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Goodbye To My 20’s! Hello 30’s! November 6, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 1:11 pm

I suppose a decade change is a good time for reflection. I’m officially 30 years old today! I have so many wonderful memories to look back in from my 20’s. It was a phenomenal decade for me. 

I graduated from Florida State University alongside my then boyfriend named Andrew. We have traveled the world together in the last decade. My 20’s brought me to eight different countries and eight beautifully unique cultures to experience. One of my favorite parts of celebrating my birthday is to watch the well wishes flow in from around the world from friends who have been a part of my life throughout the years. I think you have to find your community and your people. But when that has a chance to spill over into other communities, I truly believe it makes life more beautiful.

I got engaged and married that wonderful guy I met when I was 18. We got real jobs and entered the very real world of adulthood and responsibilities. We bought our first home together, our sweet little beach house. My oh my, does it take serious determination to stick it out in the throes of home ownerships. Every time something breaks, you drop to your knees and pray it isn’t the most costly repair in the world. 

As far as the jobs, I can look back and see how poorly I handled some situations early on in my career, yet how it prepared me for what was to come. Never am I one to pat myself on the back, but I can see now how much better I handled myself in a similar set of struggles and situations years later, only by going through it and learning a lot the first go around. 

Somewhere along the way, we picked up this ridiculously cute puppy named Mack who has made life more fun since he came into it. Even as a reread that sentence just now, I know that while fun is an understatement, so would be every other word I could use. There are no words for how grateful we are to have that little nut in our life. Couldn’t have imagined when we got him that he would move to a foreign country with us the very next year. I mean seriously could not have imagined… that dog went through some crazy puppy phase destruction in that first year. For so long I thought to myself, we will never be able to not crate this dog when we aren’t here. Never. But Mack worked it out with the Holy Spirit because he was awesome when we moved to Costa Rica. 
Ahhh yes. The move. I’ve only ever lived in Jacksonville, Florida (minus a couple of years in Tallahassee at FSU) and really only dreamed of living abroad. Then of course, God made that dream a reality for me when He commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. Andrew and I sure set off on the adventure of a lifetime when we agreed to go. I’ll never stop thanking God for the opportunity to do that.

When we returned to the US, it was time to start a family. Baby Ruth has filled our lives with so many blessings. I could go on and on forever with how much I love that sweet little girl. She is Andrew and I’s greatest blessing. I now see why people have one child and stop there. She is my whole world and it is difficult to imagine her not being my entire focus. Can I say… that is the reason we have just Mack. We have considered for years getting another dog. But time and time again, we’ve decided against it because we love Mack so much and don’t want him to feel like he’s not our whole world when it comes to fur babies. Now I sound like a crazy cake discussing dog psychology so I’ll move on.

I struggle with cloud 9 syndrome, more so now that ever before. I am forever grateful for the life I have and genuinely feel it is too good to be true, that perhaps it will all disappear out from under me one day. But what thing that can never disappear is all of the experiences and memories and people’s imprints in my life that have gotten me to this point. 

I’m lucky to exit my 20’s with many of the same people I came into it with. I am thankful for the friendships that have spanned this time and hope I’m still doing life with this group of friends when I exit my 30’s. 

Here’s to a new year, a new decade, all new experiences and travels to new places, new memories to be made and friends to meet along the way, but most importantly, here’s to the same awesome life! 

I’ll leave you with some lyrics from a song we sang in church this morning that resonated with my soul…
I will sing of all You’ve done

I’ll remember how far You carried me

From beginning until the end

You are faithful, faithful to the end

There wasn’t a day

That You weren’t by my side

There wasn’t a day

That You let me fall

All of my life

Your love has been true

All of my life

I will worship You

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Be Nice September 30, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 3:29 pm

There are so many cliché titles that I could’ve given this blog post. Be kind to one another like Ellen DeGeneres says. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Treat others as you would like to be treated. 

I was just at Fresh Market staring down a panini, thinking man did that look better than the lunch I had planned back home. An older gentleman in front of me had just ordered an Italian panini for himself so I asked him if he’d ever tried it before. He said he always ordered Italian sandwiches at places like that so he figured Italian was the best option for him here at Fresh Market, but he’d never tried one there before today. I told him that I order Italian sandwiches too so I thought I would give it a shot today as well. He then asked me if he could share a quick poem with me. It was kind of a strange request, but why not? I could’ve easily been the typical 30 year old standing there in line with my phone in my face checking social media. Or I could be someone who actually had a conversation with another human being, an old fashioned conversation where you speak to someone out loud face to face. For some reason, I could tell he just wanted to have a conversation. 

He shared with me this poem from memory which was quite impressive. He told me a little bit about the history of the poem. And then he told the guy at the counter to cut his panini into thirds – one third for him, one third for his wife, and one third for me. 

I of course told him he really didn’t have to do that, but he insisted because he wanted to do something nice for me for being so kind to him. That really struck me as both strange and familiar at the same time. I think sometimes we’re so jaded by the current state of society, that we start to believe that kindness doesn’t exist anymore. I remember so well how my grandma used to thank me for spending time with her and taking her places. She was always grateful that a young person like me would want to spend time with an old person like her. I think the familiarity of that is what drew me to the conversation with this older man to begin with. He told me about one other poem that I think I’ll look up when I get home. When the panini was ready, he handed me my third and I thanked him for it. He asked me how old I thought he was and before I could give a guess, he told me he was 81.5. Just like that. Eighty-one point five years old.

We parted ways and I began to eat my panini as I walked through the rest of the store. I checked out with my items and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man and his wife sitting at the front of the store eating there share of the panini. I walked over to him and thanked him one more time for the panini. He wanted to introduce me to his wife Nancy and excitedly told me that they would be married 56 years this December. We had another minute or so of conversation, and then I left to go home.

