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!!

 

365 days.

52 weeks we’ve been back in Nicaragua. A year ago, I returned back to this country with mixed feelings; excited for a new adventure, apprehensive to start all over again making friends and building community, and somehow how hopeful for what the future might hold running a business here.

A lot has happened in a year.

If I were to package up our first three months, tie it with a bow and smack a label on it, it would read, “shit show.” Not just because, quite literally, every single day one of my 3 kids would poo or pee their beds or themselves. Those events alone earn that label. But also, because we were camping out in our empty rental house with no furniture/washer/kitchen utensils/toys and trying to spin it as an adventure only lasted so long.  Oh ya, and thanks to the roosters/parrots/birds/pigs/horses everyone thought 4:45 am was a great time to wake up. I am not a nice or sane person before 6am. Certifiable shit show.

The following three months could be labeled “what were we thinking.” I mean, for the love. Who decides moving internationally with 2 small children and a baby is a good idea? And at the same time trying to start a business? In the third world?   Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. Perhaps I’m still raw from the previous three months.

The holiday season months? Let’s label that “hello, therapy.” Turns out sometimes you can get into a hole and not know how to get out. We dug ourselves in a marriage hole, separate holes actually, as we were surviving the shit show around us. And whenever we popped our heads out, one would bop the other on the head. We forgot how to be nice, speak nice, and it was killing us. I mean, is it just me, or doesn’t it feel like you do just about anything when you have the love, affection and support of your significant other? Well, we were not loving giving a whole lot of affection, and the outside stress and strain was almost more than we could bear. So a dear friend suggested counseling, something we couldn’t quite understand how exactly it would help. Sure it pry feels nice to vent your feelings to someone else. But since we had never done it, we just naively thought that was it. Turns out, when you talk about your crap with an unbiased, third party professional, someone who is unequivocally FOR BOTH of you, it helps!!  It was a game changer for us. Oh ya, and lest I forget, I actually started praying again. Real, honest, and strategic prayers and dang that guy cause as I spent more time Him, he kept refining my heart and graciously showing me my crap that needing working on. Thanks to those two things, we’re pretty much floating on clouds of bliss. Alright, honestly, it’s more like we love each other again and are figuring out how to do that even better. Oh ya, and breaking bad habits. And… the list goes on. You get the point.

The spring months, I think I’ll label, “finally.” Finally the business is up and running. Even though it was only just over a year and a half from pipe dream to operation, it felt like forever! I am so incredibly proud of Brandon, and in awe of the amount of patience and grit it took for him to get here. Like, amazed. Finally we are meeting people and making friends, circling around different churches, groups and people, and finding our peeps. Finally my Spanish is decent enough so that I don’t have the insta nervous sweats every time someone talks to me. Finally, this place feels like home and I am so thankful for that.

As I was thinking about what we have come through over the past year, I found that the reflection did my heart and soul good. Sometimes we’re in a hard season and it doesn’t feel like we’ll ever get out. Are you there? Is this time right now squeezing you? Bending you more than you thought possible? Do you feel like you’re drowning? I can tell you one thing for sure, it will end. I promise. And I’m pretty sure we’ll come out on the other end a better person. Or stronger. Or more broken (which isn’t always a bad thing). But those broken parts of us can be healing if we let them. We can choose to cling to the One who can strengthen us, breathe fresh life back into us, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.