sandy hands so many times. Baby powder. Or trying to change a baby on the beach? Sand in all those nooks? Baby powder. Don’t want sand all in your car?BAM.  5. Travel highchair/seat. It packs down to a small bag, and let me tell you, nothing gets more annoying than trying to get a squirmy child to sit at an adult table or holding them in your lap for every single meal, 3xs a day, while you’re on vacation for a week or two!!


Bag o toys. Every time, for some reason, I don’t want them bring toys. I guess it feels like we have enough crap already, and I figure they’ll have plenty to do at the beach/camping/playing with cousins. But the truth is, there is always down time, and having one little backpack they packed themselves with their favorite toys is pretty handy. And if I’m really on it, I’ll throw in a new car, new coloring pens, or new notebook just to make them feel special.
Bag o food.  In our family, snacks make the world go ’round. So when we are traveling, it’s no different. It helps when the kids get restless, bored, start fighting, or are tired of sitting in the car/airplane. I just stuff their mouth full of food! I know your kids have their own favorites, but I have noticed with my own kids, new snacks hold their own entertainment value! On planes, I always ask for an extra bag or two of the little pretzels/chips.  Also, some of our favorites are carrot sticks, graham crackers, nuts, raisins, small pretzels, small goldfish. I even pack these amazing suckers, they are made from juice, so they won’t give your kids a sugar high! (cause, hello, who wants sugared up kids while in confined spaces with everyone eyes on you?!) And, I make them suck on them, no biting allowed, almost guaranteeing 10 whole minutes of silence! (…is 10 too many?!)

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Bag o Leave Behind. I finally have added items to this list! I used to pack their owls (these things that project stars and play music). I’m very proud of myself, btw.  I’ve also now left home the sunshine bunny alarm clock that tells them when they can get out of bed (yes, to much husband chagrin I brought this everywhere when we traveled!) The baby monitor! The video one… that’s right, I’d risk ruining it as I packed it because I could not leave it behind!!  (My husband is so proud of me). Now, if I know the location has an outdoor area far from the kids bedrooms, we’ll bring just a sound monitor so we can hear them while we’re outside post bedtime. Bedtime stuffed animals. I used to let them bring 2-3 each, and a special blanket, but multiply that by 3 and that’s an entire bag for bedtime stuff! So they get to pick, one animal or a blanket. Only took me like 4 years to figure that one out.

Flying tips.  1.Limit water intake! Nothing is harder than trying to take a small child into a very small bathroom, two people barely fit! Especially if you are for some reason traveling with your children alone. I discovered this the hard way, how do I take one kid to the bathroom? what do I do with the other two?! Well, either ask the flight attendant to watch them in their seats, or cut them off at the source! Very little liquids. They can rehydrate the next day!  I only give them something when we take off and land, to help their ears pop. That or gum, works great. 2. Don’t underestimate the power of stickers. They can keep my kids attention for a looooong time. 3. Ice. When the stewards come by, my kids will take for every to chew on a cup of ice, and it will hydrate them a little, since by now they will be winning endlessly about how thirty they are! 4.  iPad. Duh. Download a movie or two, and BAM, you’re good to go, maybe even a few new games. 5. Whatever you do, don’t let them taste the sweet freedom of the isle!! (with a squirmy toddler, good luck!) My best luck has come when I keep them in the seats as long as humanly possible (ie don’t let them even know the isle is a place they can BE, it will be tough at first but will make life so much easier for you in the long run!)

Driving tips. 1. Same liquid advice goes for long car rides. When you have little kids, no one goes to the bathroom at the same time. So if you give them normal amounts of fluids,  you’ll be stopping every 45 minutes for someone to go to the bathroom, and it will 100 million years to get anywhere. 2. Two words, Dollar Store! If you have some serious miles ahead of you, I would recommend a trip to the dollar store. Stock up on random new toys (and if you have the time or energy wrap them up too!) and let your kids open one every hour or two. We drove cross county (okay more like just from CA-TX) but it was 3 loooooong days,  with a 2 year old and newborn. (by my freakin self as my husband drove the Uhaul!!) So, as soon as the baby would go to sleep, I’d give the 2 year old a snack or new toy to keep her quiet. 3. Porta Potty. If your child won’t squat and pee on the side of the road, bring a port o potty that uses a ziplock bag, and that way, you can just pull over on the side of the road, anytime anywhere. Let’s be honest, that sounds better than some of those gas station bathrooms along the way!! 4. I bought this really cool tray sort of thing that straps onto their carseat, giving them a tray with small sides. For coloring, playing cars, doing a puzzle, having a tea party, whatever. My eldest never really liked it, but man my son loved driving his cars on it for hours and hours. Something like this  5Cups/bowls. For all the snacks. It will not only help with the spillage factor, but its fun and different and your kids will be fascinated by it, promise. 5. Book on tape. They will pry be more into it than you think!! Just try it okay?

Well, that’s it for now. Good luck out there. Traveling with small kids is a lot of work, but just remember, they pry won’t remember it anyway. Oh wait, I meant to say, you’re building memories and spending time as a family and that is pretty special. And worth the extra work. Also, don’t forget, you can print all the photos you take and make a photo book to show them later in life, reminding them you used to travel and do fun things!!