Thursday, August 14, 2014

You Can’t Argue with Experience: Talking past Each Other on Facebook

I love how Facebook helps me connect with people, share ideas and questions, and read interesting posts online.  But I’m increasingly hating all the Facebook drama.  I just don’t think Facebook is the best place to have a truly meaningful conversation.  And I’m tired of complete strangers arguing with surprising bitterness through comment threads—not just on Facebook of course, but blogs, too.  Even Robin Williams’s recent suicide has become the context for people tearing into each other online.

What is wrong with us?  Why are we talking past each other so much?  So many times we’re not really listening or understanding, just taking a sentence from someone we hardly know, if at all, and jumping all over it.

I think one of the reasons is that we are unknowingly trying to argue with someone’s experience—with beliefs they hold not just in their mind, but way deep down in their gut because of what they have been through.  No argument is going to sway them, but it will call forth a maybe surprisingly emotional reaction.

For instance, in my teen years I was exposed to the patriarchal fringe of the Christian home school movement, and if you don’t know what patriarchy is, I’m so happy for you.  Because of that exposure, and the frustrations and resentments I felt as a teenager, I’m opposed to patriarchy not just in my mind but deep down in my gut.  Whenever I see a post about it, or comment about it, what I’m thinking is flowing from my memories.  You are never going to argue me into thinking something else.

But if you don’t know me well, you don’t know that.  You just see my two-sentence comment, and then someone else responds, and someone else responds, and we have no idea where people are really coming from, but we fight it out anyway.

Another example: through our recent work in foster care, I care a lot more about substance-exposed infants, homelessness, racism, drug use, child abuse, abortion, poverty, the list goes on.  I hope my thinking on these issues is researched and logical, but beyond that, my response to them is honestly emotional, at times almost visceral.  My beliefs about these things come from way deep down because of a baby I love.

I don’t think it’s weakness for our emotions to get involved with our convictions.  God created us as emotional beings, and that’s a good thing.  We should have logical arguments we’ve carefully researched and worked through, and if we attach a lot of emotion to the conclusion, so be it.  That emotion springs from memories and experiences that make us who we are.

But online, you don’t fully share those memories and experiences.  Sometimes we just lack the space; sometimes those things are confidential or too personal or vulnerable to share online.  Our conversations are necessarily incomplete, and they can turn really nasty.

I remember reading a blog post written by someone who seemed to have a fair bit of animosity toward HSLDA.  I don’t always agree with HSLDA’s positions myself, but I was curious about this person’s background, so I clicked on the “about” line on her blog.  I learned that for her, the label of “home schooling” had meant a childhood of abuse and academic neglect, and that one day while hiding under a table with her sister, she had promised that when she got older she would fight to make sure this didn’t happen to other children.

You can’t argue with that experience.  I’m not saying there’s never any such thing as true and false, because of course there is.  I happen to think home schooling is a good educational option that parents should be free to choose, and right now I’m choosing it.  But, if I’m going to argue with this author online about whether academic neglect is really a problem in home schooling circles, I am never going to change her mind and I shouldn’t try.  She’s experienced it.  She knows it can be a problem.  If we stop arguing, maybe our experiences can enlighten each other.

We are all wounded, and I don’t say that condescendingly, it’s just that we’re all hurt through life.  And we all have our own dreams and desires.  What we say has a backstory.

So maybe before we attack someone online, we should pause and think, “What are this person’s goals and dreams in life?  What were their parents like?  What was their childhood like?  How have they been hurt?  Why is this issue so important to them?”

That’s why I wish sometimes we lived in a time period where if you wanted to have a conversation with someone, it had to be over the dinner table.  As you’re serving the soup and passing the butter for the bread, you could ask someone these questions and find out where they’re coming from and why.  You might disagree, but hopefully you could talk about it without the silverware becoming offensive weapons.

Of course there are people you couldn’t have as dinner guests because it would be a dangerous or at least unhealthy violation of boundaries.  I get that.  But I think having some dinner guests could be mutually beneficial.  Maybe as your lesbian friend is helping clear the table, you might still hold your prior convictions about homosexual activity, but the LGBT movement would now have a face and a name attached to it, and you would have more sympathy and understanding.

Maybe you could actually ask someone in person, “When you made that statement about suicide, did you really mean it like it sounded?  Have you ever experienced mental illness?  Can I tell you my story?”

Maybe you would learn why your friend is so opposed to vaccinations—or so committed to them.

Maybe you would figure out why someone is so cynical about politics or law or journalism—or so excited about it.

Maybe you would find out why your friend loves or hates home schooling or courtship or church attendance or mission work or fill in the blank.

Maybe we wouldn’t even change our minds through the conversation, but we could change our tone and broaden our view.

I know of course having everyone over for dinner is impossible, but at least we can bring that mentality to our online conversations.  This is another human being with hopes and dreams and hurts and backstory.  Let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to wrath.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Foster Care: Broken Pieces, Beautiful Story

In blogging about my grief, I face two challenges.  One, I need to be careful of the confidentiality foster care requires.  And two, I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to my particular sadness.  We all have lost, or will lose, and there is no reason why anybody should be focusing on my specific pain.

I write primarily because it helps me process and it helps me heal, something I desperately need right now.  That means if no one reads this very long and piecemeal post, it will still have accomplished its purpose.

If you do read it, my hope is that it will help you to have greater awareness of what it means to be a foster parent, or really to engage in any ministry where someone suffers loss, so that you can give greater support and sympathy to those you know in the thick of it, and even consider pursuing a similar calling yourself.

* * *

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
~ Psalm 34:18

* * *

I remember last summer when he first entered our home.  It was nearing 10:00 at night.  We had only a couple hours’ notice.  Incredibly tiny, he lay asleep in his carseat.  We signed the papers and the social worker left, and we watched him lying there, still sleeping.

Elanor unfortunately was not sleeping.  At 13 months she was going through a stage of sleep trouble, and she joined Ben for a late-night trip to the grocery store to buy formula and diapers, since he had arrived with very little.  The baby slept on, so after Elanor fell asleep, we went to bed ourselves, only to be wakened in a couple hours to give him our first bottle.

In the morning, David stumbled sleepy out of his room and did a double-take.  Ben sat on the couch bottle-feeding a baby that had appeared out of nowhere, while I was busy preparing breakfast.  Soon after the phone calls and appointments and visits started.  It was our new normal.

* * *

“If You’re all You claim to be,
Then I’m not losing anything.
So I will crawl upon my knees,
Just to know the joy of suffering.
I will love You enough to let go.
Lord, I give you my life;
I give you my life.

“When did love become unmoving?
When did love become unconsuming?
Forgetting what the world has told me,
Father of love, You can have me.
You can have me.”

~ Sidewalk Prophets

* * *

I remember learning that I would probably lose him.  It was early December in the late afternoon, an unusually warm day, so I was at the playground with my children.  I was standing in the playground parking lot when I found out.

I kept breathing in and out while my children played.  We walked home.  I told Ben.  He was about to leave for a church event and the kids needed dinner and we couldn’t process it right then.  We talked about it more later and fell asleep feeling numb.

Was it the next morning or a few mornings later that it snowed?  I looked out at the falling snow already drifting on the ground.  I had woken up in tears and it kept snowing and I kept crying.

* * *

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

* * *

I’m going to call him Little Mister now, because he’s not really our foster baby anymore.  He’s hardly a baby anymore.  And I want to make space for another foster baby to come into our family.  Little Mister is one of our nicknames for him.  As is Buster Boo, but that one really makes no sense.

