Saturday, August 31, 2013

One year

"What have we gotten ourselves into?"  That has been the question we've often asked ourselves over the past year.  And at times we're still not sure!  But it has officially been one year that we've lived in Venezuela.  At times it feels like it's been longer while other times it seems unimaginable that we've been here that long.
Within days of arriving, they're enjoying the riding toys
Some interesting numbers from the past year:
14 - the number of flights we've been on for visa trips
4 - the number of visa trips we've had to take to remain in the country legally
6 - the number of Americans we've had to say good-bye to
5 - the number of student retreats we've had
2 - the number of staff conferences
36 - the number of weeks of pre-school with Noah & Leah
16 - the approximate number of peanut butters we've gone through
1 - the number of new interns we have from last year
11 - the number of years since we started dating (it was 8/31/02)
47 - the number of students who came to our national student conference in March
16 - the number of students who committed to coming on summer project to Panama next month
1 - the number of doctor visits (Leah had a UTI)
3 - the number of times we've been to the zoo
15 - the number of pieces of luggage we brought with us
2 - the number of presidential elections while we've been here
300% - the value of the dollar versus when we arrived

The oh so many times we played in the rain
-Countless times to the amusement park, McDonalds, Burger King and pizza places
-Countless hours in staff meetings, Bible studies and prayer
-Countless tears shed for the difficulty of life in being here, for our marriage, our family, our team, the students and many others
-Countless emails to friends and family, Skype dates with loved ones and facebook connections
They just downright love the buses here,
especially when they get their own seat
0 - the number of hospital visits, so no major health issues
0 - the number of times we've been robbed
0 - the number of times anything dangerous has happened to the team
2 - the number of apartments we've lived in (praise the Lord we found housing!!)
Countless protests and marches as a result of the political situation here, but we've remained safe through it all

It feels so difficult to sum up the past year.  It's been hard.  It's been good.  It's been discouraging at times.  It's been really exciting at times.  This is such a roller coaster we're on.  I think when we look back over the past year, we're just really grateful.  We're grateful that our marriage hasn't fallen apart.  We're grateful that our kids are doing well.  We're incredibly grateful for really good health while we've been here.  We're grateful for the relationships we have as a result of being here.  There is just so much to be grateful for.
Waiting for Papa as he leaves for campus
so we can wave goodbye out the window

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A break

We just got back from the mountains.  One of the downsides to not having a car is that we don't get to get outside of the city very often.  But we decided to take a trip out of the city to a town called Colonia Tovar.  It's about 2.5 hours away by car.  There's something fun about this town.  It's a little German village, complete with German food, in the mountains.  So it's pretty, it's not the city, fresh air, good food, there's grass and it's cooler.  Did we mention it's in the mountains?

People working on the side of the mountain.  This is
probably a strawberry field since the mountainsides
were covered with them.
A farther away view of the people working
on the side of the mountain
Bart loves the mountains, thus this trip happening.  But there is something really great about being able to get outside of a loud, dirty city to a place where you can hear the church bells ring every hour and half hour.  We didn't need fans.  We didn't experience mosquitos.  We started a fire in our room.  Twice.  Not because we needed to, but more because we could.  The kids really enjoyed that.  Our room even had a little kitchen area, so we could sit and enjoy our banana bread for breakfast every morning.
Watching the fire
We were amused by this wishing well.  It had coins but also
many bills worth 2 or 5 (sometimes even 10) bolivars!
Bart was in heaven with all of the sausage, sauerkraut (this wasn't quite as common) and the potato salad.  I would have to agree that it was a nice change to the normal food we eat.  We were able to buy peaches, strawberries, jelly and all kinds of good chocolate.  It's so strange.  It's almost like we leave Venezuela.  So many good things that we rarely come across in Valencia.

Two of the many chocolate suckers we HAD
 to buy while we were there
One of the great things about being away was the cabanas (as they were called) were on the side of the mountain and had a nice big hill and a play area.  That's why we went to this specific hotel so the kids could enjoy our time there.  They loved running (or falling, sliding, rolling, whatever) down the hill.  They LOVED wrestling and playing with Bart in the grass, creating base to have a safe place where they wouldn't get tackled.  We had a nice long pretend play time in the "house" as the kids called it during one of the few times there weren't other kids around.
Funny faces during our pretend time
More funny faces
The kids didn't love the hikes up and down the to get to center of town and back.  We had to carry them periodically or put them on our shoulders.  We can't blame them.  It's literally kind of a hike with the hills.  Overall, it was just a really great trip to get away and have some time to disconnect from the world and connect with each other.  We started doing hi's and low's at dinner and the kids love it.  Leah's low doesn't usually change, but she's 3.  Our standards are low.
This is what happens when the taxi you arranged to come
pick you up arrives over 3 hours late....

