Saturday, July 27, 2013

And then there were 2...

2 adults gringos that is.  This morning Laura and Kayla left for the U.S.  We are the only Americans left.  It's been a sad day.  It's the end of the 2012-13 Stint team.  We will for sure miss everyone, especially those who won't return for a second year.  In mid-September the new team will come.  And with it a lot of change.
Melissa & Kayla at 4:00 in the morning
Melissa & Laura
But with this current change hopefully comes some rest.  We won't have all of the team meetings/events that we would normally have.  We leave tomorrow for Ecuador to renew our visas.  There is a lot of sickness going around our family, so we're hoping this trip can be somewhat relaxing and that some of us aren't miserable.

Coming back from Ecuador, we will really be able to dive into planning for the coming year.  We'll also be able to work on ministry partner development (aka support raising).  That is a need after being here for about a year.

Overall, we just feel so blessed by this year.  Was it tiring?  Yes.  Was it incredibly stretching on our hearts, lives, marriage and family?  Yes.  Did God work in some pretty cool ways?  Yes.  We're excited for what's ahead and hoping it's a little less tiring!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sanctification is never easy

But who ever said it was?  The past day or so has proven that.  Let me just start with a disclaimer.  This might be a little raw.  Read with caution.  We are sinners after all....

Sometimes it can be rough to live in Venezuela.  There are lots of things that can be challenging.  But let me tell you the past day or so was INCREDIBLY challenging.  We lost power.  For approximately 28 hours.  Now that in and of itself isn't so terrible.  When you remove the 90+ degree heat and sun.  And the mosquitos.  And the noise.  And the dirt.  But when you combine all of those things, it just gets challenging.

Actually it's the 2nd time it's been turned off in the last 2 weeks.  We're not really sure what the deal was, but we owed some money.  We apparently were too late in paying.  Our fault.  I'll own that.  I had been paying about every 2 months (since I pay all 3 apartments for our team and I always take the kids and there's always a line).  Anywho, I digress.  My fault.  I should pay it every month.

But they didn't cut power for the other 2 apartments, thus part of the frustration.  And have I ever mentioned that the mosquitos here are terrible?  They perhaps breed in our apartment (closets, suitcases, wherever).  So imagine no fans and mosquitos.  Lots of bites.  I can handle that for myself, but it breaks my heart when my daughter gets all bit up and then ends up with scars from all of the scratching she does from those said bites.  How do you teach a 2/3 year old not to keep scratching those wretched things?

Again, I digress.  Sort of.  This is part of the frustration of having no power though.  It's hot here too, so we just sit in our sweat getting eaten by mosquitos.  The bug spray we have doesn't even really work.  We're at the mercy of smacking them as we find them.  But mostly they're so fast here that, unless they've bitten you at least once, they're pretty darn hard to catch.  You have to go into stealth mode or be a ninja.

Poor sweet Debora had also gone with me to the grocery store to help me buy the ingredients to make pabellon.  It's a national dish that I've always liked and wanted to learn how to make.  So when we get back from the store, we have no power.  No light in the kitchen.  No working fridge.  We're hoping it will come back on soon.  It didn't.  But Debora was a trooper.  She was relentless and still trucked through in the poorly lit kitchen.  I honestly didn't really learn how to make pabellon, but I could perhaps wing it now.  I was grateful for the awesome dinner though!

So I spent chunks of my day going to the electric company to try to pay the bill and figure out when it could be turned back on.  Good thing I didn't have anything else I needed to get done yesterday.  But one of the most frustrating things in all of this was that we felt lied to multiple times throughout the process.  I won't go into all the details, but we were told a few different stories on when it would actually get turned back on and who's fault it was that it hadn't been turned on yet.  This is the part of the story where Bart might have a few choice words to say, but we'll save that for his own personal post on that...

Our kids have also been sick.  It could be a mild form of the flu or just something funky they got here.  But of course Leah yesterday had a fever and I had to fan her with a book because she's hot as all get out and so uncomfortable.  This is where the fan comes in really handy.  Cranky, hot, feverish kids and no power make for a not fun scenario.