To be honest, it drives me crazy that I can’t write his name online or post pictures.  I totally get why that is not allowed in foster care.  My mind gets it.  The writer in my heart wants to write his name because it is one of my favorite names now.  It is so beautiful that I wish you knew it.  And I won’t even get into what you are missing not seeing his picture.  He only has one of the best smiles in the world.

* * *

I only miss you when I'm breathing
~ Jason DeRulo, Breathing

I don’t like the lyrics of the rest of the song since I think it represents an ultimately unhealthy response to grief.  But those haunting lines I love.  Yes, that is true.  I only miss him when I am breathing.  I only feel that absence, that hole dug out of my heart, all. the. time.

* * *

I remember weaning David at 12 months, and Elanor, at 20 months.  Each time I felt like it should be an important event, but it wasn’t really.  It just slipped by.

When they were born, I was breastfeeding around the clock, probably for a total of eight hours a day or more.  It defined my life, those hours in the rocking chair where I could finish a book in a day and bond more deeply with my baby than I had thought imaginable.  Most times I loved it; occasionally I didn’t.  I wish I had known how truly short-term it would be.

Because life changed.  Soon it was taking me a week to get through a book, since they were nursing faster and less frequently.  Then they were eating solid foods.  They were crawling.  We nursed twice a day.  Once a day.  Every other day.  Hardly at all.  One day we stopped and though I felt it, they hardly noticed.

It was like that, losing Little Mister.  I wanted a gradual transition, and that was what I got, thankfully, though at times I felt it was killing me.  The transition took a few months, all spring and into summer.

At first he was gone for 24 hours.  I packed his bags.  I worried all day before he left.  I felt achingly empty with him gone.  But any mother can handle 24 hours away from her baby, and I got used to it.

And then a weekend.  Then a long weekend.  Suddenly I am his daycare, all day, Monday through Friday.  We are all getting used to this, and the gradualness is healthy for him and for David and Elanor.  We start talking about him like he is a friend who sometimes comes for a visit.  How nice that we get to see him tomorrow!  Like a frog in water that is gradually heating up, they hardly notice what is happening.  That he is about to leave.

* * *

 “Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”
~ Psalm 42:5

* * *

I remember the day he left.  In a way it was such a normal day.  I had Bible study that night, and the next day we were going on a boat trip.  David and Elanor were all excited about the boat trip.

I knew it wouldn’t be the last time we saw him, that we would have a visit again next week.

I also knew as the afternoon wore on, I felt physically ill.  I was busy.  Taking care of three little ones is always busy, and I was trying to pack up his toys to send with him, and I couldn’t find one of the pieces to his boat.  I still can’t find it, and it bothers me.

David trailed him down the stairs to the door as he left.  “Do you know he can say a few words now?  He can say my name!  Goodbye, Little Mister!”

* * *

“There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears.
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more;
We’ll see Jesus face to face.”
~ Jeremy Camp

* * *

I knew David would have a hard time with his leaving, but I wasn’t counting on Elanor’s response.  For a year she had been the middle child, with a real-life doll to bottle-feed and play with and otherwise mother.  Now she is the baby again.

She keeps crawling around the house.  She found a bottle the other day and started sucking on it.  She even tried to get into the stuff beneath my desk, like he always did. 

She talks about him several times a day.  The other night she was crying in bed, “Little Mister leaved!”

“I know,” I say.  “But we’ll see him in a few days.”  We are counting down those days.

* * *

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”
~ Psalm 40:2-3

* * *

I remember picking him up for a visit the first time, a week after he left our home.  We found the place, parked the van, and all went inside.  David and Elanor were curious and ecstatic.  What is this place like?  Where is he?

He was sitting in a highchair, eating banana.  When he saw me, he started to cry.  I know his cry, and it was an angry cry.  I don’t know why he was angry.  Was it that they took away his banana to pack him up?  Was it that he hadn’t seen me in a week?  It was like his cry was yelling, “Where have you been?!”

He kept looking at me and crying while they wiped him up, and cried until they handed him to me.  I was briefly in tears, and David and Elanor were smothering him with hugs.  The people there watched, obviously a bit surprised by the show.

“How long did you have him?  Since a newborn?  I could never do foster care, it would be so hard!  At least you can visit him!”

We planned to take him swimming, but he did not want to splash in the water.  He would rather keep his arms around my neck.  I didn’t mind a bit.

* * *

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….”
~ Isaiah 53:4

* * *

Stepping into the foster care world introduced me to a new level of hurt.

I’ve learned that though my specific situation may be unusual, my loss is in no way unique.  Maybe this sounds weird, but I feel at times like I have joined a community of everyone who has grieved.  It’s a really big community, that will eventually include everyone.

Grief is normal.  Even losing a child is normal.  In 21st century America we’re somewhat insulated from the number of tragedies that have struck throughout history and even now around the world.  But still we all, at some point, lose.

When someone says to me, “I could never do foster care.  I could never lose the baby,” I understand that response, but I also feel a bit bewildered.  Of course you could.  You’re human.  That’s what we do.  We all suffer.  We don’t want to sign up for it, but when it hits, we somehow make it through.

* * *

“Eventually, I am guaranteed to lose every earthly thing I have ever possessed.
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

* * *

Was it worth it?  I sat in kind of an ironic place to think about pain—beside a swimming pool in a beautiful spot in the Baja Peninsula, looking out toward the Pacific Ocean, hearing the waves sweep the shore while the sea breeze blew my face.  Was it worth it?

All I could think was, yes, yes, of course it was.  I’m a somewhat contemplative person (surprise!) and at the end of a school year or calendar year I often think back and process what just happened in my life.

This is the first time I have ever been able to look back at a year and think, “We saved a life this year.”  When I think of Little Mister and how he was when he arrived at our home, and contrast that “before” picture with how he was when he left, our work is so starkly, obviously, worth it.  So much so that I feel privileged, grateful.

I got to save a life this year.  I got to make a forever difference for someone, laying a physical and emotional and spiritual foundation for his entire future.  Of course it cost something, but what could be more worth it?

* * *

“Love alone is worth the fight.”
~ Switchfoot

* * *

Foster care can seem so random.  If you miss the call because your phone is left in the car, you may miss a placement that would have changed your life and family forever.  You may get a baby one day and lose that baby the next week or month or year.  Your friend may get a baby the next day and keep that baby forever.  Some of it is decided by people, but a lot of it is just what some would call random chance.  In the end, no human being can predict exactly what is going to happen, and no one is in control.

It can seem so hopelessly random that my only way through is by trusting in a Sovereign Lord.

I don’t wish we had gotten someone else, even someone “adoptable.”  I am glad we got Little Mister.  And at some level I can even be glad we lost him because I see good in that for him.  It is good to be wanted and loved by your birth family.  And it is good to be loved and missed by the foster family you leave behind.

* * *

“Grief changes us.
The pain sculpts us
into someone who
understands more deeply,
hurts more often,
appreciates more quickly,
cries more easily,
hopes more desperately,
loves more openly.
~ Tanya Lord

* * *

I have read that loss grows the soul, that loss brings with it on its flip side a gain.  This doesn’t negate the loss itself, since that will always be there, but it does bring with it joy and comfort.

I have felt this in ways that are difficult to describe.

In grieving, I am learning to treasure my children and all relationships more deeply.

I am learning to carve out time to rest and heal, because I am realizing that if I maintain a frenetic pace (which used to be my norm and in some ways still is), I endanger my health (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual), and no one is served by that.

