Our Non-Honeymoon (First Year Fails: Part I)

I decided that following my last post about the miscarriage we had after our first month of marriage,  I’m going to post a series of blogs about our first year of marriage. You may think I’m being dramatic when I say that our first year was an epic fail; but in this case, I’m not being dramatic. The only two things that didn’t fail: God (because He doesn’t), and our actual marriage commitment (oh, but it came close). Our honeymoon, my residency, our health, our communication, our living situation, our dogs (at first), our Nissan Sentra, my job– they were all a mess. Some of those circumstances were comical (or at least they are now) and some of them were devastating blows to our marriage. Either way, by the time we got to our first anniversary, we felt like we’d been married for ten years. During that time, people who didn’t know us well would continually give us the provocative eyebrow raise and make references about how we were in the “honeymoon period,” but really had no idea that we were barely surviving that special sexy season. Then they would say, “Just wait until year seven, then it really gets difficult.” I think we died inside just a little bit every time we heard that.

Lest you fret that this series of blogs will be entirely negative, this first entry is pretty light and comical, mostly because it was RIGHT after we got married. I can also say that even though a lot of crappy things happened our first year, we did survive, and we’re stronger for it. We’ve struggled immensely, fought hard, and loved well. We’ve come to know each other in amazing ways and have a profound respect for each other now that we’ve seen how the other responds to difficulty. Most importantly, we’ve learned that Christ is the center of our marriage and have come to understand that He is the only reason any marriage is truly successful. I hope these posts are encouraging to any of you who aren’t living a Facebook photo-worthy marriage or feel like you missed the boat on the good old honeymoon period …

Albin was able to get two weeks off for our wedding. He flew to Cincinnati, we got married six days later, flew back to Costa Rica three days later, bought a bed and settled into our apartment for one night, and then spent the next night at my suegra’s (mother-in-law’s) house for our excursión the next day. Excursión sounds so much more exotic than it really is. Basically, appliances are expensive in Costa Rica since they have an import tax placed on them. To get around the import tax, there is a tax-free zone, called “Golfito,” in the southern part of the country. It’s very common to go to Golfito  through an excursión, which is when a company with a bus takes care of your transportation and lodging for your trip. Each person is allowed to spend $1,000 in Golfito per year, so my suegra and Albin’s abuela (grandma) went with us so we could divide up our money to buy our big appliances (found out later that everyone is allowed to spend $2,000 per year, which means suegra and abuela didn’t need to go after all). Back to the story.

We spent the night at my suegra’s and slept in abuela’s single bed (this was the 5th night of marriage, mind you) the night before our expedition. At 5 a.m. we got to the bus stop and a large and in-charge Tica woman named Doña Adelita welcomed a big group of us. We arrived in Golfito in six hours with no problem. We were greeted by a wall of humid heat the minute we got off the bus. By now you know about my sweating problem, so you can imagine. Doña Adelita got up and gave us the “rules.” That day we had three hours to make all of our purchases. We would leave promptly after three hours and head for the border of Panama, where we would spend the night in their “accommodations” and have a chance to shop at the border crossing (i.e. seediest place in the Western Hemisphere). The following day we would return and have two hours to pick up our purchases and get them ready to be shipped back home (it was a rule).

I don’t know how to even describe how this all went down. If you remember the game show “Supermarket Sweep,” then you’ll have an idea. We literally had to run from place to place, comparing prices, bargaining, and buying in 100 degree heat. It was so stressful. Three hours may seem like a lot until you realize you have to compare, bargain, and buy your washer, dryer, oven, microwave, fridge, pots, pans, toaster, blender, Crockpot, and television–all in different stores. On top of that, add in suegra and abuela giving their opinions and telling us what to do, Albin trying to translate everything since I was lost in life, and the lack of sleep due to just getting married. Just imagine me panting and sweating with a deer-in-headlights look on my face as all that bartering and opinionating is going on in Spanish. In literally no time, Doña Adelita was blowing her foghorn and saying it was time to go. Right now.

We shuffled onto the bus headed for the border. Absolute chaos at the border. We eventually arrived at our accommodations which weren’t anything comparable to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. It was an 8×8’ room and it was ghetto. My suegra and abuela graciously took the bunk beds so we newly-weds could take the double bed (6th night of marriage), locked the door tight, and tried to justify in our heads that all of this was completely normal.

The next morning, Doña Adelita rolled up at 5 a.m. and we went back to the free zone to pick up our items. I swear it was hotter than the day before. We secured all of our items and got all of the receipts in order to go through what is essentially a customs line. As we neared the front of the line, Albin started frantically shuffling through the receipts. He couldn’t find the one from the washer and we wouldn’t be allowed out with our new washer without the receipt. Utter panic ensued. We lost our place in the long line and went running to every store trying to find the receipt. So. Much. Sweat.

As abuela guarded our purchases, we ran around rabidly trying to ignore Doña Adelita’s loudspeaker notifying us that we were about to miss the bus. At the last minute, we found that blessed golden ticket at one of the stores and ran back to the line, begging Doña Adelita not to leave us. She had mercy on us and we were able to get our appliances on the shipping truck.