The best part throughout this process was how the Lord provided grace for Bart and I.  Rarely simultaneously.  Usually when he was flipping out about how much he hated it here, I was calm and cool and just rolling with the punches.  Then we would do a role reversal and I would flip out and he remained calm.  This happened multiple times in the period the power was out.  Praise the Lord for little blessings like that.  I for sure mentioned buying plane tickets back to the U.S. but didn't have the internet to have the ability to do so!  Blessings in disguise perhaps?

Alas the power is back on.  The kids were in their room for their naps/quiet times and Noah was so excited when their fan turned on that he almost woke Leah up to tell her about it.  :)  He's precious.  I think/hope that everything in the fridge/freezer is ok.  Time and smelling will tell I guess.  I'm a little hesitant to venture in that arena.  I was able to re-do a load of laundry after it sat all day yesterday in the washer.  Little things I take for granted, I'm a little more grateful for now.

One of the hardest parts about the whole situation was the aspect of having little or no control.  Oh control.  How I love thee.  Like a warm cozy blanket on a cold winter night (oh how I long for that reality, but yet AGAIN I digress).  I like me some control.  In large doses.  And I couldn't control a darn thing.  Outside of paying the bill which I gladly did (or not so gladly depending on how you look at it).  But neither of us can communicate well enough in Spanish to figure all of this out.  Nor could we complain or flip out like we could in the States if necessary.  No one cares here.  Customer service is not something they value nor have here.  So the Lord likes to subtly, or not so subtly, teach us ways in which we're maybe not relying on him.  Yes, perhaps I can't control things and maybe that's just not so bad for my heart sometimes.  One more area to grow in.

Honestly though, I'm just really grateful for Debora and Zuri and how they were so helpful in the process.  Debora by the end of the process was like a mama bear....all kinds of protective and just really in our corner.  She was mad at how the whole situation had been so messy and taken so long.  I felt really loved and cared for by her.  Not to mention the awesome food she made (she says she taught me, but she's a rock star and pretty much did everything).  And she helped me practice my Spanish which I rarely do!  What an absolute blessing from the Lord.  Zuri helped more with the process today because she also was frustrated with the electric company.  Two awesome women and I'm grateful for their presence in our lives!

So God is good.  I may have a few extra mosquito bites to show as reminders for his goodness.  I may have some spoiled food to show me how I shouldn't take things for granted.  I may need to pay the bill more often because these people are serious about their electricity!  But I for sure have 2 really precious kids who are grateful to have power.  And I have a husband who wanted to spend time with me at lunch today knowing that I was SUPER cranky (pre-power being turned back on).  Life is good even when it's maybe a little "bad."  But I would love another air conditioner, mosquito traps and a Taco Bell.  Hey, a girl can dream right?

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Well this week most Cru staff in the U.S. are gathered in Colorado for a week long conference called CSU.  We're sad we're not there to be able to connect with friends and be a part of an awesome week of connecting with the Lord.  We're not sad to be spending the thousands of dollars it would've cost us to fly there and back from Valencia, so it's a bit of a toss up.  Oh but to be at a conference where everyone speaks English and somewhat understands our life!

But alas we're here in Venezuela.  The great thing about the conference is that we get to listen to the talks and whatnot from the week.  They're posted at if you're interested.  So it's been life giving to be able to feel somewhat connected to what's going on, albeit a day or 2 after the fact.

Life is so much calmer now.  Our schedule is so much more relaxed.  We have one more weekly meeting, a goodbye party for the 2 remaining girls on the team and then it will just be a weekly Bible study with the student leaders all throughout August.  We will leave in a little over a week for a visa trip to Ecuador.  We're hoping it's somewhat relaxing even though it's a fair amount of travel time.  It's a necessary evil.

On a totally unrelated note, I went to the large grocery store today.  I rarely go there since it requires a 45+ minute walk, a bus or a taxi.  But I went today with Julieta and when we got there, we immediately saw a massive line of people the entire length of the building (wish I had my camera).  What were they in line for?  Arepa mix.  It's essentially a corn flour type mix that they use for everything here.  Good thing I didn't need any of that.  They had butter though!  They were allowing people to buy a whole box which contained 12 separate containers.  I opted for only buying 4 containers instead of a whole box since I can't imagine I would need more than 4 between now and January when they expire.