Little episodes like that are very good reminders for me to be present and available to simply be nice to people. I could have not struck up a conversation and it wouldn’t have mattered, it’s not like that would’ve been rude. But by taking a moment to talk to this man, it just made both of our days a little bit better. Be nice! It would truly make the world a bit brighter! 

 

Feliz Navidad Everyone! December 21, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 9:39 pm

I haven’t written a blog in what feels like ages. Actually, according to WordPress archives, it has been almost a year and a half. I guess once I stopped being a “missionary” in another country, I figured it wasn’t worth updating everyone on my life and what was happening nonstop. But then again, life is just as interesting as it is ever been before. And just as my last blog stated, life is every bit as worth writing about now as it was before, just from a different perspective these days.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the primary reasons Andrew and I came home from Costa Rica when we did was because we felt that God was calling us to return to the United States and begin a family. Therefore, that’s just what we did! In the summer after we returned, we decided to try and have a baby. We were so fortunate and exactly in the part of the plan where we were supposed to be because within just a few months I became pregnant with a beautiful baby girl. I could talk for ages about being pregnant, but I will leave it at a surreal experience. When we went to Costa Rica last year for the Christmas parties in December, I was already pregnant and didn’t know it. Everyone kept asking when we were going to have kids and we kept saying we don’t know. But one person there already seemed to know. Pastor Maria, the woman that led our women’s ministry, told me that I was pregnant the moment I first saw her. As in those were the first words out of her mouth. I told her that I wasn’t because I honestly didn’t know that I was. And she just pointed up towards the sky and told me that she knew that I was pregnant because God had let her know that.
Fast forward a bit to August of this year and here we are with our sweet baby, Ruth Mary Elizabeth Davis. I had no idea what to expect from motherhood but it’s greater than anything I could’ve ever imagined, all the while being the most challenging thing that I ever could’ve ever imagined. Many, many moons ago, I was talking with a friend who is a bit older than I was and she mentioned being a stay-at-home mom finally when she didn’t think that would be possible years prior to that. But somehow God made it possible for her and her family financially. I related to her so much in that moment because Andrew and I had just gotten married and we were young. It didn’t seem possible that we would ever be at a place financially that I would be able to stay at home with our kids, which was my dream. My first job out of college was a great place to start, but let me tell you – I was making next to nothing. I had coworkers that had student loans and just couldn’t make it work, that’s how little we made. But such is life and that’s where you start sometimes. Needless to say, as little as my income was, it certainly didn’t seem possible to eliminate it and become a stay-at-home mom.
God intricately plans things for us in ways that we could never understand until the plan truly starts to unfold. Several years ago before we became missionaries, we used to think we needed a whole lot more than we did in life. One of the greatest lessons that God could’ve ever taught me is contentment. It’s not a lesson that everyone necessarily wants to learn, but it’s an incredible thing. When God teaches you that you can be content in all situations with very little, maybe then you’ll realize how much happier you can become. That’s what he did for us. He sent us as missionaries to Costa Rica with four suitcases and that was it. He provided everything we needed and we never went without. But we certainly lived with a lot less than we were accustomed to. When we return to the United States, unpacking all of our things was a gut-wrenching experience. I realized all of the excess I had in my life and almost felt physically sick by it all. Those few weeks when we were moving back into our home were very eye-opening. We once considered our little beach house as a starter home because it was “way too small.” Now that doesn’t mean that someday we won’t move to a bigger house, but suddenly now we realize that this house is perfect for us and way bigger than any home we would live in if we were back in Costa Rica right now.
Only in my wildest dreams did I believe that I could be a stay-at-home mom. And now suddenly here I am, writing this blog as I sip my coffee and my baby sleeps in her crib, today December 21st – the day that my maternity leave ended and I should be back at work right now. Sometimes we think things are impossible, and here God is to show us that if we are faithful and follow His plan and learn the things in life that He’d like us to learn, perhaps things really are much more possible than we ever imagined.
I know this has turned into a blog of many different things, but I promise I’m getting to the point where I talk about our recent trip to Costa Rica. We knew this trip would be a complete 180 from anything we’ve experienced there before. Bringing a baby seemed a little overwhelming at first. But the thing is, if you want your children to grow up knowing who you are, then you have to show them who you are. Ruth will grow up to realize that her mom and dad weren’t just missionaries a long time ago, that they believe in the mission right here and right now. It’s as important now as it ever was before. We hope and pray that she’ll grow up realizing that mission work is a normal part of life, not something special and not something for a select few that are called to do it. I hope she realizes that everyone is called to do it and that’s just who we are.
Leading up to the trip, the preparation seemed to be out of control. You never know what babies are going to need and when they’re going to need it, so you just seem to pack everything. When the day finally came, we were ready and we went for it. Ruth was the best traveler I could ever have imagined. My sweet little smiley 3 1/2 month old baby boarded her first plane and fell right to sleep. The day of travel was long but uneventful, thank God. When we arrived at the mission, the children saw us coming and were beyond excited. One of the most endearing things that I saw throughout our time there was the sweet, sweet love that the children have for baby Ruth. They asked about her constantly and were so careful with her the entire time we were there. I wasn’t sure if I would let her leave the apartment much because I didn’t know how practical it would be to bring her in front of floods of children, but in no time at all, I found myself taking her down to the playground to sit and watch the children. She enjoyed seeing and meeting all the new people and did much better than I could’ve ever expected.
This year marks Andrew and I’s sixth year of being a part of the annual Christmas parties at the mission. Everyone looked forward to Ruth’s presence there this year and everyone is already talking about Ruth’s attendance next year and how she will be walking around and talking. I love that the community there knows without fail that we will return. They never ever ask us if we are coming back, but when will it be. It was one of my dreams when I was pregnant that we would get to do this with our children and I’m so excited that the time is here for us to experience this with Ruth. The people that we love so deeply in Costa Rica, that we are lucky enough to call friends even though they’re really like family, have now met Ruth and have welcomed her into that as well.
One unexpected parallel that I saw during our time there was that motherhood reminds me greatly of what my life was like as a full-time missionary. Interestingly enough, they are the two greatest jobs I have ever had or will ever have in my entire life. They are the most challenging jobs and what I realized is that neither job really gives you a legitimate break to stop what you’re doing. Any parent knows that. Mom and dad don’t get sick days. And maybe a missionary does get a sick day, but my greater point here is that in life, missionaries don’t just get to stop what they’re doing and decide not to love people. They can’t just stop trying to bring people to Jesus Christ. I remember working at the mission all day in the education programs and spending our evenings working with the teenagers in ministry. Those were some long days. Andrew and I would go to bed completely exhausted most days, yet we loved every minute of it. We went to sleep at night physically tired, but so fulfilled by the day’s activities. I think I look at motherhood the same way. Sometimes I go to bed and find myself lying in bed flipping through pictures of Ruth on my phone and realizing even with as tired as I am, I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and do the same exact thing all over again.
I know I’m bouncing around a bit, but I will say that I also had this thought when I was in Costa Rica. Andrew and I have often talked about moving back there with our kids one day, but it became so clear to me while we were there that this season of life is meant to be lived here in the United States. I don’t know how long this season will last, but I know for sure that this season was meant to be lived here. I was fortunate enough to be hired by the mission that I love so dearly to work part time here in the US handling administrative tasks. When I first got pregnant, I remember having dinner with a friend and talking about life in general. I specifically remember saying that it would just be so great to work part time for the mission so that I could still stay at home with my baby. We actually laughed because a job wasn’t on the horizon at that time. I really don’t know what kind of sense of humor God has, but I imagined He smirked at that moment. It seemed like an impossible dream but He had already woven it into the plan for me. Anyways, I feel as though I have talked about all kinds of things that may or may not tie together at all, but that’s a taste of what has been happening lately. Merry Christmas everyone!
 

