Happy New Year!

Well, hello 2017.  You’ve finally arrived and we are happy to meet you.  So much happened in 2016.  Was it more full than most years?  Who knows, but it sure was intense.  Perhaps that is just how a beautiful mess of a life feels.

There was much to be sorrowful about…on a macro level, the Middle East and the refugee crisis all over the world were heartbreaking, painfully highlighted by Brexit and the election of Donald J. Trump.  God only knows how all of that will play out, but our family is managing our stress, sadness and disbelief with prayer and donation.

What else can we do?  We can celebrate all the goodness of this life.  We can look at the voices for equality, justice and Christ-like love that are speaking louder than ever.  We can hold our beloveds close knowing nothing is promised in this life other than birth and death.  And we can be willing to stay up late to ring in the new year, take that trip that seems too hard to plan, email that friend we miss, and hug whenever possible.  These strategies worked in 2016…we’ll see what new skills are to be aquired this calendar year.

We missed Christmas with family again, but had the joy of celebrating the birth of Jesus with dear friends here in Santiago.  I spent the first half of the evening asking Rayna if she needed to use the potty (oh bright, stubborn girl, will this ever work?) and was a bit distracted by that whole situation.  It took me by surprise when a candle laden platter of brownies came out of the kitchen and we quickly gathered the kids to sing. The birthday cake and candles on Christmas Eve are a tradition I want to bring with us wherever we go in this world, because it is such a beautiful reminder of what we celebrate on Christmas Day.  Those are the things to treasure, appreciating what we have learned from this different kind of holiday season.  We made some lovely memories this December, but it was no small condolence that we will all be back in Colorado in two weeks, spending time with both family and friends there and in Washington.  Jeff also has an unexpected trip to Ethiopia for a research summit starting this Friday, so prayers for his safe journey and for the one Rayna and I will take a week later would be appreciated.

We have no idea what is in store for us in the coming year, but we have open hands and grateful hearts to start out with.  Thank you for being on this journey with us and we look forward to celebrating every chance we get in the months to come.  Love!!!

 

Small Dreams

It is times like these when we have to celebrate little victories.  There is so much hurt, anger, pain and heartbreak in this world, and a potent antidote can be embracing small dreams.

For years, I have wanted to plant and grow herbs.  I have envied my gardener friends who managed to pull all sorts of amazing things from the land and I have attempted on two occasions to grow stuff.  The failures were complete and I’d accepted my black thumb sadly.  But because this dream of mine, to grow things, didn’t die, I gave in one more time to the temptation to try to see my wish come true.  I bought starter mint and basil plants a couple of weeks ago, and you guys, they are growing.  They are beautiful.  And they are small dreams come true.  Obviously this is trivial on so many levels.  But for some reason, it means so much right now that something good can grow in this world.   What little thing have you been dreaming of doing that you put off because it’s trivial?  Befriending your neighbor by bringing over cookies?  Calling up that family member who you struggle with?  Signing up for that lesson you’ve always wanted to take?  Yes, these things will not heal the world.  But what if these small movements in positive directions gained momentum?  What if living out our small dreams actually led to change?

My plants are growing out on our balcony in a new apartment we moved into a month ago.  Santiago is such a lovely, dirty, chaotic, normal city.  This spring, it has been calming and healing to me to notice the trees.  To take pictures of the blooming flowers and to stop and see if they have unique smells.  I walk around our neighborhood and find reprieve from all the things I don’t like about this city.  There are beautiful old homes and buildings with ivy and robust trees alongside them.  There are fountains and elderly people on walks and there is shade.  These are the things that are helping me appreciate my days and thank God for this life.

Small dreams are funny…sometimes it is hard to even really know what they are, because we can become so focused on our big dreams.  Life with Rayna has shown me that small dreams are sometimes critical steps towards the big ones.  After a month in pre-school, our big dream of raising a bilingual kid is starting to take shape.  It had to start with me finding a place to send her and then weathering the adjustment weeks, which were pretty rough for all of us.  My hope this last month has been only that she wouldn’t act like she’s being sent to a torture chamber every time I drop her off.  Well, guess what?  Today, there were no tears, no screams, just a little fuss about having to carry her backpack and off she went.  She’s been having great days at school and I hear her saying Spanish words as she plays.  We’re a long way from a bilingual kid, but by pursuing this dream, it feels like maybe, just maybe, someday we will get there.