Back on the bus, I passed out immediately and slept for about two hours. Up until this point, the bus was air-conditioned and was the only respite from the unbearable humidity. Naturally, the air-conditioner was overworked and went out. The windows of the bus were airtight (due to it normally being a bus with AC), so there was no air flow. We started stripping. Then the bus driver had the brilliant idea to turn on a movie to distract us. It was reminiscent of Saw III. Between the gore in the movie, the boiling bus, and the curvy mountain road, someone was bound to get sick. Of course it was the lady next to us. She started throwing up and you can imagine how that went seeing as the windows wouldn’t open. People were moaning the whole way home.

The good news is that we made it home. There was a problem with the shipping truck and we didn’t receive our appliances for four days, which wasn’t a huge problem at first since we slept for two days straight. Things started to become dire when our clothes from the excursion started rotting and smelling up our apartment along with the food that couldn’t be kept cold due to no refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it was Christmas? We went to Denny’s for Christmas breakfast. Sigh.

Moral of the story: Go on a real honeymoon.  Seriously, I know there was the whole thing about not having enough money, or time off work or needing the appliances, but we TOTALLY regret not having a honeymoon.

 

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A Miscarriage After Our First Month of Marriage

Positiva.

Even though my Spanish wasn’t excellent, I couldn’t mess that up. It was clearly positive. When I opened the email containing my blood test results, I skipped over everything else and went straight to the part that showed my hCG hormone levels and arrived at that one word that started a ripple effect in my life.

Positiva.

It took my breath away. Like the time I fell out of the big tree we always used to climb in my grandparents’ backyard as kids. I landed on my back and for a few moments the impact left me breathless for what seemed like an eternity. On the day I read my pregnancy test results, it was very similar. It hit me with such an impact that I was stunned. I wasn’t expecting it at all and I was left gasping for some sanity.

This is an intimate blog. I want to be vulnerable because I know I’m not the only one who has struggled through this. Some of the following is very personal, but it is heavy on my heart to share it openly and honestly.

About two and a half weeks into our marriage, I felt a little out of sync and suspected a UTI or a yeast infection, so I went to the doctor. He confirmed my suspicions and then asked if I was pregnant. I nervously laughed and said that we had only gotten married two weeks ago. He put me on medicine and said no sex for at least a week. Exactly what you want to hear your first month of marriage … after you’ve just had a long-distance relationship for 17 months.

After a week of abstinence and medicine, my infection started getting a little better, but I was still feeling a little odd, so the doctor sent me in for a blood test to check out my cell counts and other medical things I didn’t understand. The thing I did understand was that he also asked them to check for the pregnancy hormone. I was panicking. I hadn’t even been married for a month, I was still dealing with culture shock from my mission trip, still getting to know (again) this man I married after a ridiculous long-distance relationship, still getting accustomed to moving back to Costa Rica after being gone for almost two years, super emotional from all the changes, and frustrated that we couldn’t have sex for two weeks during our first month of marriage. Everything was out of control.

Then I received my results. Positiva. I was pregnant. Two days before our one-month anniversary, I found out we were expecting and I literally could not handle it. I’m ashamed to say it, but honestly, I was devastated. This wasn’t what I had planned and I didn’t feel emotionally stable enough to take yet another change on top of all the madness. It was so overwhelming, I just shut down.

I spent a few days in survival mode. Albin tried the best he could, but I would just lay in bed and cry. I felt lost. I was thousands of miles away from my family and my best friends, and my poor husband was at a loss. Finally, a couple of days later, he sat down and told me that we needed to accept that I was pregnant and that he wanted our baby to be “wanted.” Completely valid, and again, I felt completely ashamed. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to love or want our child, I was just too overwhelmed to fathom that we were going to have a child. Albin’s comment struck my heart though, and that day I decided that I was going to accept that I was pregnant, embrace this new life inside of me, and move forward.

Over the next few days, we began working through this new situation and I started coming to terms with the fact that things were going to be different and that was okay. I knew God had a plan and it’s not like we were unwed teenagers with no means to support ourselves. I was 26 and Albin was 30. All my friends were on their second child. It wasn’t the end of the world by any means.

Then I started having some back pains. Then stomach cramps. Then spotting. I was so confused. We had just started to embrace this baby and move forward. Albin took me to the doctor. I can’t adequately describe my emotions at this point. I was in a daze. I remember sitting in the cold, white examining room and trying to answer the medical questions being fired at me in Spanish, but instead just wanting to be at home in bed. At one point, the nurse asked me something I didn’t understand. I looked to Albin helplessly, but he didn’t know how to translate her question. After a long and grotesque description of the word they were using, I realized she was asking if there were many clots coming out in my blood. I affirmed that there were and she tried not to show her dismay. I could see in her eyes what I already knew. I was having a miscarriage. The doctor drew blood and checked my hormone levels again. My hCG levels were dropping and I was losing our baby. Again, I was left speechless.

One of the worst parts of that day was that they kept referring to the miscarriage as an “aborto.” In my mind, aborto= abortion. Being adamantly pro-life, I kept trying to correct them and tell them that I didn’t have an abortion. Albin gently explained to me that “aborto” was the medical term they used also for when a woman’s body rejects a baby naturally. It seemed too harsh. All I was hearing was, “Your body is aborting your baby.” Like I had chosen to lose this baby. Like my body wasn’t good enough to keep the baby in. It’s almost too painful for me to write about. I felt like my heart was being ripped out.