I am learning to make time to enjoy what I do have.  If we had not been losing Little Mister, I don’t know that we would have gone to see the Natural Bridge in May, gone to the Baja just me and Ben in June, or gone boating with my parents in July.  It wasn’t that we weren’t grieving, or that we were trying to drown out our grief in fun.  It was that while remembering and praying for Little Mister, we wanted to rest and heal and treasure the relationships we do have.

* * *

 “It is natural that people feel cautious about loving again because they are afraid of losing again.  Who in his or her right mind would ever want to feel such pain more than once?  Is love worth it if it is that risky? …

“The problem of choosing to love again is that the choice to love means living under the constant threat of further loss.  But the problem of choosing not to love is that the choice to turn from love means imperiling the life of the soul, for the soul thrives in an environment of love.  Soul-full people love; soul-less people do not.  If people want their souls to grow through loss, whatever the loss is, they must eventually decide to love even more deeply than they did before.  They must respond to the loss by embracing love with renewed energy and commitment….

“Still, … there is an ominous dimension to love, especially after loss.  If loss increases our capacity for love, then an increased capacity for love will only make us feel greater sorrow when suffering strikes again.  There is no simple solution to this dilemma.  Choosing to withdraw from people and to protect the self diminishes the soul; choosing to love even more deeply than before ensures that we will suffer again, for the choice to love requires the courage to grieve.”
~ Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

* * *

We want to foster again.  Our home and our hearts have space for another child.  And I know here in our town there is a desperate need for families willing to welcome babies who have no one else.  I cannot think of a better way for us to “visit orphans and widows in their distress” or to love “the least of these.”

In our next case I hope to adopt, and I know in some cases there is probability, but in foster care there is no certainty.  I think, I hope, I’m okay with that.

* * *

“They didn’t tell us that at the beginning: The moment you let love into your heart, your heart starts breaking. The only way to stop your heart from breaking is to stop your heart from loving. You always get to choose: either a hard heart or a broken heart. A broken heart is always the abundant heart — all those many beautiful pieces only evidence of an abundant life.”
~ Ann Voskamp

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Messy House

Friends are coming to visit today—thankfully a frequent occurrence in our home.  But it also means I have new eyes to see the mess, and I’m inwardly cringing—also, unfortunately, a frequent occurrence.

The house is sanitary—I cleaned the bathrooms two days ago, Ben vacuumed over the weekend, and other than the spot in the fridge where the spinach bag is leaking, the kitchen is mostly clean.

But the house is far from magazine-cover-worthy.  Baby toys litter the floor, with the loudest ones somehow positioned right at the entrance.

A princess teacup set is scattered over the library books on the coffee table, and a diaper bag hangs over the banister just beside the dish towel.

Some of the couch pillows are awkwardly arranged; the rest are piled on the floor as the remains of yesterday’s fort, along with favorite blankets and a few books.

Half the dining room table is consumed with David’s art project.  The rest of the dining room shows signs of being Ben’s storage area as he refinishes our deck, as well as our greenhouse as it’s the best place to put plants indoors and still get sunlight, and our schoolroom with all David’s current workbooks and craft supplies.

The waffle maker is out in the kitchen from this morning’s breakfast.  Jars of homemade pickles are on the counter, beside the Similac container and the rack of drying baby bottles.  Two highchairs crowd between the counter and the island.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  There are moments, like right now preparing for guests, when I look around at all this and despair.  I am, believe it or not, a neat freak.  I’m not skilled at interior decorating, but I do like a place for everything, and everything in its place.  If I lived alone, my home would look very different.

If I lived alone.  Do I want to?  Okay, sometimes I’ll admit, but really?

Each member of my family brings their own mess to the table (literally).  Ben works from home—his office is one room I just try not to worry about!—and he loves to do projects inside and out.

David is an avid reader.  We’re home schooling him, and in addition to his bookwork, he loves to do arts and crafts, build pillow forts, and play with legos, transformers, and trains—sometimes all at once.

Elanor loves to set things up even more than she likes to play with them, I think—the tea set, the little people, the kitchen toy, sometimes all intermingled, and her favorite place to play is often on the floor right in front of the kitchen sink.

Our foster baby is crawling and loves to scatter toys far and wide, open cabinets, and leave disaster in his wake.  He’s also responsible for all the baby food jars and bottles in our kitchen, and he’s the reason you’ll find odd placements like the bathroom trash can safely stowed on top of the toilet instead of on the floor.

Sharing home with these people has made me rethink what our home is all about.

It is not about me being in control.  It’s about me loving other people.

It is not about creating a space that is perfect.  It’s about creating a space where other people can thrive.

It is not about impressing other women.  It’s about me prioritizing my husband and children, and welcoming our guests.

It is not about displaying wealth.  It’s about me opening my door to the needy.  (Though I may not feel wealthy when I look at our budget each month, compared to the rest of the world I know I am rich!)

In my home I need to push back the chaos—but I also need to foster creativity.

I need to clean up the mess—but I also need to keep my joy when the mess is made again.

I need to be okay with toys underfoot, because that means toys are being played with.  They’re never being played with when they are put away in the basket.

I need to be okay with library books on the couch, because those are the books that are being read.  They’re never being read when they’re on the shelf.

I need to be okay with the math book and markers on the kitchen island, and the dinosaur flashcards beside the paints on the dining room table, because David is learning and making art.  He’s never going to randomly pick up and learn from something that’s in storage.  (On a side note, I originally envisioned our school room being in the basement away from our main living area, and though I still hope to do that someday, it doesn’t work for this season in our lives.  David needs to be doing school right where the rest of us are living.  It’s working great for his education and not so great for our interior design, but I need to choose my priorities.)

I need to be okay with the waffle iron on the counter and the dishwasher being full again, because that means we had an amazing breakfast.

I need to be okay with pickle jars on the counter and tools on a shelf in the dining room, because that means my husband has space to do his projects and feels like this is his home, too.

I need to be okay when a friend comes over and sees my mess, because that means I’m more concerned about being authentic than being impressive.  Maybe it means I spent more time praying and planning for our conversation than I spent cleaning up.  Ultimately I want a welcoming heart more than I want a spotless home, and sometimes (often?) I need to choose between the two.

I still have those cringing moments, like today, when I’m preparing for guests and realizing how far my home is from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.  But I am learning more to replace that cringing with confidence.  My home is a place where children thrive.  My home is a place where life and learning happens.  That life and learning makes a mess, but I want it to be a happy mess I’m willing to share with others.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Foster Care: Finding the “I Can”

One thing I’ve heard from multiple people, that makes me hesitate every time, is this: “I could never do what you’re doing.  It would be too hard to lose the baby.”

Sometimes I hear a similar sentiment phrased as a compliment, “You are amazing.  Foster families are so special.  They do what normal people could not do.”

I would like to challenge these statements.  (Though if you remember saying something like this to me, I love you and understand!)

What drew us to foster care was the opportunity to care for needy children (I’m being careful not to say orphans, because not all needy children are orphans).  We had had a heart for needy children for a long time, and most doors of caring for them—such as adopting internationally, or becoming a Katie Davis in Africa, or taking a long missions trip somewhere—were currently closed to us.  One door that was open to us, as a family with young children, was opening our home to needy children in our own town.

Call me naïve, stupid, whatever, but I never considered the hard part of losing them.  I was just excited about the local opportunity.  In our training class, they never mentioned the grief and loss inherent in foster care (something I’ve talked about with them since!).

So the first time someone told me, looking at the baby I had not yet bonded with, “I could never do this because it would be too hard to lose them,” my internal response was like, Right.  That.  I hope that doesn’t hurt too much.  Too late now!