Speaking of Spanish, I finally got a tutor.  That might sound so ridiculous to people who imagine my life to be full of beautiful conversations nuanced with fabulous vocabulary and perfect conjugations; please be assured, I do not live that life.  My Spanish speaking friends are patient and kind in forgiving my many errors and understanding me even when I shove in Spanglish because I don’t know the right way to say something.  But in my ten years of working on learning this beautiful language, I have always needed help to make any progress.  For the last year, I knew a tutor would help, and I dreamed about it, but I just sat on it.  I was too busy, we were too poor, we were travelling, etc.  Finally, finally, I took the plunge and the light bulbs are going off.  I feel so grateful that some basic puzzle pieces are falling into place and embarrassed by how much I still need to study.  But having a teacher checking on my progress is a great motivator for me, so I know this was the right approach to expand my language fluency and feel like I’m taking steps in the direction I want to go

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So there you have it.  Dreams do come true.  I hope you can realize a few of your own this month.  Love!!!

P.S. And yes, it was also a dream of mine to let my kid swim in a public fountain, luckily it’s totally acceptable here!

The Good Fight

Maybe it’s because clichés resonate with me…maybe it’s because I typically remember there is an upside to most situations…whatever the reason, I stood in our kitchen last weekend, looked at Jeff and said, “It’s ok honey, we are fighting the good fight.”  Really, I said that.  He looked at me incredulously and simply replied, “What fight?  What good fight?”.

What fight indeed.  In that particular moment, we were battling with a kitchen appliance.  We bought a new stove for our apartment (a normal part of renting in chile) and were terrified to use it.  The stove has old technology and a gas line, which weren’t complicated.  It also gave off an odd smell and didn’t have a temperature gauge, which led Jeff to fear it would just burst into flames when it got too hot.  This sounds so trivial, but when you’re tired from a day of moving and just want to cook the lasagna a sweet friend dropped off, the situation felt a bit desperate.  As we went back and forth over the pros and cons of trying to cook the lasagna, frustrations about life in Santiago overflowed and we questioned again what we are doing here.

We’re also battling the terrible twos, which have been especially tough because our kiddo keeps getting sick.  We know it’s normal when kids start pre-school and it’s basically a rite of passage here in Chile, but it still sucks.  At the moment, we are enduring our first hospital stay as Rayna contracted something that led her to have a febrile seizure.  It’s been a rough couple of days, between rushing to the emergency room, deciphering all the tests and results being reported, and trying not to feel fearful despite being cooped up in a hospital.  We are hopeful that Rayna really is fine but they’re keeping us overnight again to run more tests.  Our daughter is one of the biggest joys of this life, and we talk often about how thankful we are to be her parents.  At the same time, raising a fierce, small human is challenging: she will battle getting dressed, brushing her teeth, and eating a banana all before 8 a.m.  While we often are unsure about what the right thing to do is, we are doing our best.  Should we hurry up and potty train?  How long can we let the pacifier be a part of her life?  How do we teach her to stop yelling NO?  When will she stop crying at pre-school drop off?  These are the things I think about every day.  I know it’s our job to help her learn boundaries and understand that sharing and kindness are critical for life, but that is no small task.  We are doing it, but some weeks, it feels like we aren’t exactly winning the fight.

This is our life right now.  We are doing our best to continue adapting and trying to enjoy the goodness before us.  But it continues to be hard.  And we continue to get overwhelmed.  We are so fortunate to have wonderful people here in Santiago to help us when we are floundering.  And as a family, we are strong and supportive of each other (Rayna has even learned that when someone is sick, you don’t ask them to play, you pat their hair).  But the combination of working, planning for the future, moving, and now addressing medical problems has been a lot to handle.