I went home and was paralyzed with shock. A little over a month ago I was in a white wedding dress with a beautiful adventure in front of me. It wasn’t supposed to look like this. The next few days were miserable. If you have ever had a miscarriage, you know how excruciatingly painful it is for you to see those “clots” and all the blood. Part of you is seeping out slowly and there is nothing you can do about it. It was absolutely sickening for me to flush the toilet because I knew. I knew it wasn’t just a normal period and that fact left an internal wound somewhere in me that I didn’t even know existed.

Then it is over. You’re left empty. Lost in your own thoughts. Overwhelmed with regret, shame, grief, confusion, leftover hormones, and shock. It came in waves. Waves that threatened to pull me under with each fresh swell. If I’m brutally honest, I was so afraid. I was terrified that it was my fault we lost our baby since I had cried so much about not being ready when I first found out I was pregnant. I was devastated all over again.

Those were some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. Because of the miscarriage, sex was off-limits for another two weeks. I mention that because not having sex for a month during your first two months of marriage creates a lot of unwanted distance. On top of that, I was so utterly wrecked that I didn’t even want Albin to come near me. One of my biggest mistakes was not sitting down and working through everything that had happened. I tried to move forward and forget because I felt like I couldn’t handle the burden of everything. My family and friends felt a million miles away. I didn’t tell many people about our loss because it was too painful and too abrupt. Several people that I did tell tried to comfort me by saying “at least it was an early miscarriage.” I stopped telling people I had a miscarriage after I heard that a few times. Does the fact that we lost the baby in an “early miscarriage” make that baby’s life any less valuable? I felt as though my grief was unjustified when people said that. I understood what they meant. They were relieved that I wasn’t far along enough to have to suffer through the D & C procedure, relieved that I hadn’t told all of Facebook and started purchasing baby clothes. I truly did understand, but in my head all I heard was that I had no right to mourn like other women whose situation was “worse.”  People who meant well were incredibly hurtful and I tried not to be offended, but we had lost a part of us. How could I not take it personal?

It took months for my body and hormones to get regulated again. I wish I could say the same for my heart and my mind. I had been through so much in such a short time, I was literally reeling. We went through several very difficult situations after this as well (future blogs to come) and I felt like a trapeze artist tottering on a high wire, afraid that one misstep was going to send me into an abyss of depression that I couldn’t get out of. I was overwhelmed with confusion. I kept asking God why He allowed that to happen so soon after getting married and during a time when I was going through so many other things. Why did I have to even find out I was pregnant? If I hadn’t received the blood tests saying I was pregnant, would I have known? Would I have just thought I was having a late and abnormally heavy period? Was all of that necessary? I wouldn’t say I was angry, but I was shaken to the core.

There are a lot of questions that are still unanswered, but one thing I can say that I am certain of now: God was there in the midst of that situation. Just as He has been intimately involved in every aspect of my life since day one. None of these things were a surprise to Him. He holds our lives in His hands and He cares. He knew and created that baby inside of me even though it was just starting to form. He held that little life in His hands.

For a long time, I had almost pretended that the miscarriage didn’t happen, like it was just some bad nightmare. About a year and a half after it happened, I wasn’t able to sleep one night and I heard the Lord whispering to my heart. He told me many personal things, but I want to share something that set me free in a lot of ways.

Tricia, that baby was real. All of that really happened. It’s okay to acknowledge that and grieve your loss.  Someday you will meet him in heaven, but for now, I’m taking care of him for you.

I can’t even begin to describe to you the release that I felt in my heart. The permission to truly grieve and to be reminded that the Creator was intimately involved in the situation gave peace to my heart. The Lord started to heal those deep places of my soul that were wounded from our loss, and also began to heal the pain from the cutting words people had unknowingly pierced me with.

Healing, as always, has been a process. I had to work through the thought that maybe my body was defective in some way and that I wasn’t able to do the one thing women were supposed to be able to do. I had to work through mixed feelings when friends found out they were pregnant. I had to surrender the paralyzing fear of having another miscarriage when I was pregnant with Mariah. Oh, and I still hesitate when people ask me if Mariah is my first child. Yes, well no, but do I really want to explain?

The ugly truth is that a miscarriage is a heart-wrenching experience and the healing process isn’t easy by any means. The beautiful truth is that our Creator is intimately involved in every moment of our lives, from conception to our last breath.  He knows that there is a time to grieve and a time to rejoice and is there in the midst of it all. He is there with us when life knocks the wind out of us and He is there in every positiva that comes our way. He is not surprised, not confused, and never uncertain of the next step. I can rest in the fact that since He created the depths of our souls, He is more than capable of healing them too.

I would love to hear from you on this one, especially if you’ve gone through a similar situation. It’s always encouraging for me to hear that I’m not alone from people that understand.

Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 139:13-16

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

.

Breakfast Battles

I have no idea if the following topic is just a bicultural marriage issue or if it’s an every marriage issue, but it is fun to write about, so I shall.

I grew up on loads of breakfast cereal. Any time of day was a good time of day for cereal. One of my favorite food-related reasons for going back to Ohio isn’t to eat Olive Garden, but to open up my parents’ pantry and see a cereal buffet. Cereal has been in my top five favorite foods for decades. One of my fondest childhood memories is when I would eat peanut butter Cap’n Crunch until the roof of my mouth would hurt while watching good ole Bob Barker on the Price is Right. Oh, and what did I crave during pregnancy? Cinnamon Honey Bunches of Oats. You can’t get it here in Costa Rica, so I literally dreamed about me finding a cabinet full of it.

Enter Albin. He was used to eating a big plate of gallo pinto (black beans and rice) with sour cream, eggs and toast for just about every breakfast since, well, forever.