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Another first

Yesterday we started school.  Oh my.  I'm not exactly sure what I'm getting myself into with trying to do kindergarten, but so far it feels a little overwhelming.  I'm not sure how people do it with more than 1 kid.  Last year Leah was usually pretty engaged, but after 2 days I think she's already a little bored.

The stories are longer, the information a little more intense.  I mean, it's a little complicated trying to explain that the sun doesn't move, but the earth goes around the sun, while spinning, while tilting (or not) while the moon goes around the earth.  I don't have enough hands for all of that!
This was meant for Noah, but how can we exclude the
little girl who always wants to do it too?

But Noah is doing great so far.  We started on a Friday because we're heading out of town on Tuesday to go to the mountains for a little break from the heat (and for mercy on poor Bart's allergies).  So we'll truck through until Tuesday and then take about a week off to start up again.  We couldn't really get behind because the chaos of our lives, visa trips, holidays, retreats, etc force us to take days (or a week) off from school.  And let's be honest, I don't want to be going into the end of June or even July with school.  That just doesn't sound fun for anyone.

Noah has been really excited for all of the new books.  Leah loves flipping through them and finding fun things.  The curriculum we're using does memory verses (with songs!) every week, so the kids enjoy that aspect.  Overall, Noah is loving all of the new games, tools, things that come with this new school year.  It is for sure a lot of work for him since he's a perfectionist (which means a ton of patience for me), but I think he's going to like it. He tells me he doesn't want to go to school and wants me to always be his teacher.  We'll see how long that lasts!
Working on our angry eyes.  This is something that started
from one of the Toy Story movies and has just carried over
into everyday life.  We give angry eyes on command,
although Leah does struggle with the serious aspect of it...

Leah on the other hand talks about wanting to go to school with Lucas, their Venezuelan friend. He of course is old enough for school, but she doesn't get that.  Her being the little social butterfly that she is would love to always be out and about.  She argues with us when we're out and we tell her we're going home. Even to the point of tantrums. Girlfriend loves to be out.  Or the fact that we have bars on our door and windows might have something to do with it (I'm also not a huge fan of the prison feel).  But we figure it out.

On a completely different note, we were able to Skype with the team that is coming in September!  They are all currently at the briefing in Chicago and we thought it'd be fun to chat with them a bit since we're obviously not there.  They were pretty blurry and it was hard to hear them, but it was great to at least feel like we could see them and try to connect a bit.  We're praying they continue to work hard at support so they can all come. Would you pray for our team, that they would be diligent and faithful to raising all of their support by September 1st?  We're excited for how this year's team is going to fit together!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The cost

One of the things I'm really starting to wrestle through at this point is the cost of living in Venezuela.  Sometimes it's not much.  It can be something so little.  Like my wedding ring.  I really miss my wedding ring.  We decided before we left that it was more important to us that I didn't wear it for 2 years than have it stolen in VZ and never see it again.  It has sentimental value, you know?  There are a few little things like that, that aren't really a big deal, but I'm to the point where it's just not fun anymore.

One of the harder things I’m wrestling through right now is adoption.  I’m really sad that we won’t be able to even start the adoption process until we get back to the U.S. and get somewhat settled.  And honestly the thought of trying to go back and transition and get settled and THEN trying to start the adoption process feels really messy.  I’m guessing I won’t have much energy for it for a few months after we get back.  And I even wonder how much of the adoption process can or will affect whether or not we even want to come back to Venezuela long term.  We desire more kids, but not through me (at least from my perspective...Bart can write his own post on that).  

So I’m trying to figure out how to grieve.  It’s not like we lost something, but I’m grieving that we have to wait.  It's not necessarily a no, but a not now.  And with that comes the real price of being in Venezuela.  It actually feels right now like there’s a cost to being here.  Sure there are other costs, but it just feels like the Lord is asking us to wait.  And waiting is hard.  I want what I want and I want it now.  And the adoption process takes enough time on it’s own as is.  So I’m just prolonging the already long process.  And it makes me sad.  I don’t like being sad.  

One of the things I was talking through with my counselor was how do I work through the feelings that I’m having?  I’m at a point where I can tangibly see the cost of living here and how do I deal with that?  Well, I think I choose to understand that following Jesus and dying to self is more important than getting what I want.  Sure that’s the spiritual answer, but at the end of the day, that’s all I have to hold on to.  I can stomp my feet and cry and throw a fit and demand to go back to the U.S. so I can get (or at least try) what I want.  But then I’m just being manipulative and controlling my circumstances.  And that’s not what Jesus calls me to.  Unfortunately.  