I know it’s OK to be negative/admit things are hard/vent.  But I hesitate to do it because we chose this.  No one forced us to move here and no one is forcing us to stay.  We are choosing to engage in this strange journey and praying the benefits are substantial.  And we are also hoping that this learning season doesn’t just serve us, but also helps others.  I know that may sound disconnected, but that was where my head was at when I was talking about the good fight with Jeff.  We’re going through the discomfort and struggle of living abroad in hopes that we will return to the USA more compassionate and more capable to help our communities.  And that aim makes it feel worth all the trials.

With all going on in the USA right now, that goal seems even more legitimate.  We were rocked by our country’s decision to elect Mr. Trump to the presidency.  And though we dread some of the potential consequences of that choice, I am not without hope.  Our family is committed to serve God by loving without limit.  So many of my friends are ready to fight for equality, sacrifice for those in need, stand up for what is right, and disrupt hate by showing love.  And that, my friends, is the good fight.

 

P.S.  I don’t mean to sound casual about the hospitalization scenario, we are thankful for prayers that tests confirm a cause so the doctors know why Rayna’s fever got so extreme.  However, Jeff and I both had febrile seizures as babies, so we have the experiences of our parents to give us comfort that she is going to be fine.  Love!

The Power of Positive

I have been accused of being overly optimistic; I am usually happy to agree.  While a bend towards the positive can be a strength, it can also lead me to underestimate time limits, overstretch capacities, and just annoy the stuff out of people who think I should be more realistic.  Despite all this, I seek to keep my glass half full, and was delighted to share a full-fledged Chilean adventure with a travel buddy of the same mind.  Blame it on genetics or a life spent making the best of things, but there is no denying my cousin Cristin and I are both optimists.   While travelling in Patagonia last week, we kept going even when turning back may have been the obvious choice and used the power of positive to overcome a whole array of challenges.

It all started at the airport.  We had booked tickets, confirmed times, and were all packed to fly out of Santiago and into the snowy south of Chile.  The allure of Patagonia is obvious: the peaks of Torres Del Paine national park grace most travel books, plenty of people name it as their favorite spot in Chile, and it must be pretty cool to have inspired a wildly successful clothing brand.   We kept all this in mind when we were informed that we in fact did not have reserved tickets; with only 15 minutes to get our bags checked and make our flight, we decided to pay double what we’d planned on and take the trip despite this little hiccup.  It turns out one of the confirmation emails I’d neglected to read had in fact been informing me that our reservation had been rejected. Yikes.

Fortunately, Rayna loves airplanes (and the reason is no mystery…she has watched Toy Story 3 on every airplane she has been on since July and she may love Woody more than Jesus;).  The three-hour flight went smoothly and we grabbed a rental car in Punta Arenas that looked perfect for zipping around the city.  Unfortunately, we had no plans to be in the city; in fact, we would drive that little Hyndai through a sleet storm, through a mountain-cross bike race, and up and down the edge of a mountainous national park.  Was it the best car for the trip?  Obviously not.  Did we make it work?  Absolutely! It was also stick shift which seemed a little dubious when Cristin informed me in the rental lot that she was “ a little rusty” on how to drive stick.  Sure, there were some stalls, but with a focused can-do attitude, she totally had it mastered by the end of the trip, and we both loved the adventure quotient it added.

Unlike the well-kept gravel roads circling the jagged peaks of Torres del Paine (towers of blue), things didn’t go especially smoothly on this trip.  Both Cristin and I got head colds.  Reservations had to be made, cancelled, remade and confirmed (ideally that would’ve happened seamlessly; the airplane ticket debacle demonstrates it clearly didn’t).  Cruddy websites literally required 20 attempts before we successfully secured a room at Torres Central lodge and tickets to see Grey Glacier.  And did I mention we were travelling with a two year old?  Who is currently flexing her ‘NO’ muscle?  And just figured out she can jump out of the pack and play?  But we didn’t let that stuff get us down.  We kept going, even when we felt like maybe we were the definition of insane.