This is the coveted arepa mix

It's crazy though.  The food shortages have made people a little more on edge.  Someone commented to us as we were walking in....they thought we were cutting the line to get the arepa mix.  Nope.  No need for that.  We just want normal groceries.  But there was definitely an armed security guard right inside the door.  That's been something new.  When the stores put out the arepa mix, there are always armed guards.  That's how ridiculous people get over this stuff.  It's unreal to me.  But it was a successful trip.  I was able to find some milk, which has been really hard to come by.  Lately I've been having to ask around at different little kiosks if they have any and I buy like 2 liters at a time.  I'm hoping milk doesn't become an issue since our kiddos need it.

This is a normal line at the grocery store.  Everyone stocks up on whatever they need when they can find it.  Some  people go as far as having each person in their family purchase the limit of what they can get (many shortage items have limits as to how much each person can buy).  Others will ask strangers to buy things for them so they can get more.

And yet another totally unrelated note, I've been reading a lot of articles lately about emotional intelligence.  Really interesting stuff.  It makes me wonder if I have low emotional intelligence.  I have a tendency to have facial reactions that aren't really expressing how I feel.  Or maybe I'm just a bad communicator.  Or both.  I would like to think that I know myself well and understand why I'm feeling the way I'm feeling.  Which actually that is probably true.  The problem is how I react.  I think I tend to overreact when I feel a certain way.  One more thing to talk through in counseling I guess.  :)

Would you pray for us and the team for the next week?  Pray for the 2 gals that are getting ready to leave.  Laura has been having some recent health issues and we're hoping she's doing ok so she can go back to the U.S. and just get it figured out there.  Kayla is preparing to be gone for a year or so to return as long-term staff here.  It will be hard for her to leave for so long knowing she'll be back.  And it's yet one more transition for our family.  It's been hard for the team to get smaller and smaller over time.  It'll be quite a shock when our team is around 18 people come mid-September!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A first, amongst others

This past week has been a lot of recovering.  Leah recovering from her face being torn up and sore.  Me (Melissa) recovering (or trying to) from major neck/back pain.  Bart recovering from the valley of despair.  So this week has been a little rough.  Our air conditioner is officially pooped out.  It leaks tons of water when we try to turn it on.

But we decided to do something with the kids for the first time since we've been here.  We went to a movie.  Leah has never been to the theater and it was maybe Noah's 2nd or 3rd time, so this is a special treat.  We went to see Monsters University.  The only down side, it was in Spanish.  All of the kids movies here come out in Spanish and then you can potentially buy them later on dvd in English.  So we decided to go ahead and do it.  The kids loved it (minus Noah being scared at different points).  Noah seemed to follow basically what was going on in the movie.  I think Leah just loved being there.  It was a nice little break to have in the air conditioning.

Unfortunately it wasn't very fun to be home the rest of the day.  Our power was out for over 8 hours.  Now that in and of itself isn't terrible.  But when you live in a really warm place with no fans or air circulation, that can be a little rough.  We ate dinner by candlelight and it took a couple of collected hours to get it turned back on (there was some sort of miscommunication where the electric company turned off multiple people's power even though they had paid).  It's still on and we still don't have all of the details worked out, but we're hopeful, I think.  Fans not only keep us a little cooler, but help keep the mosquitos from biting as often.

One other fun thing we've been experiencing lately is that the kids have learned how to play the game of Uno.  At first, only Noah learned it, but it was pure torture for Leah to be excluded from playing so she learned.  She still doesn't know all of her numbers, but this is a quicker, funner way to learn them!  They ask multiple times a day to play and we can't really say no because it's a great learning experience.  They have trouble with the competitive aspect and always want to win, but we're working on being excited for the other person and just enjoying each other.  Leah has the hardest time with it.

Ministry is kind of non-existent at this point, but we're actually pretty grateful for that.  After 9+ months of going strong, we are just tired.  Dog tired.  And so we have the occasional meeting here and there and we will have this week our first summer Bible study for leaders.  The large weekly gathering still meets on Thursdays so that's a great touch-point with students, but we're so thankful for the break in the schedule.  July and August will be so low key.  We'll be able to really get to work on prepping for next year in many ways.  We'll be able to work on our support, hopefully with unreliable internet at times.  And we'll be able to have some great family time together.  That's always a good thing.