Worth Writing About July 1, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 4:01 pm

Time to write something… again. Much as happened since I last wrote something for the blog. Life has changed so much for me in the last six months. Adjusting to life was harder than I suspected. That may very well be the understatement of the century. People would ask us how it was to be back and we must have been the worst actors ever because even to this day most people still follow-up with a “really?” when we say things are fine. Everything here was and is a constant reminder that we have said good-bye to a life we loved so dearly in Costa Rica. We miss the people there so much that I can’t even put it into words. I went through a very long phase where I couldn’t really look through my old pictures and videos of the kids because it made me want to cry. Occasionally I see Andrew flipping through old photos and I am still not prepared mentally to look at them with him. We love hearing from the people there. Staff and teenagers contact us often on facebook and tell us about life and how much they miss us. It helps my heart a little bit knowing that they still haven’t forgotten about us, a half a year later. On a lighter note, I would love nothing more than to walk to the Gran Bodega and pick out my produce while listening to festive, Latino music playing, strongly resisting the temptation to do my own version of salsa through the aisles… because that would be embarrassing and inappropriate. Or would it? Anyway, my point here is Publix just doesn’t do it for me, though I do enjoy the variety offered there compared to the Maxi Pali. I still shake my head every time I look at the price of avocados here.

Six weeks after returning to the United States, my grandma passed away. I had never lost anyone I truly loved until that morning on February 13th. It was completely unexpected and I still miss her each and every day. There is such finality in death, like nothing else in this world. God has blessed my life and path greatly in both her life and her passing. I had lunch with her the day before she died. The wind was fierce that day with a bit of a chill to it. She said to me “we have to get home, I think it’s going to snow this afternoon.” I laughed and said “Grandma, it’s 55 degrees outside. I don’t think it’s going to snow.” Coming from the woman who spent a couple dozen winters in the Ukraine, she sure adapted to Florida life real well. That memory will always make me smile. One of the last things we said to each other was I love you. For so long after she died, I was just in a stunned state. I have no idea why, but I prayed daily for God to watch out for her in heaven. That is such an unnecessary prayer, but it’s all I could think to do because I missed her so badly. Today I still want to drive to her house and pick her up to go grocery shopping or get a pedicure. I haven’t moved on, but am learning to move forward.

Within a couple of weeks of that life changing event, one of our friends in Costa Rica, Tom, passed away very unexpectedly. I will never forget waking up to that text on a Sunday morning before church. Tom was the last person we saw when we left Costa Rica in December and the first we expected to see whenever we return. I feel like Tom and I tackled so much while working at the mission together. I miss his laugh already and if I stop to think back for just a moment, I can hear it now. Andrew and I struggled a bit with not being in Costa Rica during that time period. All I wanted to do was give his wife, Barb, a hug and pray with her relentlessly. And we prayed relentlessly from a far, but in some ways, the guilt still crept in that we weren’t there.

This has been a season of change for the mission, and for the better. But change can be challenging no matter how for better or worse it may be. We wanted to be there to help ease some of the transitions taking place, but couldn’t be, and that was difficult. God was and is in control of everything though, regardless of who is there or not. We welcomed back Laura as head teacher of education in February. This will allow Jenny to focus more on high school which is her true gift. Thank God for those two. I am deeply appreciative of the efforts they go to for the families of Bajo Tejares. The kids love Vinicio and Jafeth, don’t get me wrong, but it takes years to learn the stories of all the families. That knowledge that both Laura and Jenny have is invaluable. As far as the education programs go, we have a great mix of people on staff. And as someone previously in charge of such things, I can say that I couldn’t be more impressed with the team we have in place right now.

