From Here to There

This has been a very bizarre last month.  One week after arriving home from the USA, I was admitted into a hospital for signs of pre-term labor.  I stayed in that same hospital for more than four weeks, being monitored every 4 to 6 hours for signs of labor.  I was visited by dear friends, hung pictures on the wall of my family, and passed the hours on bedrest.  I watched a series on Netflix about a woman held captive and it hit too close to home; I wrote and read and learned to crochet.  I took my first wheelchair ride outside two weeks after I arrived and up until that trip, I had only left my room to go to an ultrasound.  My family visited me four or five times every week, which included a minimum half hour uber ride for them each way.  I was cared for by the most conscientious, kind midwives, nurses, and doctor, and kept well-fed and rested.  I never showed signs of labor beyond dilation and a couple of days of a belly ache that could have been contractions.

What do you do with more than four weeks to yourself?  I tried to stay busy and tried to stay positive about growing our girl.  Each week that passed made her life outside of the womb more sure, more safe.  I spoke to my professional team and my friends and family, bouncing back and forth between the languages and the cultures all from within my hospital room.  I prayed a lot and tried to stay cognizant of how blessed I was to have both my health and the chance for a healthy baby.  I tried not to think about why this had happened, and tried not to get depressed by the global news I now had time to absorb.

Every day, I waited for news about my mom’s latest adventure in her cultural immersion, whether that was the comedy of making friends with the vegetable seller on our street or the confusion of trying to understand the pre-school teacher’s approach to potty training.  She and Jeff became a team and took such good care of Rayna that I think my kid sort of got used to me being gone.  Jeff remained harried, but was able to get some bike rides in and stayed focused on how valuable each day apart was for our smaller daughter.

And then this week, we decided I could go home.  At 32 weeks, our baby is still very tiny but she has passed some important growth milestones.  I’ve held off this long, and if labor started, my doctor didn’t see much chance that they’d be able to stop it.  We are all hoping for a few more weeks in this bizarre limbo, and the first test was making it through the ride home without going into labor (success!).  I remain on bedrest, which means I’m basically just more work for Oma and Jeff, but they seem OK with it.  While this has been one of the hardest things we have been through as a family, we were always OK, no one was dying or fleeing from war or being terrorized.  Perspective comes in handy when you’re looking at life from here to there.

We’ve grown accustomed to waiting with great uncertainty about what lies ahead and I’d even say we’re OK with it.  God has got this, and the people he has brought around us have helped keep us going when we would have crumbled on our own.  For these good things, and with hope for our healthy baby, we are so grateful.  Love!

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A Fragile Balance

I am typically considered a glass-half-full kind of girl.  I hope and expect good things will happen, but when bad things go down, I accept that as part of life and try to make the best of it.  I understand that suffering is a part of every life, that I will have my fair share.  Despite my bend towards the positive, I will admit these ideas about life’s balance of good and bad are sometimes far easier to embrace in theory.

Today, on my 33rd birthday, I write from the hospital bed I’ve been inhabiting for the last 11 days.  I had planned to be preparing for a night out with Jeff, followed by a camping trip with friends to celebrate another year of life; instead, I’m on bedrest in order to give our new daughter the best possible chance to have a healthy start in her life.  I have literally not left this room for 10 days and don’t foresee actually leaving the hospital for another 4 or 5 weeks.  This is obviously not ideal.  I have a small child at home who relies on me for most things; I have a precious marriage where I carry various responsibilities and handle much of the house running; and I have a personal rhythm of life that includes a lot of activity.  But all of these things have been delegated or paused as I follow the doctor’s orders in the hope of a labor closer to our June due date.  My condition is called cervical failure, and it basically means I’m at very high risk of pre-term labor.  I feel completely healthy and this makes the whole hospital experience all the odder.  I have nurses and midwives doing nearly everything for me, even those things I’m perfectly capable of doing myself, all in the effort to avoid gravity, infection or activity starting labor.  I spend the day being brought meals, accepting visitors, and entertaining myself as the hours pass and our baby grows.  While it sounds luxurious, I also had to leverage my birthday for permission to take a shower and was just granted permission because it’s a special occasion.  I haven’t felt the sun, been in my home, or had reliable privacy in 11 days.