Over the past several months as I’ve walked through the grief of gradually losing a child I love, I’ve heard the comment many times.  And I keep thinking, Do I have some special baby-losing ability that is supposed to make this easier?  Or some high emotional pain tolerance that enables me to go through what other people couldn’t?  I don’t think so!

I am a completely normal person.  Specifically, I am a very sensitive person who values relationships with people and bonds deeply with those I love.  So many times these past several months I have thought, I can’t do this!  I just can’t!  But that denial doesn’t magically make the situation go away.  The only way out is through, doing what I thought I couldn’t do.

I also have told other people (or thought), I could never do what you’re doing.  For instance, I’ve thought that about military wives whose husbands are deployed for a long time.  I imagine what their circumstances would feel like—being a single parent all day and through bedtime, going to bed alone every night, being the only adult in the home, trying not to worry, trying to keep a marriage strong with someone on the other side of the globe.  In my imagination it is so difficult that I immediately shrink from it and say, “I could never do that!”

But do I assume that it is any less painful for them?  That they have special powers that I don’t?  That they don’t ever cry into their pillows at night and say, “I just can’t do this any longer!”

When we look at someone else and say, “I could never do that because it would be too hard,” we are in danger of dismissing their pain by making them into a superhuman that they are not.  It’s just as hard for them as we imagine it would be for us.  In saying, “I could never do that,” we are selling ourselves short.

We are selling God short.

The truth is we can do anything God calls us to.  Our callings are different, obviously.  But all of our callings involve pain.  If we shrink back from a calling primarily because we don’t think we could handle the pain, perhaps something is wrong.

The verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” has become so cliché I almost hesitate to quote it.  We know it’s true that God enables us to do what He calls us to.  He tells us that His strength is made perfect in weakness.

But what does that look like?  Does that mean our weakness goes away?  That it doesn’t hurt anymore?

I don’t think so.  Somehow God’s power is glorified in our weakness.  When He calls us to do the hard thing, it’s hard, and it kills, and we feel like we are dying in the middle.  And at that moment when we feel like we are dying, if someone says, “Wow, you’re amazing, I could never do what you’re doing because it would hurt too much!” that doesn’t really help.

Because it does hurt too much.  And we can’t do it either.  Until somehow we find ourselves on the other side with an aching heart and wonder how we got there.

Recently I heard someone teach on John 15 and the analogy of the vine and the branches.  He said too often we interpret those verses as, “I can’t do anything unless I abide in the vine.”  He thought a more accurate interpretation of those verses was more positive: “If you’re a Christian, you are already abiding in the vine, the Holy Spirit is in you, and you can bear fruit!  Go do what you can!”

So when I see someone suffering, I want to think something like this instead: That must be really painful.  How can I help bear their burdens?  And if God calls me to, I know I can—and will—go through something like that, too.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Day in My Life

I always enjoy reading about other people’s daily lives and routines at home (maybe that’s because I’m nosy?!), so in a desire to be authentic on this blog, and to record for my own memory what this season is like, I thought I would write about a normal day at our home.  In a way there is no normal day, but for right now, today (Tuesday, June 24th) is about as normal as we get, so here goes:

7:00     On Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, we wake up at 6:30 to exercise, but today Ben and I “sleep in” until 7:00.  I had a little bit of insomnia last night—nothing bad, fortunately—but still it is hard to wake up and I end up hitting snooze until 7:15.  Then I wake up and do a few push-ups, Kegels, and stretches.

7:30     By this time David is awake, and Ben has started him listening to the audio Jesus Storybook Bible, his daily morning quiet time.  In the meantime, I enjoy cold brew iced coffee while having my own quiet time in the family room.  Right now I am reading through Genesis and the Psalms, but soon I’ll be starting Beth Moore’s Bible study on James, which I’m really excited about.  Verses that are meaningful to me today are from Psalm 36: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!  The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

Part way through my quiet time, David joins me in the family room to read Boris and the Monsters, mostly quietly.

8:00     I usually try to be showered and ready for the day before we get Elanor up, but today that didn’t happen.  We always go in to wake Elanor a 8:00.  On her own she would sleep who knows how late.  It’s always tempting every morning to let her sleep in further, but we’re having bedtime trouble as it is.  So I go in to wake up my princess.  This morning she wants to stay in her crib for a little while with a sippy cup of milk, but at least she’s awake.  This gives me a chance to wash my hair and face, while David outside the bathroom door loudly narrates Boris and the Monsters complete with commentary and questions.

8:30     Time to diaper Elanor, set out clothes for David to change into, quickly check email, and get everyone in the kitchen to start breakfast.  Our fridge has been broken for the last 2½ weeks (including 1 week when we were out of town).  Fortunately we have a fridge downstairs that is still working.  This morning the technician comes back with the part we need.  Ben already put everything from the freezer into a cooler to defrost everything, and by now he’s heading downstairs to his office in our basement to start work.  I start David on a Language assignment while I scramble six eggs.

8:50     No sooner are the eggs scrambled and served than our foster baby arrives.  He is in a transitional period where he spends nights and weekends with his family, and weekdays with us.  I walk out to our driveway to get him and his diaper bag.  He’s filled his diaper on the way here, so by the time I get him changed and in his high chair, the eggs are cold.  I don’t eat much hot food these days!

9:00     David takes a plate of scrambled eggs to Ben in his office, and everyone else eats eggs upstairs while I make strawberry smoothie in the blender.  We love smoothies in the summer.  Our foster baby eats scrambled eggs and strawberry smoothie along with the rest of us, but it takes a long time to spoonfeed him every bite.

9:30     The refrigerator technician arrives.  While he tinkers with the fridge, David and Elanor finish eating and start getting a little wild.  I finish feeding the baby and wash the breakfast dishes while giving the kids frequent corrections to try to keep them in line.

10:00   Time to get the baby down to play, brush the others’ teeth, and take Elanor potty.  I can tell she needs some special attention this morning, so on a whim I pull out our alphabet flashcards.  She learns the letter A and we put together a song to the “Farmer in the Dell” tune: “The letter A says a …”  She is beyond excited to be learning the alphabet and wants to go downstairs and show Daddy.  I guess this counts as her first official day of preschool.  I am hoping by the time she turns 3, she will have learned all her letters and sounds.

10:30   Elanor stays downstairs to play with toys.  Her playing quietly by herself is a new thing, and though it doesn’t last long, we sure are grateful!  This gives me time to do some school work with David.  We just finished David’s first Kindergarten year at age 4, doing only 2-3 days of school a week.  This upcoming year we’re going to do a little more school each week, but I also like doing school during the summer, so that we can keep a flexible schedule year round.  Late June and early July are quiet for us, so we’ll have a few weeks of normal school routine before we start swimming lessons and go on a couple vacations in late summer.

David and I read his handouts from VBS last week, then the book Leading Little Ones to God, and finally a DK Eyewitness Reader Winking, Blinking, Wiggling, and Waggling.  We have an entire shelf just for library books, and I’ve found a major way to save money home schooling (at least so far) is to borrow a lot from the library.

11:00   The baby’s been playing happily on the floor this whole time, but now he’s getting tired and ready for his nap.  I put him down just as Elanor decides she is finished with quiet play.  She needs another potty time, and then I start her watching an episode of Team Umizoomi, the kids’ current favorite show.  (Past favorites include Winnie the Pooh and Octonauts.)  Our tenant just got home early from her summer class, and we chat for a moment while Elanor’s movie starts.  We have a split foyer floorplan; the upstairs is ours entirely and the downstairs we share with our tenant.