When he first came to Cincinnati to visit, he was slightly timid with my family.  As Albin became more comfortable with everyone, he started to seem more uncomfortable with breakfast. Finally, he must have mustered up some confidence because one morning I overheard him ask my mom if we had anything else to eat for breakfast. After a puzzled hesitation, she said yes, thought for a moment, and offered him oatmeal. I have to give it to him, he really tried to seem excited about that “different” option, but I know his Costa Rican brain was telling him that oatmeal was just hot cereal.

My mom noticed his less than authentic excitement and asked what he usually ate for breakfast. He asked if he could just make some eggs. That definitely wasn’t a problem. The best part was that she pulled out a carton of “Egg Beaters.” For those of you unaware of what Egg Beaters are, like Albin was, they are eggs that are already beaten and ready to be poured out of what looks like a milk carton. You should have seen Albin’s face when she gave him that carton. Eggs in a milk carton? He was lost. By that point, I was cracking up. He considered turning her down, but it all worked out in the end and Albin took the plunge with boxed and beaten eggs.

Photo credit: eggbeaters.com

Photo credit: eggbeaters.com

The next weekend, we went camping with a big group and one morning Albin had disappeared. We were looking everywhere for him when suddenly I caught a glimpse of a man creeping around my grandparents’ camper. Turns out they felt sorry for him and invited him to eat breakfast with them. He was overjoyed to find out that they were having (real) eggs, sausage, bacon, and toast.

That was just a foretaste of things to come. Breakfast was definitely another thing for us. Apparently a lot of our cultural things have to do with food, but let’s be honest, a big part of our day is dedicated to eating. Up until this day, I still avoid eye contact on Saturday mornings when I know Albin is looking at me with longing, hoping that I will say those magical words, “What if I make gallo pinto?” Don’t worry, I do make it. I’m not completely heartless. In fact, I’ve grown to love beans and rice for breakfast. Just as cereal has definitely grown on him. I’ve even opened up his horizons and blown his mind with different kinds of pancakes. He had never tried a blueberry (or banana, or chocolate chip) pancake before we were married! Once his eyes were opened, he got a little out of hand. I remember one day he surprised me by getting crazy and making pancakes with apples, cinnamon, and chocolate chips in them.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. Our children will have a nice assortment of both cereal and gallo pinto throughout the week, with the occasional randomly flavored pancake thrown in. In a funny way, our breakfast is kind of like our relationship. I love that.

Wildly Successful Marriage

Nobody wants their marriage to fail, including me. Before I got married, not only did I not want to fail, I wanted my marriage to be wildly successful. I loved to win. I wanted to be the best at everything I did. My parents have an amazing marriage. In my mind, it was pretty near perfect. It hasn’t been easy for them, but they have set an incredible example. In my mind, their example was the standard. I was crushed when I found out that I couldn’t meet my own high expectations.

When Albin and I first started dating, a well-meaning missionary lady asked me to get coffee. She told me she had worked with several bicultural couples over the years and that they hadn’t had much success. She told me a few horror stories about her friends. In some cases, the problem wasn’t the cultural difference, the problem was that they married crazy people. There was, however, some truth to a lot of what she said and I appreciated that she cared for me. A little seed of fear was planted.

Throughout the rest of our dating relationship, engagement, and marriage, we encountered SO many people that were more than happy to give us any negative comment, horror story, or struggle they’d ever heard of in a bicultural marriage. Each time, another little seed of fear was planted in my heart. Comments about how we would be miserable, how Albin would treat me as a second-class citizen, how the Tico man/Gringa woman marriage was rated the most likely to fail (how does one even measure that?!). On several occasions I was told that I was crazy to stop traveling and get married to live in Costa Rica. I am not kidding you; the list could go on and on.

The problem was that the negative comments came so often that I started to believe them. All that fear became a huge ball of anxiety in my gut. Fear about things that weren’t even close to being true about my husband, about my marriage, or about my life. I was discouraged and had a hard time recognizing what was true and what were pure lies. We went through a lot of difficult challenges during that period, and each time I felt like all those negative people had been right after all.

Here we are "cutting" our first anniversary cake...

Here we are “cutting?” our first anniversary cake…

We finally went to marriage counseling and I told the couple we were working with that I felt like such a failure. I still wanted my marriage to be wildly successful, but I didn’t know if that was even possible based on all the negativity I had heard. One thing the counselor said totally changed my perspective.

You need to make your own success.

It’s simple, but it was the proverbial shot to the heart. I had been basing my idea of success off of what I saw from my parents, pictures on Facebook, my friends’ marriages, my unattainable expectations, etc. I was doing a lot of comparing, and that is never healthy.

Albin and I started praying that God would show us what His idea of a successful marriage was. Hearing His truth spoken over us was amazing. He showed us how to reject the negativity spoken over our marriage and how to set limits with people who were literally speaking death over us and stealing joy from our marriage. We started guarding our hearts and minds against all of the attacks.

We realized that we needed to make our own “culture” that worked for our family. We chose our favorite parts from each of our upbringings and instilled those into our family culture. I was reminded again that one of the very reasons that I was attracted to Albin in the first place was his culture and that he was different than anyone I’d ever met. I decided that I couldn’t let the negativity of others steal the joy from what is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

Ultimately, our success comes from Jesus. He shows us what true success looks like. We can read over all the statistics in the world about bicultural marriages; but none of those statistics are taking into account that both of us are surrendered to Jesus and that a relationship with Him changes everything.