Gosh, how much easier life would be if I could just have what I wanted when I wanted it.  But then that would work for everyone, and life would just be one big hot mess of a whole stinking lot of selfish people.  What a mess.  So right now, even though I’m not really grateful, I’m a little bit grateful that the Lord is using this time to refine me.  He’s using this time of waiting and being patient to refine my heart.  I’m selfish.  And that’s not always a bad thing.  The Lord gives us desires to have a family.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I also have to wait on his timing.  Sometimes I don’t always agree with his timing.  

But I also chose this.  I chose to come to Venezuela and commit to being here for 2 years.  I, of course, didn’t realize the pain that could come with it, but I choose to be obedient.  Just like I chose to be obedient to a lot of things.  Like my husband, or my kids.  I could just let them fend for themselves, but at what cost?  Praise the Lord he’s bigger than all of these things.  Praise the Lord that one day all will be made right.  I’m long for that day.  Until then, I choose to be obedient.  I’ll try not to throw a fit and be all dramatic, even though it’s hard at times.  

At this point, even though it seems contradictory, I’m excited.  I’m excited for what the waiting will bring.  Maybe we won’t have more physical children in our family, but maybe this time of waiting means more spiritual children that we get to invest in while we’re here in Venezuela.  Maybe God wants me to see how I can relinquish this dream right now so that somehow someone else’s dream can be fulfilled.  I don’t know.  I’m glad that he is faithful, especially when I’m not.  I’m glad that all he calls me to is faithfulness.  I’m here.  I’m trying to be faithful to the task he has ahead of me.  And goodness gracious, I’m so stinking grateful for the 2 wonderful children he has given me.  Parenting is hard, but they find a way to melt my heart each and every day.

Friday, August 09, 2013

I survived

Well for those of you who are women reading this, you will totally understand.  The men, maybe not.  But I got my hair cut today.  In Venezuela.  By a Venezuelan.  I think I'll be ok.

I put it off for too long.  It had been well over a year.  Granted, my hair was nice and long, but boy was it looking a little rough on the ends.  And honestly, I was a little terrified to get my hair cut here.  I've heard stories.  Not terrible stories.  I'm sure it could never be as bad as living in Baku where lots of women have a mullet-type thing going on.  Count your blessings, right?

I tried to talk Leah into getting hers trimmed too.  She's getting to the point where a trim would be helpful.  But she was defiant and insistent that she didn't need one.  I tried bribery, but to no avail.  Next time, maybe bigger and better bribery.  Maybe I can have something with me as incentive.  We'll see.  This is why men/boys are easier.  Clippers.  Done.

This week has been a little chaotic with random things going on.  We've had a quite a few Skype meetings with different people for planning and whatnot.  Bart has had been gone off and on to help the staff family move their things to the girls' apartment until they can move into their new place.  I've been working more actively on language (about time, I know).  It's killing me, but luckily my "teacher" is great!

Oh great news.  We got our air conditioner fixed!!!!!  It's been about 2 months of it being on the fritz, leaking water or not blowing cold air, so a lot of the past 2 months it's been turned off.  Goo.  Yuck.  Blah.  You name it.  Even though it's in our bedroom, it does an ok job of keeping the whole apartment a little bit cooler.  And when you live in Venezuela, every little bit helps.  No more fighting who gets the middle of the bed where the fan blows the strongest!  I'm very grateful for that.

Pray for me.  I'm on the verge of writing a post about something that has really been heavy on my heart lately.  But I don't really want to.  It just feels really painful for me.  I will though.  I promise.  And one of these days maybe I'll convince Bart to post something charming and theologically mind-blowing on here.  You need to get away from my ramblings from time to time....

ADDENDUM on 8/10: Upon showering, washing, putting product in and taking a closer look.....there had to be some slight modifications to my hair.  Yup, took some scissors to it.  Oh well.  What can you do?

Monday, August 05, 2013

Ecuador (Part 3)

This post is going to be a little more random facts about our trip that we found amusing.

There's no picture for this but rather just a plug for how great Bart is.  On the ride from the airport to the hotel (2+ hours), Bart had a pretty cool spiritual conversation with the guy driving us.  He worked for the hotel and was a student at a local university.  I didn't catch all of the conversation between the kids and the English/Spanish switching, but it was really fun to see Bart initiating an intentional conversation with someone that he would probably never see again.  And he could've chosen to just sit back and enjoy the ride.  But he chose to engage and pursue Martin even though he was tired and wanted to rest. He's pretty great!