The result was a memorable trip to a majestic place.  We made it through the storm to see amazing blue glaciers and found out the rainhood on Rayna’s pack works pretty freaking well.  We spent one night on bunk beds in a lodge with burly hikers and woke up to the site of snow covered peaks and sunshine.  And we drove through the park in our little white sedan with gusto.  The turquoise waters of the lakes were enchanting.  The granite peaks were actually profound.  And the whole thing was that much sweeter because we had to overcome a lot to make it happen.   While I might not recommend travelling to the end of the world with a toddler and a cold, I would recommend always hoping for the best, even when things get hard.  Our trip could have sucked, but it didn’t, mostly because we just refused to let it.  I hope you too can find the hard fought good to celebrate this week!  Love!!!

The Dark and the Light

Life is not perfect.  This is a reality that sometimes gets blurred by social media cultivation and hidden struggles, but it’s true.   There are bright, beautiful parts to most seasons of life, accompanied by darker, harder experiences.  I recently asked Jeff, who has one of the most interesting, blessed lives I know of, if he could recall a period of time when everything in his life was great.  He couldn’t, because even when life is great, there are still rought parts.

Right now, life is so good.  Coming off of an amazing summer, our return to Santiago went smoothly and we are continuing to enjoy so much about our life here.  But the shadowing to those bright realities is important.  Summer was amazing; it was also a time of continued spiritual struggle for me, where I wondered daily if this Jesus story was even real.  Our return to Santiago did go well; but we were still a little heartbroken to be back, so far from our family and friends in the USA.  I also forgot JUST how teeny our apartment is, so that was a little bit of a shock after living the high life at Ruth’s little house in Boulder.  And we do continue to enjoy a lot about life here: Jeff’s mountain biking habit is full throttle and he’s riding better than he ever has, which makes him genuinely happy.  I have wonderful friends to pray and swap parenting strategies with and a fantastic book club that always reminds me how good it feels to belly laugh.  And Rayna has blossomed into this social toddler who waves ‘hola’ to anyone who can catch her eye on the street and loves going to see ‘amigos’, especially on the bike.  Every day, she asks if she can talk to Oma or Grandpa (and even thought it might be fun to Skype Woody from Toy Story last week), and we recently discovered how awesome Daniel the Tiger is.  I also found a preschool where she will start later this month, and while it feels a little bit like I’m sending my baby off to language school, I know she will love it.

But we are still, it seems, in a challenging transitional time.  The weather has been fall like at times, but that’s a trick as we are actually in spring on our way to a hot holiday season.  We still miss our families and friends and the conveniences of living the USA, while I struggle with being a ‘house manager’ (though fortunately, the momming part of that job has been going pretty well, if only the cleaning would just do itself!).  We haven’t found any kind of rhythm of serving in our church and it feels like we do a lot of thinking/praying about ourselves, when the needs of others are far more pressing.  After much thought, we’ve decided to move apartments, which means we’ll be packing again and stressing out about paperwork that we can’t quite understand while trying to get organized so that we have a little more space to host (both local and travelling guests, we want you all at our table, which we don’t own yet!;).  We also have to apply for our visas again, which is going OK, but is just about the exact opposite of fun.  And we hope to move home next year, which means Jeff is applying for jobs and the shadow of uncertainty is with us all the time.

And the reality is, that’s just life.  Lots happening, some good, some hard, but all of it part of the ride.  So this morning, I am grateful for all the beauty, all the light.  Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for our little and big family, and I see the abundance of blessing in so many places.  But I appreciate too that this life isn’t perfect; some days my sweet toddler insists on laying down on a busy city side walk and I don’t understand what our landlady wants from us.  It’s all part of the story, and it’s all welcome.  Have wonderful, messy, blessed week.  Love!!!

Whose speed is this?