While Elanor is watching a movie and the baby is sleeping, David and I have more quiet school time together.  We decide to start a thank you note to Aunt Lara, since we’re taking the month of June off handwriting to write thank you notes for birthday presents.  No sooner have we planned our note, picked our color markers, and started the word “dear” when David realizes he needs to have a bathroom time.  I catch up on a couple of texts and get myself more coffee while I wait for him to be done.

The freezer and fridge are working now, so I unload the cooler back into the freezer while David writes a couple more words.  Things are still quiet and calm, so I get online to look at a fresh ham recipe I am planning for tonight.  As usual, everything unravels the moment I sit at the computer.  David manages to topple his stool over, hurting himself and waking up the baby.  Elanor’s show finishes at that moment, and she needs to go potty.  It takes a little while to get everyone stable again.  The thank you note is abandoned and I realize I had better make lunch.

12:00   Lunch today is easy, since we have leftover pasta from last night.  I serve it up, and then go downstairs to get a couple more things out of that fridge.  I’m down there for about thirty seconds, but it’s enough time for trouble to happen.  I come up to find Elanor has found a travel bottle of what looks like lotion, and the baby has the cap.  I get the cap from the baby and the bottle from Elanor, and look around to make sure there is no lotion mess on the floor, which thankfully there isn’t.  Meanwhile David is talking to me about the blue-tongued skink in his pop-up book.

Everyone finally gets settled in to eat lunch.  Ben comes up to join us for a couple minutes until he needs to prepare for a phone call at 12:30.  I am really grateful Ben can work from home.  His hours are usually 8:30 to 5, sometimes more when a big project hits, and some days are more flexible than others.

Once Ben goes back down to work, Elanor finishes eating and starts playing with Duplos—her second time playing happily today.  She’s been in a bit of a terrible 2’s, high-drama stage, so every minute of her playing happily by herself feels like a breath of fresh air.

I look up that fresh ham recipe again and start preparing the ham with onion slices and BBQ sauce for dinner.  Meanwhile, David continues his thank you note and after he writes each word, he gives the baby one cheerio.  This is the first time the baby has had cheerios and he’s doing great with him.  We are all excited about telling his family about it tonight.

1:00     Elanor’s play time has ended with Duplos all over the kitchen floor.  We clean up, and while I read Elanor a story and put her down for her nap, David keeps the baby entertained with toys.  I answer a few quick emails while Elanor falls asleep.

1:30     Now it’s David’s turn to watch Team Umizoomi.  He selects an episode, and I pull the baby up in his high chair to join him.  This gives me a few minutes to take a nap.  I started power napping when David was one, and I have found it to be so helpful.  For awhile I felt guilty about it, and then I realized that was silly.  I’m a sensitive person in a busy season of life, and I do much better with a few minutes of dark-room time in the middle of the day.

1:50     Naptime over.  I fix myself a cup of cold coffee.  Baby is showing some tired signs, so I put him down for a nap, and when David finishes his episode of Team Umizoomi, I help him begin a quiet time in his bedroom listening to an audio drama of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I am a huge fan of audio books for children, especially as an alternative to too much screen time.  Awhile back, we set up a CD player and speakers on top of David’s dresser, and now he has audio book time every day.  He usually plays with toys while he listens, and sometimes I wonder if he is tracking more with Transformers or with Narnia, but at least he is having fun!

In those wonderful moments while David is quiet and both babies are napping, I have a quick Bible time—about 5 minutes or less to review what I read this morning and bring my heart back to center.  I try to do this every day.  Sometimes our mornings can seem 24 hours long in themselves, and I need to refocus!

Usually I spend my short afternoon quiet time on teaching work.  Over the school year I plan classes and grade papers.  This summer I’m not teaching, but I’m putting together my student workbook for the fall.  I got a fair amount done yesterday, though, so today I blog instead.  The baby wakes up in the middle—he only catnaps these days, and there are too many variables in his life for me to get him on a better nap schedule.  But he joins David in his bedroom, playing with toys while David listens to the audio book, and I get a little more writing done.

3:00     Quiet time is truly over when the princess herself wakes up.  I reassess my afternoon plan as I get her up.  I was going to take her and the baby to Costco and drop off David on the way to play with friends who live only a block away.  It looks like it’s going to take me at least half an hour to get the babies out the door, though.  This is when I’m thankful again that Ben works from home.  He can take a 5 minute break from work to drive David down to the friends’ house for the afternoon.

To care for three children ages 5, 2, and 1 can be a challenge.  So much of our lives centers around toddler/baby activities, and I am always trying to make sure that David has enough age-appropriate stuff going on.  I know he will have a lot of fun playing with friends while I have baby time this afternoon.

3:30     Sure enough it takes me half an hour before I’m backing out of the  driveway to get to Costco.  When Ben and I were in Mexico, it was a marvel how we could say, “Let’s go out for coffee” and I would just grab my purse and shoes and we would go.  With two babies, going anywhere is such a lengthy production that it is really tempting just to stay home.  Except for a day like today when we’re almost out of groceries!

Costco carts are wide enough to have two babies sitting side by side, and it is so much fun to push them both around.  Other than the moment when the baby accidentally scratches Elanor and they both start screeching, they have a wonderful time riding in the cart.  Whenever anyone smiles at Elanor, she says something like, “This is my foster baby.  He’s three.”  (Which he’s obviously not.)  No one else understands a word she says, but she monologues on about the blueberries we are buying and the cheese and how she would like another snack of veggie straws.

4:45     Finally back home!  By this point I’m pretty tired.  Ben is out mowing the lawn when I get back, which means he is having a very quiet work day.  We expected he would be busy with a major project this week, so I was anticipating he would be working every waking hour like he was a few weeks ago.  But the project is temporarily on hold, and I love having him a little more available.  He helps me bring in the groceries and then gets back to mowing.

Both babies are getting a bit fussy, so I fix them a snack of cheese and peaches while I put the groceries away and start the ham roasting in the oven.  Before I know it, it’s almost time for our baby to get picked up, so I quickly change his diaper and give him a bottle so he’ll be happy during his car ride.

5:30     After he leaves, Elanor starts playing with Duplos again, and I take the opportunity to go through mail and review our monthly bank statement.  I get interrupted in the middle when Elanor starts to fuss and David gets home.

5:45     David is ecstatic because he gets to borrow some sort of talking dinosaur toy.  He gets washed up, Ben comes in, and after pulling the ham out of the oven and fixing a quick salad, we all sit down to dinner together.  I am grateful for quiet family evenings together.  Over this past school year, we had David in soccer, gymnastics, Tball, and Awana (fortunately the sports were only one at a time).  They were all good experiences for him, but it meant that we were gone at least 2 evenings a week.  We’re in a little bit of a lull now before swimming lessons start, and I can’t say I mind more home time.

6:45     After dinner, I’m realizing how exhausted I am.  Ben takes the kids outside to pick sour cherries from our neighbor’s tree—they have extra and invited us over to harvest.  I am going to be doing dinner dishes, but to be honest I’ll admit I end up slumped over my computer looking at Facebook.  I took a Facebook fast earlier this year and I think it may be time for another one.  I like how it helps me keep connected to people, and I like the interesting links to blogs and news articles, but I find it does tend to consume too much of my time, especially when I’m tired.  I must admit though, it is nice to sit down in a quiet place for a few minutes after such a busy afternoon of shopping with the babies!