Check out the below picture of all of the president/vice president signatures.  Apparently the hotel we stayed at and the restaurant are pretty popular for people who run countries.  At least in South America maybe.  Bart thought this was the coolest thing.  At one point we were laying in bed and he goes, "You know, we could be sleeping in the same bed that Chavez slept in when he was here.  Or Castro.  Or Ahmadinejad.  Isn't that crazy?"  There are only 8 rooms in the hotel (that they seemed to use), so the odds of that being true aren't too bad actually.
The board with all of the random "important" people's signatures
We found out that we weren't very far from the middle of the earth, or Middle Earth as we called it while we were there.  It was the line for the equator.  There was a pretty legitimate park, monument and a lot of shops and restaurants. There was an admission fee to get in, so it was way more intense than we were expecting.  We just expected a little statue or something, but it was pretty cool.
Noah running to the monument

Bart and Noah on either side of the equator

We were loving all of the fresh air of being in the mountains.  We explored down the mountain at one point.  Noah didn't enjoy it at all.  He has a tendency to overreact and think we're going to get lost.  At one point, we came across two random dogs, one of which seemed not very friendly so we decided to head back toward civilization.
On our little hike

It was really cool to watch the fog come in and out on the mountains.  At different points we could even feel the clouds/fog pouring over us.  It was a crazy feeling.  It was so surreal to get to experience the presence of God and his grace as we spent the time in the mountains.  We had one conversation about the power and majesty of the mountains.  It was hard not to in a setting like that.
Bart spending time with the Lord as the fog rolls in

We just felt so blessed to be able to get to go and stay where we stayed.  We were shocked at how nice it was for how little it actually cost.  The travel to and from was not super fun, but overall, we're really glad we chose to go and experience something we will never experience again.

The fog coming over the mountains to the side of the hotel

It has been good to be back in Venezuela.  At times, we've reminisced about what we miss about the U.S., but overall I think we're doing well.  We're trying to get caught up from being gone and trying to think through some of the planning we need to do for the fall and the arrival of the team.  We're grateful we had some time to talk through and process some of those things even in Quito.  Would you pray for us as we try to think through the fall and what the team and our family need?
It was tricky getting a family photo with no one around

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Ecuador (Part 2)

So if you haven't read the previous post, read part 1.  It will help you know how we were feeling arriving in Ecuador.

Ok, at this point we're at the hotel.  Hungry.  The guy checks us in and asks if we're ready to eat.  We say yes of course.  He says, can you wait 20 minutes?  Ok.  I mean what choice do we have?  We're literally in the middle of nowhere and we had already bought the "meal plan" with the hotel since we knew they had a restaurant.  We can be patient.  Let's get a little settled.  Maybe we should move Leah's mattress to the floor so when she rolls off it won't be as painful.  :)  We can do that.

The view from our bed
The view from the other side of the room, from the kids' beds
So we head to the restaurant.  We go in the kitchen.  Not the right door.  Well, it's dark and we have no idea where we're going.  Fast forward.  Let's just get dinner.  Filet minion.  Yes, I'll have that since we've already paid for the food.  Now we just need to figure out what to get for the kids that won't cost an arm and a leg.  A necessary evil.  They do have to eat after all.

We're not going to go into detail about this, but all we'll say is the food was AMAZING.  We both ordered steak multiple times.  The chicken and pasta dishes were great also.  Breakfast was a plate of fresh fruit with amazing bread and eggs.  We felt soooo blessed by the food.  We also couldn't believe how decent the prices were.  The steaks were around $17.  As we savored the food for the 2ish days we were there, we couldn't help but think that it was perfect timing.  Sure we maybe were spending more on food than we would've liked, but we hadn't had food this good in about a year.  Manna from heaven.  We felt legitimately spoiled that we could be enjoying food that was so good.
The kids enjoyed the rocks that looked like
an upside down ice cream cone

Enough about the food.  This hotel is in the middle of the mountains.  They advertised that it's on the edge of a volcano.  We're not sure where the actual volcano was, but we didn't care.  We could literally look out either side of our hotel room to see mountains.  We looked out the window from our bed to see  gorgeous green mountains and blue skies.  From the view of the kids beds we could see the city of Quito down in the valley surrounded by mountains.  It was surreal.  Awesome.  Breathtaking.
Papa and Leah with a llama in the background