I had initially planned to take about three months off upon our return before getting a job again. In the one sense, I was starting to get antsy pretty early on. On the other hand, I don’t know how I could have worked a full-time job those first few weeks after my grandma passed away. I was grateful for the free time when that happened. Interestingly enough, just before she passed as I was sitting on her couch watching tv with her one afternoon, my old manager at Deutsche Bank called and asked me if I wanted my job back. The guy who filled my position when I left had just resigned. It was an interesting prospect but I was a bit anxious about returning for various reasons. The hiring process took a very long time and actually hit a stand still at one point. I was so uncertain about it all that I started subbing again to fill my time. I took on a lot of special needs assignments. I think sometimes that scares people and it truth be told, it’s probably not for everyone. I subbed a few days in high school autism spectrum classes for the first time. If I am being totally honest with myself, even I was a little apprehensive. With autistic kids, you have to learn what routines they have and as a sub, quickly jump into them to not set them off balance too much. Some of those disruptions and reactions can multiply big time as young special needs children turn into teenagers. If a six year old hits you, you’re probably going to be OK. If a 16 year old hits you, we might be talking a whole different situation. But I ended up having the best time. I have to tell a couple of stories from my time with them, and words on a paper will hardly do it justice, but I am going to give it a shot!

I had a student named Lem in one of my classes. He was so sweet. He’d come and sit at my desk and talk to me every chance he got. While we were sitting there talking about Lord knows what, another kid came up, whose name escapes me, and started to chat with us too. He turned to Lem and called him Lem Turner which is the name of a road on the other side of town here in Jacksonville. Lem got mad and told him that wasn’t his name. A couple of hours later, the same scenario takes place. I immediately stopped him and said, “do not call him Lem Turner, that is not his name and you know he doesn’t like that.” One of this kid’s habitual sayings was to ask if he was in trouble. He must have asked me sixty times that day over various scenarios. Naturally, he asked “Mrs. Davis, am I in trouble?” I looked him in the eyes and said, “you need to make good choices right now and be respectful to Lem.” Still thinking he was in trouble, he apologized to me several times over. I held up my hand and said, “stop. Do not apologize to me, apologize to Lem.” Without thinking twice, as if we had never had the conversation, he turns to Lem and says “I’m sorry Lem Turner!” and walks away. I just had to turn around and walk away so they didn’t see me smiling to myself at this ridiculously humorous duo’s interaction that literally replicates itself a dozen times a day.

Autism is called a spectrum disorder for good reason. Each person with autism is so unbelievably different. I was so surprised to see the things that made them all tick. In those high school classes I subbed, we had everything from extreme non-verbal to high functioning and extremely verbal. Every morning, a student named David would come in and get on the computer. He loved to sing so he would go to youtube and look up songs and with his headphones on, bob his head around and sing out loud. And I mean out loud. David loves the song “Happy” by Pharrell so he’d usually sing that a couple times in a row. I was more or less neutral when it came to that song before but I can’t hear it on the radio now without cranking it up and smiling as I think about how happy David is when he sings, especially singing that song. We had one student who was obsessed with phone books. He would flip page by page each morning to calm himself down and get ready for the day. I asked the other teacher in the room how in the world they ever figured that out. He told me that he had a phone book sitting on his desk one day at the beginning of the year and the kid just went straight to it then asked for it every day since. Interestingly enough, the teacher mentioned to me that if that student were more verbal, he’d probably be able to tell us hundreds of names and phone numbers. There’s just something about his mind that is probably capturing that kind of thing, but will never be able to verbally let it out. I’ll never forget the girl who shreds paper relentlessly and the moment the shredder got jammed, big time. That was an intense situation. I give all of these examples to hopefully give you a glimpse of how incredible the autistic population is. Maybe you already knew, maybe you didn’t. It just blew my mind to see how drastically different all of these students were and I was thankful for the experience.

As I indicated earlier, it has been a while since my last blog update on life. Far too long, actually. I should note that I have been writing some in this hiatus, just not on the blog. I feel as though God has given me a story to write, so I am writing it. As Toni Morrison once said “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” That’s the truth, so I am pressing on. In my time off before starting back at Deutsche Bank, I realized a thing or two about my passion for writing. Sometimes it is hard to put the pen to paper. Writer’s block is real. I’m thankful for a good friend, with whom I shared this crazy book-writing adventure I’m on, that keeps me on track with tough love when I start to get lazy. Albeit difficult to do at times, it’s even harder to put to rest. I guess that’s why it’s called a passion. But more importantly, what I’ve learned about life in the last few months is that it is still every bit worth writing about as it was before. I think that’s worth putting into words and onto paper. I miss my life in Costa Rica terribly. I don’t think that will ever change unless we move back. Maybe I’ve already had the job of a lifetime as a missionary during that time, and every other job will lack the same sentiment. But life is still worth writing about.

 

 

Time to Write Something January 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 1:58 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I suppose it’s finally time to break the blogging silence. I haven’t written anything in a while. I think I was slightly afraid that once I opened the blog site, I might revisit the previous posts while I was here and I just wasn’t ready for that. Though I couldn’t help but immediately notice that I am lacking a post from December altogether. We all know by now how much that annoys me… the archives are forever reflecting that I skipped a month! I know I’ve said this before in October or November I believe, but I got away with it. I had drafted the post in one month and finally posted it in another. The archives kept the month I drafted it in. While I feel that I cheated the system, it soothed my soul to see every single month lined up on the right side of my screen without a single month missing. But here we are in late January and it is time to write something. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that December came and went without a blog post. It fits the story and tells its own piece.