Eventually I pull myself out of my slump and manage to get the dinner dishes done before Ben comes back in with the kids.  I listen to “Broken Hallelujah” by the Afters, which I also heard on the radio on the way to Costco.  It seems to capture perfectly how I feel about losing our baby, and is one of my favorite songs right now.

7:30     Now we have a bucket of sour cherries to pit!  The kids help me get started while Ben does a little more work outside.  He’s currently in the middle of refinishing our deck.  He meant to do this in May before it got too hot, but his work was really busy then, so it’s happening now.  I love having a home and a yard, something we dreamed about for years before we moved here, but it certainly does come with a lot of work.

8:00     Ben comes in to shower while I fix the kids a bedtime snack.  We have pitted enough cherries to mix with yogurt and honey.  I use our immersion blender to turn it into some kind of smoothie drink that the kids sip up with straws while I read aloud a few stories from Frog and Toad to them.  It can be challenging to find a story that David and Elanor both like at their ages, but Frog and Toad is one of them.

8:30     Our goal is to have the kids in bed by this time, but tonight we’re just beginning the bedtime process.  It always takes a little while, especially because the kids like to draw it out, but by 9:00 they are both quiet in their rooms.  For Elanor this is actually a major achievement.  She’s been having bedtime trouble lately, and one night last week she was still awake at 11:00, fighting sleep and determined to make as much ruckus in her crib as possible.  Thankfully that’s not happening tonight!

9:00     I finish going through the bank statement I was in the middle of earlier, and answer a few texts and emails, before washing my face and changing into pajamas.

9:30     Yesterday night Ben and I started a movie about Temple Grandin, an autistic woman.  I’m not even sure how we heard about it, and I was concerned it might be a long and boring documentary, but it actually turned out to be a fascinating story.  We watched an hour last night and have an hour more tonight.  This gives us more than enough time to finish pitting cherries, and tomorrow I’ll make a cherry crisp.

10:30   We finish the movie, I look up Temple Grandin on Wikipedia, and we talk for awhile before going to bed.  10:30 is supposed to be our bedtime but we’re not that great about making it.  It takes me awhile to fall asleep again tonight—midnight again.  Insomnia is always my indicator that I have too much stress in my life, or I need to somehow cut back or think through about how I’m handling something.  Fortunately the insomnia is mild right now, but it motivates me to make time for more quiet, stay-at-home days, especially in the few weeks before our baby leaves.  For now, I’m grateful to fall asleep at midnight, knowing we’ve had a good day of getting things done and being together.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Vacation Diary: A Trip to the Baja

Warning that this is a really long blog post!  I wrote it mainly to help myself process and describe our time away in Mexico.  I don’t expect anyone else to get through the whole thing, but if you do, I hope you enjoy.

We planned this vacation over two and a half years ago, in November 2011, when we found the deal through Eversave online.  Looking back, it was probably not our wisest purchase.  I was in my first trimester of pregnancy with Elanor, feeling nauseous and depressed, and not at the point of making wisest decisions.  We were about to move, everything in our lives seemed up in the air, and for some reason we decided to buy a voucher for a week’s vacation to a destination we didn’t know much about.

Our plan was to get away before Elanor arrived, but with moving and everything, it never happened.  Elanor was our baby for a year, and then our foster baby arrived.  Getting away just the two of us even for an overnight was always out of the question, and finally we got to this summer when our voucher was about to expire, and it was use it or lose it.

We did get an amazing deal.  What we didn’t entirely realize was that once you add two airplane flights, a passport renewal, a rental car, etc., etc., the vacation was going to cost a little more than we planned.  And to be honest, I felt funny taking a vacation I decided on two and a half years ago.  I think I was more adventurous then and more willing to take risks, at least in my approach to vacations.  Now my whole life feels like a risk, and when I think about vacations, I’m thinking safe, secure, known, comfortable, not an unknown destination in Mexico …?  But we bought the voucher, so here we go.

Monday, June 9

We spend the night at my family’s, since that’s where David and Elanor are staying, and my alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m.  We leave for the airport at 4, arrive at 4:30, and take off without a hitch at 6:00.  We have a 3-hour layover in Houston, Texas, where we buy Starbucks, make a last call home, and eat lunch at what is really the time for breakfast.

We get in our plane to leave and, no kidding, spend 3 hours idling outside the airport.  The people in the back are about to mutiny, and everyone feels claustrophobic and grouchy.  This is the one flight where Ben and I aren’t sitting together, and it is really no fun.  I finish the novel I started that morning, read through an entire issue of Christianity Today, start a marriage book, read through the flight magazine, and think through a blog post I may someday write all before our plane even takes off.

We land at Cabo in Baja California Sur, which is one of the least populated and safest states in Mexico.  It’s on the very west side of Mexico, on that little peninsula that stretches down, at the very southern tip.  It isn’t until I get off the plane, motion sick and grouchy and exhausted after sitting in the same place for who knows how long, that I realize we came to a desert.  The sun is baking tall brown mountains and rocky soil marked only by cactus and gray shrubs.  We wait in line for a long time to get our passports stamped, the computers temporarily go down, and the Mexican officials chat happily and tell us they will be up and running soon.  Which thankfully they are.

Going through customs is no big deal—no on even checks our bags, much less copies the hard drive of my laptop which I’d worried about.  We take a shuttle to the rental car agency, wait a long time again for the car, and then get directions which sound very confusing despite the man’s assurances that it would be impossible to get lost.

We pull out of the parking lot and immediately disagree on whether we are supposed to turn right or left.  At this point we’ve been traveling for about fifteen hours with not much to eat and neither of us are in the best mood.  We back up and get directions again—it turns out that apparently it makes little difference whether we turn right or left—so we opt on left and get out of there.

I am driving this time while Ben navigates.  The speed limit is in kilometers per hour, which throws me a little bit, as does the fact that Mexican drivers see no problem with honking loudly and passing me even though I am rounding a corner with a solid yellow line and going about 20 km/hr over the posted speed limit already.  It isn’t uncommon for the speed limit to change from 90 km/hr to 60 to 40 back to 90 all within a very short distance and for no apparent reason.  The other drivers seem content to cheerfully ignore the speed limit, as well as stop signs, though many intersections don’t have them and it seems just assumed that some will stop and some will go (or at least that we will all get through the intersection without hitting each other).  Usually at those intersections I stop to avoid what seems like an impending accident, only to have everyone stare at me like I am nuts and honk loudly behind me.

We stop at Costco, and walking in feels so surreal.  The layout is almost exactly like the Costco at home, most of the food is the same, and I half expect to meet a family from church in one of the aisles.  We buy food for the two of us for the week, and fortunately there are tasters everywhere that basically becomes our dinner.  Paying in pesos is a little disconcerting.  For instance, our Costco bill comes to something like $1,800.00, but that’s in pesos so it’s okay, right?  I hope so.

We try to find our way out of Cabo to the highway that is supposed to take us to our destination.  It is supposed to be easy to find, but of course it isn’t, and our GPS takes several long minutes to kick into gear.  So we get a rather roundabout tour of Cabo.  The side streets are dirt roads, some badly eroded.  There are speed bumps everywhere.

Finally we get out of Cabo to drive toward Todos Santos.  Baja California Sur is a tiny peninsula, so after rounding the bottom corner, we drive north with beach on our left and desert on our right.  It’s amazing how uninhabited the place is.  It is a Monday evening during what might have been rush hour, but in driving for about an hour, we pass a few trucks, and that is it.  Fortunately we have no trouble finding our destination, and bump down a dirt driveway for what seems like a mile, until we get there.