At 29 weeks young, our daughter is the priority right now and her family is sacrificing so that she’ll be as healthy as possible.  Oma flew down right after I was hospitalized and has been an amazing support, taking care of Rayna and helping Jeff, all the while negotiating the cultural and language trials that come with Chile.  Jeff and Rayna have adapted to days without my presence, and their visits every other day are my favorite thing  We are all doing fine, and preparing to maintain this strange existence for as many weeks as possible.  One day in utero will be 3 less our new baby would have to spend in the NICU, or so we are told.  We balanced the risk to our tiny baby versus the benefits, and decided that hospitalized bedrest, while seemingly extreme, was something we would tolerate for the well-being of our girl.  And so this is our new reality, one where we live apart and continue waiting to see how things unfold.

Most days, we are full of gratitude that we are not in a tragic situation and there is still hope that our daughter will have time to grow well before making her grand entrance.  Other days, I am just sad, missing my family and the freedom to leave my elegant jail cell.  But on balance, these days are worth all the emotional strain, even the missed time together.  This is what adulting is, choosing to focus on the long vision instead of indulging in what we want now (what I want now, for the record, is to go for a run in the mountains, drink coffee at the park with my family, and maybe end the day with a crisp Saison).  This situation is hard, but we all know there are no guarantees that tomorrow will be as we planned, and we are living that reality.  We are counting each day, grateful that it has passed and our girl is one day stronger.  And I guess that’s all we can do, in this fragile balance.  Love today.  So enjoy your freedom, your mundane burdens, your time with those you love.  These are precious things and it would be a shame to take them for granted.

Thank you to all who are praying for us, who have brought meals, visited, checked in or lent a hand.  We are so glad to be part of a family of friends that care well for each other and we love you all.  Abrazos!

Seasons Change

Flying between the seasons is still a bit of a shock to the system.  We left summery Santiago in January and arrived in Colorado to find a beautiful winter week.  I love the snow and the crispness of CO winter, so it was delightful to drag Rayna into Ruth’s yard to build a snowman.  Sure,  she wanted to go inside after 2 minutes because her hands were cold, but it was so satisfying to get to breathe in real winter for a bit after missing it all through the holiday season.

Our trip home this time was two months, which was long and overly eventful.  Jeff had work commitments that took him to Ethiopia, interviews in Arizona and Durango, and ended the trip with a conference in Boulder that tested his endurance but stoked his enthusiasm for the research he is a part of.  We went as a family in late January to see the Freers in Oklahoma, and this was precious as Rayna is finally old enough to appreciate her cousins.  She is one lucky lady, because even though all of her cousins are years older, they love her mercilessly and rarely let a minute go by without making sure she was having fun.  This trip was also one for the memory books because we rented a sweet minivan, got a flat tire, and ate like college kids (Josh wisely packed skittles, doritos, and cookies, which put my fruit and vegetable stash to shame).  While road tripping with a toddler takes some effort, it was a good time had by all in the end and I’m so thankful we were able to spend that time with family.

Our first weeks in Boulder were typically busy, and based at Ruth’s house as usual.  While Jeff worked, Rayna and I jumped back into our social scene with fervor, which was incredible and exhausting.  Being 20 weeks pregnant added an extra twist to this trip, both in prepping for the long travel hours and in the sense that I typically needed a nap.  Luckily, Rayna hit her sleep stride from day one, so our afternoons were almost always reserved for the both of us to take a solid nap, which Ruth was usually down for as well!  I loved grocery shopping (I know, that sounds so weird, but when you go from Chilean markets to Trader Joe’s, it feels like you’ve walked into crunchy heaven), precious evenings with the best of friends, and the ease of getting around Boulder and Denver where I’d spent so many years roaming in my Subaru.

And while so much of this trip was joyful, it was also a hard time of waiting for us.  In fact, we have been in a season of waiting for quite a few months, unsure about what the next year would hold for us with job and baby and who knew what else.  We spent this trip and the months before it grappling with the possibilities, so unsure of where our road would lead.  And while we trusted that God would not lead us astray, we struggled with waiting for all the important facts to come in.  Would our baby be healthy?  Would a job change and move back home be the best choice?  Would another year in Santiago be OK?

After a trip to Anacortes that held both a lot of stress and a lot of love and laughter with family and friends, we ended our journey with 10 days in Colorado.  There, Rayna and I got the stomach flu, Ruth recovered from a broken hip, I worked my first full days in 18 months, and Jeff helped run a six-day long meeting preparing teams from 4 countries to implement systems research in water projects for USAID.  It passed in a hazy flash, and all of a sudden, we were leaving winter and returning home.  We were tired, we were ready, and we had a huge double stroller and infant car seat in addition to all our usual baggage.  Flying back into summer, we spent a week readjusting, seeing great friends, finding our flip flops and remembering how perfect popsicles are after a trip to the park.  With our big questions still before us, we knew one thing for sure…it was good to be home.

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!!!