There was nothing to do there.  So we went for walks.  We explored.  We tried to pet the resident llamas but they would have none of it.  We tried.  Oh well.  We walked a couple of paths and explored a bit.  We played Uno and Go Fish.  The kids watched some Mickey Mouse and other random things we could find on the tv.  It was just really chill.  And we loved it.  No computer.  No ipad.  No phones.  No internet.  We didn't even know what time it was most of the time.  Totally unplugged.  It was so great.
Breakfast.  The views from the restaurant were just as great.
We really enjoyed our time there.  But like most great things, it started to get a little hard with the kids.  As many of you know, kids like toys and being entertained.  Well, this wasn't exactly the place for that.  Had it just been the 2 of us, we probably would've welcomed/enjoyed more time there.  But like many things with our kids, they lost interest pretty quickly.  So we arrived on Sunday around 8:00 pm and left on Wednesday around 2:30 in the morning.  It was plenty of time there.
Leah loved picking all of the flowers we saw

We're really glad we decided to go there.  Part of our thinking in choosing that place was because we weren't sure if we'd ever go to Ecuador, let alone that hotel.  So we decided to be a little adventurous and we're glad we were.  We'll post a third and final post about our visit.  There's a few fun details about our time there that we want to share....
Noah loving sitting on the "rock chair"

Ecuador (Part 1)

We're back from Ecuador.  Thankfully.  It was a really great trip but we're so glad to be home.  The trip started out ok.  The kids seemed tired right from the get-go so that was a little strange.  Our first flight didn't leave until 11:45 in the morning so we weren't sure what was going on.

The first flight was fine.  We got to Bogota, Columbia.  We barely had enough time to go to the bathroom and board the plane.  Let's also just mention that they have some funky systems at that airport.  Both going and returning through Bogota, we boarded in a hallway and stairwell with passengers for another flight.  So there was a fair amount of confusion.  They you had to make sure you got on the right bus/tram to get on the correct plane.  What?  Who thought this was a good idea?  It happened both times.  Strange.  Very strange.  And not very efficient.
Leah on the ride from the airport to the hotel
We had 2 flights though.  And the 2nd flight was when it started to get a little rough.  Apparently there is a lot of wind in Quito.  We circled Quito for a while in turbulence.  Both Bart and I were not doing well.  The first problem was that we tried to eat whatever the kids didn't eat of their airplane food.  Well had we known we were going to be jostled around for who knows how long, we probably would've not done that.  But we did.  I threw up.  A lot.  Bart just felt really sick but managed to hold it down.
Quito from our hotel window

So we were feeling pretty rough by the time the plane landed.  I did feel better however when we were leaving the plane and Bart pointed out someone's vomit down the side of the wall and all over the floor.   Yup, you read that right.  Apparently someone else was losing it also but instead of finding a bag they decided to puke down the wall.  Seems right, right?  Gross.  So I knew at that point that I wasn't just some sensitive crazy person (I mean, the fact that Bart wasn't doing so hot either helped too).  But that's just disturbing.  There's a part of me that had wished I had taken a picture, but would I really want a picture of that?

Ok, so we're holding it together.  Praise the Lord the kids were doing fine and not feeling sick.  Seriously, praise the Lord.  We come out after getting our bag and we're just really looking forward to getting to the hotel to rest.  Albeit we're not looking forward to the 1.5-2 hour drive to the hotel, but it's a necessary evil.  By the way, as I a side note, we had no idea the hotel was soooo far away from the airport when we booked it.  Whoops!
A glimpse of something better to come.  We arrived when it was dark
so it was hard to tell what we would see in the daylight from our bed.
But no one was there to pick us up.  Wait, I know I emailed them (the hotel) multiple times about arranging transportation from the airport.  They had just confirmed a couple of days before that they would pick us up.  Great.  No one.  So we wait a while.  Finally we go to the taxi counter.  They haven't even heard of the hotel.  No clue.  They send us to the information desk.  Luckily they just let us use the phone and luckily we had the number of the hotel and were able to call.  The dude was on his way.  There were traffic issues.  And to his credit, it was legitimate stuff.  There was a rock slide onto one of the main roads that got him to the airport.

So the guy picks us up.  At that point, we had been waiting for around an hour.  We're tired.  And not feeling great.  But we're making progress.  Little did we know the trip would end up being 2 hours with a lot of winding mountain roads with stop and go traffic at times, so add more nauseousness to the trip.  Leah was able to sleep a bit, but the ride was hard for the kids overall.  Just really long.  By the time we got to the hotel, it was well past 7:30 and we were all tired and hungry.
More pictures to come....

Stay tuned for part 2 of the trip.  It really does get better....