When I look back at our last few weeks at the mission, it’s all a blur. It all happened so quickly. We have been back just about a month now, yet it feels much longer than that. Then when I think of things that happened when we first arrived in Costa Rica a year and a half ago, those memories feel like a lifetime ago. The Christmas parties this year were a lot of fun and a huge success. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are reached through the mission. We invite all children, teenagers, and adults who are actively involved in our programs and ministries to the parties. This year, that was nearly 400 people. But that doesn’t include the many more people that come through the mission gates at any given time. I think I did a pretty decent job of staying in the moment and enjoying the parties versus running the show. Being in charge of all those parties is tough because I just want it to go well for the kids and people attending you always run the risk of missing out on the fun by being the go to person and keeping it running smoothly. I was blessed to have enough volunteers and people surrounding me to allow me the chance to just be with the kids and relish my last big event with them.

As a staff, we did a really entertaining skit of the Christmas story. I think we did one run-through and the majority of us had one sheet-fitting with wardrobe, aka Maga. That was it. Talk about typical Latin American planning. My little heart was becoming overwhelmed with the lack of practice and planning that went into this, but it all turned out wonderful. We all looked ridiculously good in our wrapped sheets and headdresses. I was a shepherd and my umbrella as a staff looked quite impressive. Xiomara was just about the best Mary I have ever seen. She’s quite the actress. Poor Vinicio was Joseph and he just had to go along with all her antics. During our one and only run-through, she reenacted a birth scene that had us all in tears we were laughing so hard. Needless to say, that part didn’t make the final cut.

We also learned the dance to “What Does the Fox Say?” as a staff for the youth party. Luckily, we had several more practices for that. It was necessary seeing as though it’s a choreographed deal that is more than a little complex to teach 8 or 9 people. Some of us are slower than others. Interestingly enough, Xiomara saw us practicing one morning and said she wanted to be a part of it. The rest of us are at least a decade or two younger than her and it had taken us a few practices to even come close to having it down. Within one hour, she was easily as good as half of the other people doing the dance. She’s multi-talented. We had someone record our dances a few times and were quite impressed with ourselves. Then the night of the youth party rolls around. I am not going to name names here, but the video of the final product is easily some people’s worst performance! I don’t know what happened but when you look at the pictures of the dance, the still frames would indicate to you that we aren’t even doing the same dance! Nonetheless, the teenagers still loved it. As soon as we began, they started going nuts. I think this dance and even the skit were so much fun because it was all of us as a staff doing this together. We planned it all out together, practiced together, and pulled it off together. That is significant to me as this staff hasn’t had the same unity as in times of the past. It was nice to go out on that note.

Andrew and I chose to stay a week longer after the parties instead of leaving with everyone else once they were over. That was such a smart decision as it gave us time to decompress from Christmas chaos and spend some quality time with everyone in the very tranquil last week of mission activities for the year. There weren’t too many kids at the mission in that last week, but we made sure to spend as much one on one time as we could with the ones that were there. Hierguth came every day and we soaked up our final moments with him. We also got to spend a lot of time with Yohan and little brother Jorhan. I cannot even believe I have waited this long to talk about Jorhan. Those two little rascals showed up to the mission one day and Yohan introduced him as his little brother and I remember standing there staring down this small, white version of Yohan in awe. Two of them. There are some kids at the mission that I absolutely love to pieces, but am grateful there’s just one of them to deal with. Yohan was that child for me. I really didn’t know if we could handle another, and so close in age! Now all of a sudden, here’s another little hell raiser. Yohan part dos, or as we lovingly refer to him, Yohan blanco. I jokingly told Andrew that we were quite lucky to have Jafeth agree to take over the preschool program well before Jorhan showed up. Now we certainly aren’t paying him enough for the challenges this next year holds for him.

Our last few days in Costa Rica were a bit chilly. We had planned to have a water day as our final hurrah with the kids. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday went by, too cold to do much besides wear jackets, drink coffee, and warm up by chasing kids on the playground. Yet somehow, as I type this now at my house in Jacksonville Beach were it’s in the 30’s, I would gladly go back to the “cold” weather of San Ramon. Thursday rolled around and we suddenly had amazing, beautiful weather. Andrew and Jafeth started filling tons and tons of water balloons. We had several volunteers in that week and everyone just kept taking shifts filling balloons. I’m not sure how word got out, but by the afternoon, we had three or four times as many kids as the previous few days. It was perfect. There are times that things happen and we look back after the fact and see how God orchestrated it all. For some reason, the entire day I could see God was doing this for us so we could just enjoy the kids one last time. Every moment of it all, I thanked God over and over. We had so much fun. Jafeth and I looked at each other at one point and I remember saying to him that this was all God and his response was “I was thinking the exact same thing.”

Friday was a somber day. We had a handful of kids at the mission. It made us even more grateful for the previous day’s water balloon fun. All the kids left around 3:00 and it was just the staff. We decided to close early. Hierguth was the last child to leave. We said goodbye and told him we loved him. Andrew told him to make sure he listened to his mother and grandmother always. We hugged him and he turned to walk away. We watched him walk out of the gates and then Andrew and I both turned to walk back in the apartment. I could feel the tears streaming down my face before I ever made it back inside. We sat down and cried together for a few minutes.