That is when I first feel really happy to be here.  Cerritos Surf Colony is like a tiny oasis in the desert, just on the beach, with lawns and flowers and a swimming pool and villas the color of terra cotta.  We get villa #9, right on the beach, unpack, and fall asleep.

Tuesday, June 10

It’s a 3-hour time change from home and we’re not used to it, so the sun coming in the window wakes me up around 5:30 in the morning.  Our villa isn’t air conditioned, but with high ceilings, fans, and sea breezes, it is surprisingly comfortable.  It’s also surprisingly spacious.  We have a family room that could comfortably seat six people, a kitchenette with a full fridge and stove, a bathroom about four times as big as our bathroom at home, and a very large bedroom.
It certainly isn’t a five star hotel, though.  The screen is rickety, one of the light bulbs is out, there is a little sand in the bed, and there is no shower curtain and the water sprays out into the bathroom.

Still, I love it.  It is so relaxing and rural and quiet.  I step out on our patio and see the gorgeous blue-green water, and all the time day or night we can hear the rhythmic waves.  The beach has always seemed relaxing to me, but I’ve never gotten to live so close to it.

Before the day gets hot, we walk up the beach to the hotel on the bluff, which seems like a beautiful historic mission with an eclectic mix of Catholic and Aztec art.  The beautiful courtyard is filled with all kinds of flowers and palm trees.  Apparently from January to April, it is a prime whale watching spot.  We are a little disappointed to learn afterwards that the hotel is only six years old.

After a couple hours, we drive into the little town of Todos Santos, where the downtown streets are filled with art galleries and people trying to sell us jewelry and other local handcrafted items.  We buy a couple things and even barter a bit.  Then we hit a local grocery store which only sells produce and eggs.  The produce is a disappointment, and the eggs are sitting out at room temperature in flats of 30, with feathers still sticking to them.

We stop at Baja Beans, where the coffee is some of best I’ve ever tasted.  The coffee shop is at the end of another long, bumpy dirt driveway just beside a field of jalapenos.  The courtyard where you can sit and eat is huge, and Ben is impressed by the various pomegranate and mango trees.

We get back to our villa, watch the Avengers that afternoon (this is our chance to catch up on all those movies we missed in the theaters), and walk along the beach in the cool of the evening.  After wine and pizza in our villa complements of Costco, we end up falling asleep shortly after 8:00, and the wonderful thing about being away from kids is that whenever we are tired, we can just sleep.

Wednesday, June 11

It is amazing to wake up at 6:00 and feel so well rested.  Today is all about rest and relaxation.  Coffee and reading on the couch in the villa while the sun comes up, Bible time beside the pool, walk along the beach before it gets hot.

When the sun is overhead, we lay out a little reading.  I’m beginning The Promise by Ann Weisgarber and so far it’s fascinating.  We put sunscreen on, play in the waves, get in the pool, and lie out.  For the afternoon we come inside to watch Saving Mr. Banks.  I like it but not as much as I thought I would—too many unanswered questions, and the idea of using art to get the happy ending you missed in real life is a bit unsettling to me.

That evening we drive back toward Todos Santos, take a few tries to find an ATM, and eat at El Gusto, the nicest restaurant in town.  We drive up a bumpy dirt road up the mountain and discover the restaurant on what is like a rooftop, shaded and overlooking the beach.  So far I haven’t missed air conditioning here at all.  Everything is open to the outdoors, and shade and sea breezes keep everything cool enough.

We order a portabella salad, tortilla soup, and grilled tuna, with chocolate mousse for dessert.  At dusk the sky fills with bats and birds hunting for insects.  It’s exquisitely beautiful and serene up there, looking out at the ocean and hearing the Spanish music.

Thursday, June 12

It’s clear that we got more sun yesterday than we thought.  We’re pink and sore enough to want to lay low all day today.  I want to avoid the sun, but in the shade I’m actually too cold.  After reading a marriage book together for awhile, we slather on more sunscreen this time and go out to lunch at a beautiful restaurant just minutes away.

Once again, it is completely outdoors under a shade made from palm branches.  We sit in the middle of a vast garden where the food we’re eating has been harvested just that morning.  Sipping hibiscus tea makes me cold again, so we explore the garden again in the sunlight to warm up.  We have a delicious arugula beet salad, a cold zucchini/leek/cilantro cream soup which is actually amazing, and chicken enchiladas, with a banana strawberry cheesecake for dessert that is more like a baked custard.  Everything is delicious and incredibly fresh.  The restaurant seems family-owned and we get to watch them working in the open kitchen and heating up their brick oven to prepare for pizzas for dinner that night.

I love how outdoors everything is here.  Since we left the airport, I’ve never felt completely indoors.  The sea breezes find you everywhere.  We might step into a room where there is no door, simply an arched opening, and the next room is a courtyard open to the sun and filled with exotic plants.  It’s amazing to see the effort people have taken to bring cultivation and beauty to the desert.  It reminds me of the verses I memorized in Jeremiah that when we don’t trust in the Lord, we are like a barren desert that sees nothing good, but with the Lord, our roots dig deep to find water and we become cultivated and fruitful and green.  Seeing the desert here with the rocky soil, the cacti, and the thorny gray underbrush, I would give up on this land as good for nothing.  But those who take the time to work it have made beautiful resorts and gardens.  I hear also that just a little bit of rain, though it happens rarely, can immediately transform this place—as if everything is waiting for just the slightest bit of water to burst into bloom.

This afternoon we watch Philomena, which I think is my favorite movie we have watched here yet, a fascinating story of a forced adoption and a mother’s search for her biological son, with the humorous comparison of a friendly Catholic old lady with an cynical journalist.

As the evenings gets cooler, we walk along the beach, get in the waves, and then warm up in the pool.  I’m nearing the climax in my novel The Promise but I make myself stop to get to bed at a decent time, and there will be plenty of time to read tomorrow.

Friday, June 13

Every morning we are sleeping in a little later—this morning it’s 8:00 when I get up to make my coffee and have my Bible time.  I missed a yoga class on the beach on Tuesday and am hopeful they might have one today.  But the office says they don’t know when the yoga instructor does her classes and I don’t see anyone on the beach.  It’s interesting to be in a culture that is not as highly organized as we are in the states.  So much seems to happen spontaneously, as the wind blows.  For instance, what’s on the menu at a restaurant may not reflect what they are actually serving, but whatever they do have is delicious.   I’m not that great at taking things as they come, but it’s easier to be that way on vacation.

This morning I see a mother and her young child on the beach, and I’m struck both by how I’m starting to miss our kids, and also how I feel worlds away from being a responsible parent, like I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to have 3 little people constantly depending on me.  I’ve never been this far away from any of the kids for this long, and though I love it, I am beginning to look forward to going home and I hope the adjustment isn’t too much of a shock.

We walk the beach instead of doing yoga.  Ben makes a berry smoothie, scrambled eggs, and refried beans in our kitchenette before we head out to Baja Beans again to enjoy their delicious coffee and read together.  I finish The Promise which ends up being surprisingly tragic.  Still an interesting read, though.  In the afternoon we watch The Book Thief, so artistic and such a poignant depiction of the German people during WWII.

That evening it’s hard to believe that this is our last day of relaxation here.  I don’t think I’ve ever relaxed quite so much and it’s wonderful not to feel guilty about it, to know that at home I’ve been so busy and often stressed and for a few days I can just let all that go.  It is delightful just to do nothing—to read, watch a movie, eat good food, enjoy the outdoors, and sleep.  Maybe that means I’m getting old and boring, but I’ve deeply enjoyed these quiet days.