I love growing up.  The freedom of getting to do and go where I want is awesome.  I also love how growing older continues to mean becoming more honest about who I am.  I no longer think I am lazy because Olympians are in better shape than I am (Juliette got me on that one).  I am realistic about the fact that verbal processing is a thing that I love doing, but not everyone thinks it’s quite as grand.   And as I’ve started to name certain habits or traits I have, it’s been interesting to parse what parts of me are rooted in family heritage, national culture, and/or personal experience.  This whole process of understanding myself a little more clearly has honestly been very helpful in my efforts to best handle myself, ya know, in the world.   I’ve stopped assuming the WORLD is crazy, and started recognizing the pace at which I approach the world is a big part of why my head is often spinning.  Fortunately, I’m also seeing that even I can slow it down a notch.

If you saw me this summer in the United States, you were probably not at all surprised that I was in a frenzy, rushing somewhere, or bouncing between things as I often do.  In Colorado, this is my normal rhythm, with so many people to see (who unfortunately do not live in the same county, and traffic in that beloved place can be a bear) and a short timeline to embrace all the goodness.  Frankly, it can be exhausting.

But when I returned to Santiago, where I live in another traffic choked, bustling city, I realized something profound: I don’t need chaos to breathe.  I can in fact thrive at a lower speed, and here in Chile, I don’t run around like my pants are on fire.  I read books (and feel guilty about it, but that’s for another post).  I let my child drag our rolling grocery cart the whole way home from the store, shuffling my feet beside her as she delights in learning to handle things beyond herself.  I have wonderful friends, but I don’t feel like any of them will be disappointed with me if I can’t make every get together.  In my mom’s group at church, we talked about God’s expectation that we rest, for our own good.  Here in Chile, I feel like I get to do that.

True, I miss some of the craziness.  I miss feeling important because I had pressing things to do, and I miss laying down at night exhausted because I ran through the day using up all my energy.  But I don’t miss the constant strain of that pace or the shadow of failure that inevitably stalked me as I tried to do too much.  It’s a little strange to be on the outside of the mad-rush culture; at times I feel torn between rejoicing in the calm and sheepish about my freedom to rest.

And admittedly, I still manage to find myself in a hurry many days, constantly running late for things (showing up 30 minutes late is supposedly the Chilean norm, so I’m just being culturally sensitive;).  And even though things typically take a bit longer here (standing in line is common, everywhere, for most things, even things like waiting for an elevator), I often wait until the last minute to get things done which leads to me handing Rayna another snack in her stroller as I speed walk the city streets to get that to-do list checked.  But overall, this life in Santiago is turning out to be full of moments of rest.  While I am excited about upcoming trips, various celebrations, and getting involved in a few more activities, I’m also enjoying this slow pace.  I figure I better soak it in, for this too shall pass.  Love!!!

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Rayna snuggled up in our favorite book reading chair.

An Ode to Ruth

There are people in every life that are so impacting, so caring, that they leave an indelible mark.  Typically those people are linked to us by blood, but sometimes we are lucky enough to be adopted into those special relationships.  My journey has been irrevocably changed by the presence of one sassy elderly gem named Ruth.  Over a decade ago, Ruth offered to let me stay in her guest room while I found a first apartment in Boulder.  Little did she know that with that invitation, she was opening the door to years of hospitality extended to me, my parents, my friends and now my own little family.

Ruth has been so much more than a friend…she has been a confidant, a guide, a support and a grandma.  She has fed me hundreds of cookies and casseroles, forgiven my messy room and terrible parking, and loved me as if I were her own.  She scolded me when I was taking too long to find a husband, then flew to the wedding to make sure it was really happening.  When a baby was on the way, she bought a pink tricycle, just to make sure our girl wouldn’t go without.  She can’t understand why Jeff couldn’t find a job closer to Colorado, and waits expectantly for our next visit.  While her hearing is fading, her heart and wit are as strong as ever.

This summer, Ruth welcomed our little family for 4 whole weeks (with short visits from both Jeff and my mom).  I worried it would be too much; I fretted over the chaos of me at Boulder-whirlwind-speed and a toddler causing her unnecessary stress.  But as she approached her 92nd birthday, she embraced us without reserve.  The laughter she and Rayna shared will always be one of my favorite Boulder memories.  The casseroles and cookies are still delicious.  And the time spent around her kitchen table was precious.

There are people in life who are beyond compare.  Ruth, you are one of those.  Love!!!