Our kids are home!

Joel and I had the privilege of working with The Lab, our youth group, back at our home church in Tracy, CA. We didn’t necessarily start out wanting to begin a youth group but we loved the teens and saw a need and were able to take over what a sweet friend had been slowly growing for a season (we didn’t steal them for it – she graciously handed her responsibilities over to us).

I realized we were all in after the first summer retreat that we planned for the teens. Joel had been working with them off and on before then but my love of planning events kicked in and after a few nights in the mountains with everyone, we were both hooked. Every year since then, we’ve held a summer retreat for The Lab and it’s been one of our favorite weeks of the summer. Our move to Haiti actually didn’t happen until we could fulfill our commitment that we had already made to take the crew to Tahoe for the week. Have I mentioned how amazing our youth group is?! Seriously – some of the best peeps ever.

Well this year, they’ve come to us! I’m so grateful to be able to say, “our kids are all home!” another time as we share our lives here with them for the week. I know they’re here to serve and learn but honestly, it feels like the most extravagant gift to have them all sitting on my couches again!!

If ever you’ve felt the urge to serve in your church, jump right in. You never know how the people you serve will overwhelm your heart with love beyond your wildest dreams. Excuse me now… I’ve got lots of catching up to do!

I bought a nursing bra.

Two weeks ago, our family headed to Florida for a week of rest and re-stocking. It had been 11 months since we’d left our new home in Haiti and so I had complied a list of things to stock up on. We were meeting friends in Florida that were coming to make sure that we relaxed, ate good food, and laughed a lot (mission accomplished!) but we had about 24 hours from the time we landed until they landed.

We decided as a family that it would be best to get all the restock shopping done up front so that we could just lay like broccoli for the rest of our week. We knew that stores would be a bit overwhelming as our markets and stores are a little different in Haiti so we put together a list of exactly what we needed it and where to buy it and set on our way to get it done.

The majority of the items we were shopping for were from Target and since we were excited from traveling, we decided it would be better to tackle Target at night before closing then on a Saturday night and so we set out to gather all the items on our list.

I was in need of some new brasiers and so I quickly set about to check that item off the list. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been bra shopping before but the vast options were unusually overwhelming since we had just touched down in the USA hours earlier. I grabbed a few sizes in a few styles and set about figuring out what I needed and then when I found some I like that fit, went back to get more in different colors. I was caught up in the rows and rows of bras and wandered around saying, “I don’t know” in creole over and over but 15 minutes later, I was done!

Fast forward to packing everything up before heading home to Haiti and as I was removing tags, I was surprised to find that I had a nursing bra in my bunch! I was completely confused as I hadn’t seen one of those in years (honestly, I just thought it was a snazzy new feature at first glance) and when I checked the tag, it confirmed I’d indeed bought a nursing bra and not noticed in my hurry to get out of the overstimulating store. We were leaving a day later to head back home and it took me only a split second to determine that I would rather wear the nursing bra then take on Target again. Say what?!

It was in that moment that I realized how much had changed. Life in Haiti is slower than in the states. That doesn’t mean it’s not weird and without challenges, but it’s not as hectic (although Haitian traffic is the exception to that rule). There aren’t 17 options of one product in the stores here which has greatly cut down on my shopping time. The grocery store that seems massive here I now realize is a fraction of the size of the Target we wandered in that night.

I’ve realized that options are nice but sometimes, they just get in the way and take up too much brain space. I’ve realized that endless options don’t make my skirt fly up the way I thought they did but rather make me want to find a quiet corner. I’ve come to learn that there is a simplicity and focus that comes with not having so much noise around every decision being made.

Our life in Haiti, in many ways, is different from the life we lived in the states. My first year here has taught me that different isn’t necessarily better – and in this case – you really can’t compare one to the other.