Saturday, June 14

Today is Ben’s idea, and it’s a little bit of a splurge for us, that has me both nervous and excited—driving about 90 minutes to La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur, to snorkel with sea lions.

We set our alarms for 5:45—no more sleeping in—and after a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried beans, and blueberry smoothie, we leave for La Paz.  At first the drive is fairly easy—just follow the long stretch of highway through the desert.  As we get closer to La Paz it gets more complicated.  Our GPS actually hasn’t been too helpful here since it’s difficult to enter the addresses for specific places.  It does, however, help us to navigate the busy city of La Paz, with its busy intersections that are simply 4-way stops where no one ever seems to quite completely stop.

Thankfully we find our location, Costa Baja, right on the beach.  The water here is calmer, since this is not the Pacific Ocean but the Sea of Cortez.  We get our snorkeling gear.  I am feeling more out of my element by the minute.  Part of our group are experienced scuba divers, and in contrast I feel self-conscious and stupid.  But a few others have never snorkeled before, and one woman is scared of the water and is planning to stay in the boat and watch.

We leave by boat around 8:30, and it takes about 90 minutes of boat ride to get to our destination, El Spiritu Island.  On the boat ride we are served bottled water, soda, fresh fruit, and cookies.  The family of experienced divers are actually very friendly and tell us all about their various vacation experiences.  We sit up in the front of the boat and watch the view.  We are skimming through green water past a variety of desert islands.

Finally we arrive at the island where the sea lions are.  Our guide launches into an explanation of how deep the water is, how to avoid being attacked by the alpha males, and not to worry if a sea lion bites you, because it feels like you are only being bit by a puppy, or maybe a very large puppy.  Does anyone want a life jacket?

I am trying to control my nervousness as I put on my snorkeling mask, life jacket, and flippers that make it hilariously awkward to walk across the boat to where we jump off.  I went skydiving when I was in college.  That was before I had kids.  Now I’m trying to persuade myself that snorkeling with sea lions is safe.

It turns out to be an amazing experience.  The water is a little cold and we don’t have wet suits, but we get used to it quickly.  Swimming with a life jacket and flippers is incredibly easy.  With my snorkeling mask, it’s fun to put my face in the water and beneath me looks like a scene from Finding Nemo.  We see a huge variety of colorful fish and coral.

We swim through an arch in the rocky island to where the sea lions are.  They are not playful today, which disappoints our instructor a little as she describes how she’s had about five of them on her before, but I can’t say I mind.  After being in the water for about 45 minutes, swimming around and looking at the sights, we head back to the boat.

Our next stop is to a quiet island, and this turns out to be my favorite part of our day.  We stop at what truly is a pristine beach—one of those places that you think only a few people in the world have ever seen.  The water is as clear as a swimming pool, and bright aquamarine color.  The beach is incredibly gentle, with no waves.  There are two small bathroom tents, camping tents for those who stay overnight—I want to!!, and a shade with picnic tables where we eat our lunch.  I expected our choice of cold wrap sandwiches or something like that, but instead we are deserved delicious hot soup, followed by fish with a cream sauce and bacon and shrimp, with salad and bread.  Ben and I take a kayak out in the water, and I lie down to take a nap. 

I think this is one of my favorite places where I have ever been, so detached from the stress and hurry of the world.  It amazes me to think of God not only creating these beautiful places, but knowing them all intimately, even those places where no human being has ever been.  This beautiful remote desert island is like a gift that few people ever experience.  It’s so far outside my normal life, and makes me grateful that Ben insisted on splurging a little and going snorkeling with sea lions.  A picture doesn’t do it justice.  In person it gives you a sense of awe.

Eventually we take the boat back to La Paz, another 90 minute trip.  Ben takes a nap, while I drink a Pepsi, another thing I hardly ever do but I’m getting tired, and look out at the waves in the wind and think about our kids and our foster baby.

When we get back to La Paz, we decide to walk the Melacon, a boardwalk right beside the beach.  It’s nice to walk in a Mexican city where there are fewer tourists and we’re surrounded by the normal population.  It’s hotter here than it is where we are staying.  A hot air balloon show is going on, and we get to watch the balloons being filled up.  We purchase a few necklaces at an open air market, and we get ice cream.  Considering we know hardly any Spanish and the server speaks no English, we do pretty well.  We stop at a little convenience store to buy bottled water and then head back to Cerritos.

By the time we get back it is late and I’m so tired.  I don’t want to leave tomorrow!

Sunday, June 15

For some reason I wake up at 4:30 in the morning.  This is the first time I’ve had insomnia on this trip.  I lie in bed for awhile thinking about the 3-hour time change and how at home we would normally be awake and getting ready for church.  I’m a little overwhelmed about getting home basically in the middle of the night tonight, and jumping into a Monday morning.

Eventually I get out of bed and step out on our patio.  The sun is beginning to rise behind me, but above the beach toward the west, there is a full moon.  It’s another idyllic moment that makes me want to freeze time.  I read the Bible, and at 7:00 decide to wake up Ben.

We go for our last walk on the beach and then start packing.  The power blinked once during our stay, but now it goes off for at least an hour, with no water either.  That puts a bit of a damper on our breakfast preparations.  We’ve just about decided to finish up our packing early and go to the coffee shop when the water and power come back on.

It’s the hottest day yet that we have been here, more humid with little breeze.  It makes me a little bit more ready to leave.  We check out and start driving back toward Cabo.  We decide to get gas on the way and we both remember a gas station along the highway.  Apparently we remembered it sooner than it actually was.  We drive mile after mile of baking hot desert watching our gas tank reach nearly empty.  I am incredibly nervous that we will run out of gas on the way to the airport and be stranded on the side of the road, two American tourists in the middle of nowhere who can’t speak Spanish and who are going to miss their flight.

Ben, never the one to be nervous, prays aloud that we will find a gas station in time.  I don’t pray aloud because my prayer would be more like a Piglet “Help!  Help!”  Fortunately right as we reach empty we find a gas station.  There is a gas station attendant who helps us get our gas.  Then we drive the rest of the way toward Cabo.

Drivers are crazy here.  We are on a toll road going about 30 km above the speed limit (like most other cars) when we are passed as if we were standing still by a car that almost has a head-on collision in front of us.  So scary.  I have never seen such a near car accident at such high speed.  Thankfully we make it safely back to return our rental car, then to the airport, ready to catch our flight home.

Looking back this has been my best vacation ever.  I know we can’t make a regular habit out of this kind of thing, but it has been so wonderful to get away.  I can see looking back especially over the past year how our marriage can suffer just from the stresses of daily life.  It’s easy to begin operating like two disgruntled coworkers, parents bending under the pressures of three young children, busy work schedules, home projects, family relationships.  At home right now our fridge needs repairing again and our deck is in the middle of being refinished.  We’ll get home tomorrow and Ben will be slammed with work for an upcoming deadline, and I’ll be trying to care for three kids, a foster care case, grocery shopping, and laundry.

It’s easy in the whirlwind to lose touch with each other, literally and figuratively.  The thing to remember, though, is that if I weren’t married to Ben, I wouldn’t have any of this crazy life that can now keep me away from him.  It’s good to get away and remind ourselves that our marriage should be central.  (Christ is the center, but I think our marriage should be central, if that makes sense.)  We need to take the time to keep a strong marriage at the center of all the whirling pressures.  We’ve had good conversations while we’ve been away, have read some good books, and have goals coming back.  Now I just hope that in the craziness of the next few weeks/months/years I can stop and remember what it feels like to be at a magical beach with the one I love, when all the distractions melt away and I remember what is really important in life.