That afternoon and evening, we had a steady stream of visitors come to say goodbye. With each and every one of them, I wanted to freeze time and have it sit still. I heard Mauricio’s jolly laugh for the last time in a while. I deeply regret not having Pabel say okie dokie one more time for me. It’s one of my favorite Pabel expressions but it will have to wait until this summer. In between visitors and late into the night, I was packing away. We truly did look like we were hauling our life away when we left the mission at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

Fast forward to life back in the United States. It was a crazy time to come home, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The question we received most was “are you happy to be back?” I have a bit of a confession to make. I probably said yes to a variety of people and it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I still don’t even know what the true answer is. I find it most difficult to fake being excited when so many people here are genuinely excited to have us back. For weeks, I kept hoping I could be as excited to be here as everyone was to have us here. I recently read one of the most useful articles about missionaries returning from the mission field. It talked about how whether you’ve been gone a year or twenty years, most missionaries feel similar feelings of this being very much a grieving process. I have to say that I agree with it. Andrew and I have had to say goodbye to the life that we knew as missionaries in Costa Rica. Even when we go back to visit, it will never be the same. It’s hard not being there for so much. The kids went to Camp Brittney a couple of weeks ago. I must have checked the camp’s facebook page a thousand times for photo updates. I was so grateful to see pictures of the kids having so much fun there. I desperately wish I could have been there to see them off and welcome them home as I’ve done the last three times we’ve sent kids to camp. I miss our daily interactions with people. I yearn to walk outside of the apartment and have children scream my name with excitement, to have Cristhel come bring me the tiniest of flowers that she picked on her way to the mission each and every day. I want to gather all the little ones up off the playground and sing songs with them and do the preschool program. I would love to hear Luis Fabian yell “Andrew!” but really be calling me because that’s what he’s always done, or Jonathan yell “Davis!” every time he sees either of us. I’d love to let Mack out on the playground and have all the kids chase him around like they love doing so much.

I could go on for days talking about all that I miss there. I miss it terribly. It is certainly a process to move on and I have no idea where I am in that. It’s difficult to write about it all, difficult to look at pictures of our time there. When I can look at all the pictures and smile without the tears flowing, maybe then I will be past all of this grieving. The sadness will fade and all that will be present is the joy of the whole experience. One day.

 

Thank You November 30, 2013

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In 16 short months of life in Costa Rica serving as a missionary, I have learned a ton. In fact, “a ton” is highly understating the number of lessons I’ve learned. I wish I could come up with words to describe all the ways I’ve grown as a person throughout all of this. When I think of cramming all that I’ve learned while doing this into just over a year’s time, it sounds like crazy talk. For all the many people who have helped me learn and grow in my time here, I’d like to say thank you. You have taught me much.

Thank you to the founders of FSM for teaching me about not being afraid of the challenges that exist in this world. I am no longer so overwhelmed by what needs to change that I am too scared to take the first step. I can imagine many years ago that it seemed like a crazy idea to think we could actually change Bajo Tejares in real, tangible ways through this mission. But that craziness didn’t stop the founders from carrying through the vision God had for this community. What if it had? What if they were too afraid to take on something like this? We’d have a lot of people in this community a lot farther from God. We’d have a lot of kids continuing to struggle with their education and continuing the cycle of giving up. There would be a void of happiness that this mission brings. We’d miss out on the laughter of the children when they come here to play and experience what safe and secure feels like. There are a few of us here at the mission still that knew Larry personally. Occasionally, one of us will say something like “What would Larry have done in this situation?” First and foremost, we want to do whatever God would have us do. But I always think it’s interesting that we can think about things by asking what Larry would have done and simultaneously understand that that is what God would want us to do as well. I think that goes for all the founders honestly. That’s when you know that you’ve been fortunate enough to have great leaders in the faith to look up to. For that, I am also grateful.

Thank you to the mission teams and volunteers that have come through here in our time because from them I have learned the true meaning of being one body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” Sometimes you hear verses over and over, but until you have seen it lived out, they are just words on a page. I’m fortunate to have seen what it’s like to work together as the body of Christ with many, many people from all over the world. It has taught me that we all bring something to the table and it would be a grave misfortune for any one of us to break away from what God would have us be as one.

Thank you to the tween and teen girls who have taught me how vitally important it is to treat others as you wish to be treated. It is something so simple that we all learn in elementary school. Yet somehow, I’ve come to appreciate this group of girls so much for always being gracious. There are a group of them that have never given up on me and my pitiful Spanish. In the beginning, it must have been a huge headache for them. Now, we talk and talk and talk. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish isn’t amazing now by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets the job done. It would have never even gotten to that point of such easy conversation if they had stopped bothering a long time ago. I am so grateful that they never gave up on me. I know that I don’t ever want to give up on anyone when they are making a genuine effort in whatever aspect of life it may be in. You never know the fruits that your efforts could bare on either side of that situation.

Thank you to our generous sponsors who have taught us so much about God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to provide and it’s been proven to us over and over again. We could never have done what we’ve done here without people being generous and believing in what we came here to do.

Thank you to a few of my closest friends back home for teaching me the value of wise counsel. I can’t even recall the countless hours spent discussing my life here and the challenges that have come up. I am lucky to have friends that listen without fail but never tell me what I want to hear just because I want to hear it. To listen unconditionally is a marvelous thing. But to have friends who only tell you what you want to hear is a terrible thing. I have genuine, honest friends who may not have known all the characters in the scene and perhaps couldn’t even follow all the complexities of what was happening, but gave their best, straightforward advice that they could offer up. I’ve always been very appreciative to have friends that are true Proverbs 13:20 amigos. I can certainly look back on the past year and say that I have been walking with the wise, maybe from another country, but we’ve still walked this path together.

Thank you to my fellow gringos here in San Ramon for reminding me of the importance of fellowship and how important your own culture will always be to you. It’s not always easy being immersed in a culture so different from your own, but I have greatly appreciated my time spent with other Americans as a small escape back to my “normal” when I needed a break.