I’ve spent some years in nursing bras and never would I have guessed that I would not only make the mistake of purchasing one again but then decide better to wear it than brave the store and exchange it. My life has changed many ways this year in learning to be fluid and go with the flow. In this instance, I’m going to view it as a snazzy new feature on an otherwise regular old bra. Lemons to lemonade – that’s what this year has been all about!

When in doubt, cook it out

My Ma gave me the gift of including me in the kitchen while she was creating. Ours was a galley style and I can remember sitting at the edge of the kitchen watching her and as I got older, helping her cook and bake. My Ma likes to cook, but baking is really her niche. We had a homemade dessert almost every night growing up. Baking is her happy place.

Her love of baking definitely rubbed off on me and I also find much enjoyment in putting together a delicious baked treat. However, moving to Haiti has shifted what is needed and I find myself cooking almost every night when I “get home” from work (when you’re part of communal living, do you ever really leave home?). There are no fast food options (or $5 Raley’s sales to shop from) here and restaurants require traveling a bit and aren’t cheap. This means, if one of us doesn’t cook, we don’t eat. Fortunately, I really like to cook too! I try to go grocery shopping with recipes in mind but often, I just stock up with staples and create a meal depending on what sounds good – and I love that!

Recently, a friend who gets a weekly vegetable delivery has graciously agreed to split the order with us. It is like a veggie lotto! Turnips, carrots, green onions, cabbage, lettuce, and beets all came this week and so now, I’m building meals around them.

The past few days have felt a bit heavy around here. A conglomeration of things have Joel and I working more than usual to choose joy daily and I have found that cooking at the end of the day is just as therapeutic as baking for me. I didn’t even realize this was the case until I sat dowimg_0342n a minute ago and realized I had been cooking since I got home hours ago. I made cheeseburger chowder for dinner (if you bring us velveeta, it will forever end up in this soup that tastes vaguely like a big mac) and then I thought it would be fun to roast some glorious beets. Once they were roasted, peeled, and chopped, I split them up and made two different cold beet salads (my love for beets runs deep). I thought about stopping there but there was still time left in the movie my kids were watching so I put together some chocolate coconut overnight oats for tomorrow morning. When I finally sat down, I realized my heart and mind had been so occupied on the task at hand, that I hadn’t thought a bit about all that had been weighing me down. Joy was easier to find and the grump was gone. I’m not sure that my dishwashing kids were as excited about all the dishes I’ve been dirtying but they seem to be enjoying the food so maybe it all  balances out.

I am so grateful to have something that could feel like a chore to some, be something that clears my head and creates space in my head and heart. I hope you have the same in your life. And if you don’t, keep looking for it! You just might be surprised at what you discover.

Church Near and Far With Friends

Today we were able to worship at our friends’ home church. It seemed fitting that our first day at this home church was the same day that our sending church, St. Paul’s, is celebrating its’ 125th anniversary. Our hearts are missing our church in California and the chance to celebrate the rich history with all of those friends who so quickly became framily to us. After all, it’s that congregation that helped send us to Haiti and has supported us every step of the way.

But there is something about gathering with 40 something new-ish friends and having church together in a living room that made my heart feel so at ease and refreshed (it felt like squishing the St. Paul’s night service into someone’s house – I love that thought!).  As I looked around the room watching this group of expats sing their hearts out and listen intently to the message, I couldn’t help but wonder if St. Paul’s had started in a similar manner 125 years ago?  And as we dove into a delicious potluck after church, it oddly made me feel connected to the catered luncheon that was happening a few time zones away to celebrate St. Paul’s milestone.