I still want my marriage to be wildly successful. We haven’t “arrived” by any means, but I can tell you that our perspective of success has changed for the better. Though we only have three and a half years of experience under our belts, we are on a mission to encourage all of you who are bicultural marriages and relationships out there. We want to be painfully real and extremely honest, but we also want to speak life, encouragement, and fight fear.

Just remember that what you’re fighting so hard for is worth it. It’s possible. You can be wildly successful.

And a note to my husband, Albin:

So many of the negative comments that were made about you and us were as far from the truth as possible. I will never be able to express how grateful I am to you for your faithfulness and unconditional love. The way you have loved me and our daughter (and our ridiculous dogs) is such a testimony to me. You are the most unselfish, caring, and patient man I’ve ever met. I am so glad that none of the Debbie Downers talked me out of marrying you. You are such a blessing from God to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

photo clips

 

Long-Distance Relationships

Honestly, long- distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. Albin and I got married after a seventeen month long-distance relationship. You might be thinking, “Well no wonder you guys struggled your first year of marriage.” (Don’t worry, the multitudes have already made us aware that this is a common perception). However, for those of you out there doing the long-term, long- distance relationship thing, the good news is that there is hope despite what the multitudes may say.

In a nutshell, Albin and I were close friends for a good nine months before I (finally) acknowledged that there was a little more there than just friendship. The nine months definitely count for something because we knew each other pretty well before we entered the only month we actually dated within the same country. We dated for a month and things got pretty serious pretty quickly. We both knew that if we were going to put up with the emotional madness that is a long-distance relationship, we better be mighty confident that other person was worth the wait, grief, phone bill, etc.

After our first month of official dating, I went home for two months and we were able to use Skype every night (this was before we owned those newfangled internet iPhones and all day texting was possible). Then I left for the World Race for eleven months. During those eleven months we were only able to Skype once a week. Since I was in remote and different places each month, the connection was almost always unreliable. We emailed a lot as well.

family photo

A “family photo” of my sister and me skyping Albin

Thirteen months after doing long distance, I came back to Ohio and Albin met me there. It was also the first time he was going to meet my dad, sister, and extended family. I also knew he had an engagement ring in his bag.

I panicked.

Not only was I going through culture shock and processing my trip, but I was looking at this guy who I knew in and out over the phone, but not so well in person anymore. The struggle was real. People can change a lot in a year. Let’s just say there were a lot of serious conversations for us and a lot of serious sweating for me over those next three weeks. The worst thing I did was put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything get back to how it was before. I expected us to just “click” again, and that was unrealistic. Even though we had spent thousands of hours talking, it is so different than just hanging out when you’re dating. The best thing we did was do “normal” stuff together. Go to the grocery store, go for morning runs, play games, and dress up to hit up the “Goettafest” with my family (Goetta is a breakfast meat that we love in Cincinnati. We have a festival to celebrate it.).

photo credit: 365cincinnati.com

That’s my sister in the mullet wig. photo credit: 365cincinnati.com

While doing “normal” stuff helped us reunite in a way, it didn’t change the fact that many things had changed and we weren’t going back to what we had before. I think that’s okay. We knew we were supposed to be together. God had confirmed it to both of us and that is what we were clinging to.

Near the end of his visit, we got engaged. He then went back to CR and the long-distance fun resumed until I went to visit two months later. I stayed for a week, left, and then a short month and a half later he was back in Cincinnati with his mom and grandma in tow for our wedding. It was insane.

When we were finally married after those seventeen months of long distance, we got to our hotel room and kind of just looked at each other. It was almost shocking to not have to say goodbye to one another and hang up. I’m thankful to say that we were both virgins when we married, so it’s funny for me to think about how our physical relationship before marriage was not only just limited to kissing, but really we didn’t have much physical interaction in general. Like “not even sitting in the same room” kind of physical interaction.

I’ll be honest here. Those first few months of marriage were so hard. In a sense, I feel like it was reminiscent of an arranged marriage. We literally had to get to know each other all over again. We knew a lot about each other, but so much had changed. I am convinced that if we hadn’t had Jesus in our lives, we never would have made it. We fought so hard for “us,” and our relationship came out much stronger because of that.

While it wasn’t the ideal situation, it’s what we did, and we fought to make our marriage “meant to be.”

If you’re in the throes of a long-distance relationship, let me encourage you with this: there are many beautiful things that come out of the struggle. Here are my favorites:

  1. You find out of if you’re really “in love” or if you’re actually just “in lust.” When you take out the physical temptation, you find out if your relationship really has sustenance.
  2. If you know you’re relationship has been 100 percent confirmed by God, it’s an awesome opportunity to learn to trust Him at His word. There will be a lot of doubts and negative comments along the way, but listening to what God says instead of what  others say will grow your faith exponentially.
  3. If you find a guy (or gal) that will wait for you for an extended period of time while remaining faithful to your relationship despite the distance, that person deserves your respect. I would also be willing to bet that this person has staying power and faithfulness when temptations or dry periods come during your actual marriage as well.
  4. It’s commendable to see two people sacrifice time together to do what they believe God has called them to do now. I believe that God will reward that obedience and give you the grace to finish well.
  5. You get to know someone SO WELL when you’ve played 20 questions more times than you can count. Word of caution: Even though you may know your man’s favorite color on Sundays or what he would do if he was given a million dollars, that person has a lot of quirks and habits that don’t come up in “Twenty Questions” or during Skype conversations. On the one hand, we’ve realized that we both do things that annoy the crap out of each other and that had we known about them pre-marriage, they could have been petty reasons for us to call it off. On the other hand, we didn’t have those petty annoyances to complicate our relationship before marriage, so we married for foundational truths. Now, when things get murky and we start focusing on stupid little differences, it’s easy to look back to our long-distance relationship period and clearly see those foundational truths we based our relationship on.  Hopefully that makes some sense.
  6. You do not take the times you are together for granted because you know what it feels like to be apart.
  7. When you go through long periods of difficulty in your marriage, you can quickly recognize how going through the difficulties together is so much better than when you are apart.
  8. You win when people are playing the “let’s compare dating stories game.” Oh, joy!

Anyway, I know many of you are in long-distance relationships, and whether you’re with someone from another culture or not, it’s just plain hard. I get the frustration, the love/hate relationship you have with Skype, the doubts, and the fears. You’re definitely not alone and need to keep reminding yourself that it will all be worth it in the end. God has you in this season for a purpose and He doesn’t make mistakes.

My (surprise) gynecologist visit in Costa Rica

This traumatizing story is such a classic that it deserves a repost from my very first blog in CR.

A little background: In Costa Rica, the country has a Social Security system, the Caja, which offers free medical care to any citizen/resident that pays their taxes. Except for the ungodly long lines and general confusion, the care you receive is pretty good.

My second year in CR, I came down with what was probably my fifth case of bronchitis during rainy season. I was eligible to receive care from the Caja, and since I’m always up for free stuff, I decided to try it out. My first mistake was that I went alone, because despite my lofty thoughts, I was not good at Spanish. Basically, you have to go before 7 a.m. to the clinic and wait in a line to get a ficha (a little paper with a number). Based on that ficha, you are given an appointment time. After waiting in the wrong line and not doing the right thing, I finally practiced my Spanish out in my head enough times to ask the people around me what I needed to do. I was profusely sweating, naturally. I finally received my appointment time; it was scheduled for 3:15 p.m. I walked home and went back to bed.

I drag myself back over there at 3:15 p.m. and finally get called in. The nurse asks me to explain my symptoms and I tell her about the bronchitis, fever, etc. We are understanding each other pretty well until she uses a word I have NEVER heard in my life.

Papanicolaou.

It is definitely a question and she is definitely waiting to know if I want one. If you’ve ever learned another language, you know that context is everything. If context isn’t working, grab onto anything that sounds familiar and go with it. Well, all I understood was “papa” in this case.

My first guess: Papá = Dad. Who knows, maybe she is talking about something hereditary. I say, “Mi papá no está aquí” which means, “My dad is not here.” She looks at me like I am crazy, but politely asks me the same question.

My second guess: Papa = Potato. I can’t think of a good reason why she would talk about potatoes at this point, but I´m starting to panic, so I ask, “Porque estás hablando de papas?” which means, “Why are you talking about potatoes?” She seems frustrated now and tells me that we are not talking about potatoes.

Well, if we’re not talking about dads or potatoes, then what are we talking about? She explains that aforementioned word means that a doctor will revise my lady parts. What the ??? Why would I want someone to “revise my lady parts” if I have bronchitis? At this point, the sweat is pouring freely from my every pore.

Papanicolaou = Pap Smear (Come to find out later, Albin lets me know that they do routine paps when people come in if there isn’t any record of one on file?) Why the nurse thought now was a good time is still beyond me.

Anyway, I thought it over and since I’m the cheapest person alive and a multi-tasker, I thought about how I could kill two birds with one stone today and save money on a gyno appointment in the states. I get over the weirdness of the nurse’s proposition and go for it.

I get into the doctor’s office and it’s a he(!). I’ve never had a man gyno, so I start getting nervous. He doesn’t even look up but tells me not-so-gently to drop my pants. I follow instructions and slide onto the table because by this point, I am swimming in sweat. I’m super tense. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but 50 percent of you know how super tense works out during a pap smear. The doctor starts sternly barking in Spanish that I need to relax. I cannot relax. This is not a time for relaxing. Just as I am having second, third, and fourth thoughts about my decision, he tells me not to worry and shows me the metal contraption that they use to conduct the procedure. I’m pretty sure that I screamed. It looked MASSIVE to these virgin eyes. Traumatizing. I sucked it up and got it over with. The doctor was so annoyed but I didn’t care, I practically ran out of the room back to the nurses’ station.

All sweaty, I sat back down at her desk and she takes me over to a check-up table and tells me to drop my pants. Are you crazy? I refused. She told me she was giving me an injection of antibiotic for my bronchitis (so she did understand that I was there for the bronchitis). Fine. So I dropped the pants and laid on the table. She shoots me in the cheek and the proceeds to say, “Oops.”

“Oops” is like the last word you want to hear when you’re at the doctor’s office. I asked what happened and she told me that some of the liquid came out (or at least that’s what I understood). She apologized and said that I might experience some muscle spasms as a result. Ha.

You. Have. NO. Idea.