Thank you to the college kids of Bajo Tejares for clearly exemplifying what it means to not give up. We have six kids currently studying at university and two more graduating this year who will begin their college coursework next year. The drop-out rate is unbelievably high in this particular neighborhood. I would attribute that partly to the cycle of poverty and uneducated families continuing generation after generation. When the vast majority of parents here are illiterate and unable to assist their kids with any of their homework ever, it makes it difficult for children to grow up and succeed. This mission is slowly helping to break that cycle. More and more teenagers are working hard and being encouraged to keep going. But to the leaders of the pack who have faced more adversity than any other kids here, thank you for having the courage to do what others have said you can’t. And I will just say that some of those people who discouraged them to continue on have come from within their own families. Ponder that for a moment. What’s more, thank you to the college kids for being the example for the young ones that will hopefully follow in your footsteps.

Thank you to our wonderful families who have supported us immensely throughout this process. They have proven that being far from each other is in fact difficult, but not impossible. I’m grateful for family that understood that we needed to go.

Thank you to so many people back home who have taught me the incredible importance of encouragement through positive words and prayers. I never saw myself as the kind of person who needed to hear words of encouragement often but it has strengthened me greatly throughout our time here. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Being the recipient of all the encouragement I have received will forever make me want to encourage others in the same way.

Thank you to my husband Andrew who has and will forever lead by example in what it means to serve others selflessly, continuously, and without complaining. You will not come across anyone who will work harder at serving others than him. We’ve put in more hours here than I can imagine any job ever requiring.  There have been too many times to count that I have been so exhausted and wanted to take an evening off from something or skip this or that, but Andrew was there to encourage me to keep going. His example has taught me much. He doesn’t get nearly as much credit because he tends to not be the upfront, go-to person for people outside of the mission and the big decision maker like I have been. I will say this much though, we are a package deal and I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful here without him by my side.

Thank you to the children of Bajo Tejares who have opened my eyes in too many ways to count and have taught me that everyone has a story. Always be compassionate. You never know what that story may be. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some terrible life stories here and it devastates my soul. I want to know every story of every child here, but that would take years and years. I’m grateful to even know just a small portion of the kids well enough to know their stories. And though they break my heart, I think it makes Romans 12:15 more and more important for me to remember. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” I’ve shared in a bit of both with the children here. I love the times of rejoicing because it multiplies the happiness. I think we would all bypass the weeping part given the chance, but I think it’s a good thing that the kids always have people here to share in that with them too when it comes up.

Lastly, thank you to God for choosing an average person like me to do something extraordinary like this. I have no idea why He’d ever choose me to do all of this. I often think that I don’t do nearly enough here to deserve all the blessings I keep receiving. There are so many precious memories that I will forever cherish from this place and these people and this time in my life. One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from the Old Testament when God brings the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua 21:45 says “Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” God has taught me to believe in the change that will take place in this world, and to believe that it could involve me if I allow Him to use me.

I sometimes attach songs to memories. When I hear “Thank You” by Mozella, it always reminds me of Costa Rica. It probably always will. Anyways, here is a link to the song on youtube and the lyrics.

 

Mixed up and lost

You showed me love at no cost

And when nobody else cared

You were there

 

Down on my luck

You helped my life get unstuck

And when the world went away

You stayed

 

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you

 

You fight off my enemies

You’d take a bullet for me

And you know I’d do the same for you

‘Cause that’s how we roll

Connected at the soul

And I just want you to know how I feel

 

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you

 

Thank you for loving me every day

Thank you for showing me the way

Thank you for things that I’d never say

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you, thank you

 

Happiness and Sadness, Laughs and Tears November 25, 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I’m sure, but time is flying by. The days seem long which is normal here, but the weeks feel so short. It is already Sunday and we are ready to start a new week again tomorrow.

Last week was filled with all kinds of happiness and sadness, laughs and tears. It was the last week of programs. That came as a shock to me since I didn’t realize that until late Monday. Unfortunately, Jafeth (my replacement with the preschoolers) only got to do the program with me a few days. I know that wasn’t the best training he could have gotten. He will be OK though, he’ll just learn quite rapidly next year on his own of what works for him and the kids. On the last day of programs Thursday, I was standing in the bathroom putting my make-up on. When I am by myself, I enjoy praying aloud and talking to God as if he were standing next to me. So as I was thanking God for the opportunity of being the preschool teacher over the last year or so, I just lost it. There I was, attempting to put make-up on, while crying uncontrollably and having it all come right back off. When Jafeth and I started the morning program, Jafeth asked whether we should sing songs or not. I remember saying “it’s up to you Jafeth, the program is almost yours since this is my last day.” I almost teared up then at the thought of it. After our afternoon class, I went to bring my computer upstairs to the apartment like I always do. Instead of heading back downstairs, I just had to spend some time sitting by myself. I cried and cried and cried over it all. I’m someone who rarely cries and is not very emotional, but I knew this moment would come. The thing is, I know the kids will be in good hands next year. Unfortunately, right now all I can think about is how I am going to miss them like crazy. I hate that I won’t be here to see their accomplishments and improvements, to encourage them, to see them on their first day of school next year, etc. But it is what it is, and right now it is difficult.

Friday was a cheerful day, and thank God for that. We spent the day decorating the mission for Christmas. I have to say that while I may have been the one to buy the decorations and clearly I love how it all looks, everyone else thinks so too! Even though everything is garnet and gold, I’m not being biased here. The church looks the best I have ever seen it for Christmas. The morning of decorating kicked off with Jenny and I going to buy the Christmas trees. This is the wildest thing. I asked Jenny where we would go to buy the tree this year. She said it was pretty far and hard to explain how to get there. That’s when I decided to go with her so I could go ahead and buy our tree for the apartment at the same time. In my mind, I was thinking as soon as she said far and complicated that it must be the place Jessica took us last year to get our tree. Sure enough, that’s the place we pulled up to. I looked around and didn’t see any Christmas trees. The guy was on the phone when we pulled up so we sat in the car and waited. I told Jenny the story of going to this exact place last year and there being no trees left and we had to head to another tree lot back the other direction. I even jokingly told her that this guy was about to direct us to the same place as last year since there were clearly no trees here.