Will you pray for us though?  Will you pray we have a good attitude when things don't always go as we would like them to?  Would you pray that these next 2 months would be refreshing for our family and our hearts?  Would you pray for little things like our air conditioner getting fixed and consistently having power and water?

We're so incredibly grateful for those of you who care about us, who pray for us, who support us, who send us sweet encouragement notes.  It all really means the world to us when we feel so separated from the world and home we know and love.  We're so blessed.  And sorry for the lack of pictures to break up this post.  With our camera being broken, we can only take pictures as it decides to work!

Monday, July 01, 2013

A Birthday

Leah turned 3 yesterday!  It's hard to believe that she is three already.  She has grown so much and it feels like she became a "real person" faster than Noah.  Now Noah just seems so grown up.  But Leah is spunky and brave and shy and crazy and if she were a boy, I'd say she was all boy.  She also loves wearing her princess dresses and shoes.  She has a new love for girl movies now that she has the option of not watching all of her brother's favorites.  The princess ones are growing on him a bit too.

She loves doing school with Noah.  She has picked up so many things just from him.  Her own little personality comes out though when she gets so excited to see people, but then hides behind us like she's afraid.  Wait, weren't you excited to see them?  She loves going out anytime we go out.  She would much rather be out and about than hanging out at home.  She has a newfound fear of the dark, which makes bedtime a little tough, but she's doing pretty good with it.

She's such a blessing and so much fun to be around (minus the times with attitude).  We can't imagine what life would be like without her.  Noah calls her his best friend and tells her when he thinks she's beautiful.  We pray that they will always be close and love each other well the rest of their lives.

Here's a bit of what happened yesterday for her special day....
She woke up and snuggled in bed with mama for a bit before her brother came in and told her happy birthday.  It was literally the first thing he said to her.  He was almost as excited as she was.
She requested a Pop Tart for breakfast (how on earth she new we had a small stash from a visa trip, I do not know).  Then we talked to Grandma and Grandpa Grover on Skype and she got to open presents from them.  Lots of Hello Kitty stuff and she loved it!
Then we were ready to meet up with the team to go to the zoo.  While we were waiting, she had a pretty rough accident.  She was swinging on her belly on the swing and kissed the concrete.  Ouch.  So our trip got delayed 10 or so minute while we cleaned up the blood and calmed her down.
It was a little rough going after that.  She wanted to be carried and was a little whiny, but overall she did great.  She had a puffy nosy and upper lip, but she enjoyed the time at the zoo.  The part with the fish and snakes was open, so we were able to see that stuff for the first time.  But we got there too late to be able to go to the dolphin show.  The zoo has 2 fresh water dolphins and they put on a little show a couple of times a day.  She wasn't too upset about it though.  We've seen it before and it's nothing to get worked up about!
Then we all headed to Burger King for lunch.  I think just about every Burger King and McDonalds in this country has a play place, so the kids love going there.  She didn't enjoy the playing so much since her face hurt, but she played a bit.
Then a nice long nap after a loooong morning.  We just had mac & cheese (this is how you know we love our daughter, when we give her our rationed supply that can only be found on visa trips or when people bring it!) and some veggies.  She loved it of course.  Then the team came back over for some cake and we just hung out and played Uno and talked.
For her nighttime snack, she got to talk to Grandma Shadle for a bit, but the internet wasn't working well so it wasn't a very long conversation.
Overall it was a good day.  For sure, it was a little rougher than planed, but she enjoyed it.  Now come the challenges of nighttime potty training and convincing her to stop sucking her thumb.  In due time, I guess.

Our camera is dying (probably from sand getting in it), but here are a few pictures we've been able to take:
This is Leah (in Venezuela) for her first birthday.
This is Leah's pirate face.  This has nothing to do with her birthday but more of her personality.  Arg!
She helped make her birthday cake.

I'm not so sure about this candle thingy.

After a few tries (and moving the candle closer), she was able to blow it out.  She's so proud of herself.

Here you can see the day-after effects of kissing the concrete.  Her nose is still puffy and bruising a bit.  She has to give extra gentle kisses, but still gives them nonetheless!
She loves the new shirt and the new tattoos!  Thank you Grandma!