As I grabbed the antibiotics they had prepared for me, I felt a small twinge in my butt cheek. I started walking home and I now wish I had video proof, but I’ll just have to describe it. For you women out there, you know how you kind of waddle out after a pap-smear? I was already doing the slight waddle, then I experienced the largest muscle spasm I’ve ever had in my butt.  They would come and go every few minutes. I had to waddle six blocks to get home, stopping every few minutes as my whole butt contorted in ways I didn’t know possible. It was humiliating. I can’t even imagine what the neighbors thought.

When I walked in to my Tico family’s house, my Costa Rican mom looked terrified and asked what happened to me. I was crying and waddling and coughing and spasming, and she just starts LAUGHING. Like, hysterically laughing. It’s the contagious kind of laughing, so I stop crying and start laughing hysterically. More hysteric than laughing, but whatever. I survived.The sad part is that I never went back to get the results because I was too humiliated. All that trauma for nothing.

So, for all of you out there who asked me why I paid to have my baby in a private hospital rather than to do it for free in the Caja, now you know.

CCSS

Familia

I think it is appropriate that one of my first blogs is about family since marriage is a merging of families. In my case, two VERY distinct families. I’m realizing that I was a little disillusioned about how this whole thing was going to work out. In my head, it was going to be a mix between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.  However, it didn’t take me long to realize that Windex isn’t a cure-all, and that not all Latino families have steamy dance parties at family get-togethers.

I’m not really sure what Albin expected life with my family to be like, but I do remember his look of despair during a hundred-person party my mom threw during his first few days in Ohio. People kept coming up to him and slowly, but loudly, greeting him (since you should obviously speak as loudly and slowly as possible when you think someone doesn’t understand you). Though he often answered them with excellent English, many quickly split from the conversation thinking he didn’t speak any English beyond the basic introduction. He was a good sport, but I remember him going to bed with a headache that night and I can’t imagine why.

Albins mom and gma = stone cold Steve Austin in all of our wedding photos

Albin’s mom and gma= stone cold Steve Austin in all of our wedding photos

The whole family transition has been hard, humbling, and hilarious. Some examples:

– It took me years to convince my suegra (mother-in-law) that North Americans can actually cook and contribute something to a family dinner other than two liters or a bag of chips. One day I brought chicken salad sandwiches and pasta salad to a picnic and it blew her mind. She’s been making it ever since. Crushed it.

– It’s taken me years to prove that I speak and understand Spanish, despite the fact that my gringo accent will never completely disappear. Speaking of language, Albin refuses to use the word “beach” in front of my family because the first time he said it, they laughed for days thinking that he said, “I love the b#$@h.” He sounds incredibly proper now when he asks, “Will we go to the sea today?”

– It’s taken my family years to learn that Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are different, and even more time to learn that Costa Rica is not an island where everyone speaks Mexican. 

– I remember when we first got married, I told a certain family member that we would have a shower when we got back to Costa Rica (referring to a wedding shower). This unnamed family member got a huge look of relief on her face and mentioned that she had worried about how I was going to stay clean in a country without showers. .

Costa Rica lives, eats, and breathes fútbol (soccer) and thinks baseball is borrriinnnggg, while my family is all baseball and thought that soccer is what you played in elementary school if you weren’t good at anything else (ouch). My dad was a professional baseball player and everyone in my family (including my grandma) has been basically able to throw and hit a ball since birth. When Albin first came to meet my extended family at a grill-out, obviously a “friendly” game of whiffle ball started up. Albin is athletic, but I think that was the first time he has ever swung a bat. While my 8 year old cousin was hitting homeruns over the barn, Albin was struggling to make contact. Then my uncle, who is a professional softball player, suggested Albin use one of those big, fat, kid whiffle ball bats. Even then, the struggle was real. After too many strikes, I finally yelled “My goodness, just let him kick it and get out of the inning!”

dadandme

Take your daughter to work day…

Despite self-esteem crushing moments like that, the family transition has been beautiful. Both of our families have had their eyes opened to a new culture and new people. It’s been fun to see my family start watching and cheering for the Costa Rican national soccer team as they did awesome (holla!) in the last world cup. I’ve loved watching my mother-in-law and mom have whole conversations speaking cave man and using gestures. It’s been wonderful to have family and friends come to explore beautiful Costa Rica. I loved finding Albin’s grandma staring at our frozen pool out back and being amazed at that much water being frozen. You should have seen her face when I took her to our park, which had a huge frozen lake.

Once again, I know this isn’t just a bicultural marriage thing. When you get married, you marry a whole family, and it can be complicated whether they speak another language or not. My guess is that every suegra from every culture gives her opinion whether it was asked for or not…I know my mom shares hers with Albin quite willingly and that Albin’s mom will give hers, with no questions asked (especially when she not only disagrees with family salsa nights, but dancing in general…tear). It’s all good though, and I’m enjoying how things have “evolved” over the last four years. It may not seem like a big deal, but hearing a baseball game on TV at our house in Costa Rica or a fútbol game on at my parent’s house in Ohio shows just how far we’ve come. And that is music to my ears.

Al and Ana

He is Not the Enemy

The other day when I went to my suegra’s (MIL) house, one of Albin’s aunts was there without her newish husband. He’s from Italy and she’s a Tica and they’ve been in CR visiting for a month. Things were weird but I wasn’t about to ask what was going on. I have my own drama to deal with.