After he got off the phone, Jenny went to ask him where the trees were. I sat in the car waiting patiently and watching. When Jenny got back in the car she told me that he didn’t have any trees and that we could go to Los Jardines because they still had them. I asked her where that was and she said by her house meaning we’d have to go back where we came from and then some to get to this place. I asked Jenny if she knew what déjà vu was and she said “si,” and repeated the same thing back to me but with a Spanish accent. We started driving to this other place and the moment we pulled up, it was the craziest feeling. It was the same exact place that we bought the tree last year.

Once we parked the car, we hiked down to start walking through the maze of trees. Jenny and I were like two kids in a candy store. She asked the man to show us the biggest trees they had. We must have walked through dozens and dozens of trees. We saw several we liked but trying to back track to wherever those were was impossible. Finally, we picked two large ones and the guy started to saw them down. I don’t think we were really paying attention to size because the tree for the church can be as big as they come. But the one for the apartment was also quite large. I think we ended up taking a foot and a half off the trunk to get it to fit inside.

When we got back to the mission, Maiko asked if he should take the tree up to the apartment. I said sure, that would be nice. Let me start by saying that they don’t use tree stands here, they use five gallon buckets with rocks and sand in them to hold the tree. Last year, Pabel graciously did this for us. This year, that guy goes on vacation right at Christmas tree hunting time! Ideally, we would have set the tree out on the carport until we found our bucket and got everything together. Now I know Maiko was trying to help which is why I can’t get even slightly upset about this. Half an hour later after the tree was taken upstairs, I walked up to the apartment to see this ginormous tree laying in the middle of the floor with green sprigs and needles everywhere. We’re all quite fortunate that that was just his mess and Mack didn’t go nuts on the tree in that thirty minutes or so that it was left unattended on our living room floor. When Andrew came upstairs later that day, he actually asked me “what are the chances that we can just leave this like this until Pabel gets in on Monday?” Not good.

What I loved about decorating the mission this year was how many mothers and teenagers showed up to help the staff. Everyone jumped in to help do something. Jenny and I put Ronald and Vinicio in charge of getting the tree in the bucket and settled. Yorlana and Erika were going to start decorating the stage. Others started to unpack all of our Christmas décor to get organized. And Jenny and I were off to buy more stuff! Before we left, I did a quick peek at the unpacked boxes of decorations. I didn’t see the special ornaments that we normally put up. I asked Jenny to be sure we put them back in those boxes last year and she said yes. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I knew Larry and Cheryl’s matching ornaments were part of that group. We decided we’d look for them once we got back from the store. Neither of us said anything to anybody about it but when we returned and everything was sorted out even more, Jaikel came up to me and said that he couldn’t find Cheryl’s ornament, only Larry’s. Sometimes, with all the new staff and changes that have taken place this year, it’s nice to have some of the people who have been around for years to notice things like that. To me, it was quite thoughtful that he knew those were always special ornaments for the tree and he looked thoroughly for them. There was a genuine sense of disappointment when he realized one of them might be lost.

The afternoon was filled with more decorating. Everything truly looked wonderful and it was such a nice collaborative effort. I will say that I really only adjusted, or “corrected” if you will, a few minor decorations when people weren’t looking. I think that’s a pretty big deal for me since I tend to be a little obsessive. It reminds me of something I saw on Pinterest recently that says “I’m not really a control freak… but can I show you the right way to do that?” To have that many people decorating in all kinds of different ways, some putting ornaments in a linear direction on the tree, and others clumping things all together, I did really well with it.

That night, we had a sleepover for the tween girls. This was a nice end of year event to do with them and especially so since I won’t be here next year. We ordered pizza, played games, painted nails, made bracelets, and just hung out. Sometime after midnight, we circled up to talk as a group. The girl who was going to give the message that evening had to leave early on. While we were all together, I took the opportunity to share a couple of verses with them and give them my farewell message, if you will. I shared Psalm 139:14 with them because I think that’s an important verse for every teenage girl to learn and believe. Several of them are sixth graders who will go on to high school next year. I shared with them how easy it is to make decisions that are based on what everyone else is doing and not what God would have them do, so be careful. I encouraged them to stay involved, make good decisions, and work hard next year. For some reason, I felt the need to let them know that even if I come back to visit next year and hear that so-and-so is into this now or hanging out with the wrong crowd or whatever the case may be, that I would never give up on any of them. And I know that their leaders that will be here next year won’t either. I read Jeremiah 29:11 to them and told them that I would forever share that great hope for all of their futures and lives. I told them how proud I was of them and how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know them all. I let them know that I will always pray for them and love them from afar in the United States, but to always remember that they will always have people here in this mission who love them. At that point, half the group was crying, which was not my intent. So I said, why don’t we get up and do something fun? And everyone got up and started a dance party.

Tomorrow starts another week here, one of just a few left. There’s much to do before Christmas comes. I have to share this precious moment I had with Cristhel a couple of weeks back. We have a million Cristhels here but this one is Hierguth’s little sister so I am sure she has heard from him about what the inside of the apartment is like. We were sitting at a table one day in the classroom and she ushered me closer. This child whispers nearly everything to me that she says and is unbelievably meek. She has spent the better part of her short life living in fear. One day, if God gives me the go ahead to do it, I will share their family’s story as I know it would open many people’s eyes to real life here in Bajo Tejares. But for now, just a handful of us know what their lives have been like and we’ll keep it that way. Anyways, when I leaned across the table, she whispered in my ear “is it true that your house is filled with Christmas presents?” I smiled back at her and said “yes, yes it is!”