I’m not sure if you made it to church today, or if you’ve made it to church yet this year. I hope you come to know the joy of finding a place of worship where your heart feels at home. Where the traditions and technology, don’t drown out the message of the gracious love of Jesus but rather enhance it. And where Jesus’ love is the central theme. The Lord knows our world can always use more of his love and kindness.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:20

A Thrill of Hope

This past Sunday as we were getting ready for church, Joel started singing O Holy Night. Now, I love all Christmas carols – I start listening to them shortly after the end of October (go ahead, judge me – it won’t change my heart for starting to frame the awe, wonder, and hope of Christmas early). Every year, a different carol gets stuck in my head and resides there. If you ever were around during my substitute teaching at Bella Vista in Tracy, CA, you probably heard me singing Silver Bells. Before then it was O Christmas Tree (sung in English and “made up” German, of course) and year round, I can be found randomly belting out Ave Maria.
This year, I’m stuck on O Holy Night. I love that it tells the story of Christmas and I also love the challenge of singing the ever increasing high notes. As Joel started singing it that morning, I hooked right in and in my best opera voice (secret life) started high. I knew the key changes were coming but it was a go big or go home moment. And so I started:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices (big breath)
O night divine
O night, when Christ was born (even bigger breath)
O night divine (the high note!)
O night
O night divine

img_9250You’ve got to know, as I was singing, Joel started taunting, “you’re not going to hit it.” Which made me even more determined to get there. He has known me long enough to know that no matter how high I start, I’m hitting the note or will pass out trying. Well, I hit that high note – nailed it in fact. It was so gloriously overwhelming that Kooper literally shook it off and Joel fell over laughing.

Fast forward to church when Joel used this story as his sermon opener. As I listened to him retell the story and then tie in the truth of the lyrics with all that the Christmas season encompasses, I instantly knew exactly why I’m marinating on “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…” Over and over we sang it that morning. Over and over, I’ve sung it this week.

It is so easy to let your heart grow weary in the busyness of the Christmas season. It’s even easier to let your heart grow in the busyness of every day life. But that thrill of hope… mercy, that will bring joy and peace to the hardest of days. The decision to have my weary soul rejoice, to look for that new and glorious morn and not get stuck in my funk – it’s a decision that I have to actively make. And oh how glorious it is when I make that decision to allow that thrill of hope in and rejoice.

Part of me being stuck on a song means I listen to all sorts of versions of it. This morning I listened to Mariah Carey and then Mercy Me and then good ‘ole Harry Connick Jr. sing it. As I listened (& sang along) to his jazzy version, I loved that he decides to have the song crescendo not on the first verse, but on this one:

Christ is the Lord
O praise His name forever
His power and glory
Evermore proclaim
His power
and glory (the big note!)
Evermore proclaim

Oh how I love that! I love that regardless of my circumstances, that if life is good, bad, or ugly at the moment, God’s power and glory should always be proclaimed. That’ll preach!

What Christmas carol is your favorite this year?

You moved to Haiti!?

To say this year has been a whirlwind of an adventure would be an understatement. For those that missed our move – we moved to Haiti full-time in July! We didn’t really have any plans to move here or anywhere for that matter. We loved our jobs and life in California but God presented an opportunity for us to live and work in Haiti and away we went! It wasn’t actually that simple as we had to sell our home, prepare to leave our jobs at St. Paul’s (and through God’s perfect provision, became church supported missionaries for our home church!), sell or get rid of most of our stuff, fundraise, pack up a vehicle, sell another vehicle, and prepare our sweet old dog, Kooper, to move to another country.

IMG_7841.JPGWe know that had we sat and planned out this move, it would have never gone this smoothly. We applied for jobs at God’s Littlest Angels a couple of weeks after Ingrid returned from there in March and thought it was a completed act of obedience. Little did we know, we’d be offered the job in the beginning of April and would move here at the start of July – phew, what a whirlwind.

We agreed that it was as if God had listened into all of our dreams and ideas and created jobs that fit all of it – so amazing! Life here isn’t without it’s challenges – it’s a developing country that lacks a stable government (and has been without a president for awhile now) and we miss our sweet friends in California a whole bunch! However, on the challenging days, we can’t help but look back at the way God made a clear and obvious way for us to get here. We know without a doubt, that this is where he wants us right now. We are humbled by the opportunity to serve here and look forward to sharing more about our life and adventures as expats.