Later on in the week, we heard the full story. Specifics aren’t important, but basically the Italian’s son came to CR to visit and had some difficulty at a border crossing with a Costa Rican official regarding a requirement for crossing into Panama. Said Italians proceeded to get frustrated and newish husband made a pointed comment referring to “Latin American inefficiency” to said Latin American aunt. Said pointed comment hating on Latin Americans was not appreciated by Latin American aunt. If you’re married to someone from another country and you’ve ever even remotely been snubbed by your significant other by demeaning your country, I’m sure you can guess how fast things went downhill after that. Don’t worry, they worked it out and they’re fine now.

As I was sitting there listening to Albin’s mom, grandma, and another aunt describe the situation and totally throw the “newish husband” under the bus for his uncalled-for and immature behavior, I couldn’t help but smile.

I TOTALLY get it.

I had a moment to myself and then decided to stick up for that hot-blooded Italian. If I had a dollar for every time I took out my frustration of Latino ways on my Latino husband, we’d be loaded. Sure, his comment was uncalled-for; obviously the immigration inefficiency is not the aunt’s fault; clearly the situation could have been handled differently. I’m not saying he’s right at all, but just that I understand. How many times have I been stuck in San Jose traffic for hours and come home raging against Costa Rican infrastructure and all things Costa Rica to my Costa Rican husband? How many times have I made rude comments to Albin knowing that I’m cutting down his culture and “inadvertently” cutting him down as well?

It is so easy to blame the other person. It is so easy to take out your frustration on your mate because they’re there and they embody the culture to you. Somewhere around our second year of marriage, I realized that I was making Albin the enemy. When something in his culture didn’t meet my expectations, I would take it out on him. I’m not perfect and obviously, it seems that sometimes I can just be downright mean. I’m almost embarrassed to write this out, but I want to be painfully honest about the things that I’ve learned so that maybe someone else won’t have to struggle as much as we did. Once I realized this unhealthy pattern, I found a lot of freedom. I recognized that CR traffic was my enemy (lol), not Albin. I had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness for letting my frustration get the best of me and for belittling his country, and subsequently, him. Then I had to find ways to fight against my negativity towards whatever “my enemy” was. Let’s just say I’ve listened to millions of hours of audio books while stuck in my car.

So, after explaining all this to Al’s family; they were quiet, but I’m pretty sure I saw some understanding in their eyes. They’ve seen us go through this process and they’ve seen a lot of my ugliness. They’ve also seen me grow, learn, and become more flexible. The best thing I saw in their eyes was grace. They might not quite understand why I am the way I am or why I’ve struggled in the ways that I have, but they see me trying hard and they respect it.

Moral of the story? Your spouse is not the enemy. Rather than verbally vomit all over your beloved because of something they literally have no control over, speak life over them. I promise it will make everyone involved feel a lot better.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Has this happened to anyone else? I’d love to hear about it.

 

How to Marry a Foreigner (in 500 simple steps)

For the record, I don’t mean to come across as negative in these blogs; I’m just trying to be real. For all of those bicultural couples who have been smooth sailing from day one, I’m super impressed, but I wonder if you really exist. If you do… this probably isn’t the blog for you- unless you want to share your secret.

It’s no secret here that our first year of marriage was anything but a “honeymoon period” and that year two and three were almost just as hard. There were a lot of good things that happened as well during those years, but this fourth year is when we can really see the proverbial fruit from those first three years of hard work. Now that I feel like I have some experience under my belt, I just want to express my process in case someone out there going through the same thing.

Sometime during our first year, I desperately typed in “how to marry a foreigner” on Google. True story. Skipping over all the residency process garbage, I actually found an about page describing how to marry a foreigner. It was all in 7 simple steps that were something like this:

  1. Go to a foreign country.
  2. Meet people from that country.
  3. Choose a foreigner that you are compatible with.
  4. Get to know the person and confirm your compatibility.
  5. Understand laws and conditions about marriage in your home country and the other person’s home country.
  6. Marry the person.
  7. Decide where you will live and begin the process of gaining legal residency.

Sounds pretty simple to me. I remember wondering why I was being such a wimp if it was an easy process. I mean, didn’t anyone else have to wait three and a half years to receive a one-year temporary residency permit because the Costa Rican government lost your original marriage certificate and claimed you never submitted it (even though you have a form from them saying you submitted it)? Didn’t anybody else have fights in Spanglish even though they were “compatible”? Didn’t any other Gringa decide to not change her last name lest her children be named with two same last names? Was anyone else laughed at in the U.S. when they wrote their address on immigration forms as “200 meters south of the former Burger King, first yellow house on the left”?  After reading this, I definitely started having a “woe is me” moment.

Well, the good news is I’ve grown since then and I’ve realized that while getting married to someone is pretty simple, it’s the actual marriage that isn’t so simple.  It’s been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I have gotten to know myself, Albin, and God in amazing ways. I’ve learned to navigate (better) through Costa Rican bureaucracy, to fight in my second language, and to get over the fact that I didn’t change my last name. Not only have I learned to drive a stick shift in the madness that is CR transit, but I’ve also learned to follow and give directions by only using present (and past) landmarks.

What I’ve learned the most is that with time, foreign things become less foreign and can even become, dare I say, charming (except for immigration, that God-forsaken place will always be foreign and NEVER charming).

So that being said, I think the list could go on and on and be called “How to Marry a Foreigner in 500 simple steps.” For now though, I’ll simplify and rewrite those original 7 steps and add one of my own.

  1. Pray. A lot.
  2. If you meet someone from another culture and feel they might be “the one”, pray even more and think about what each of the following steps imply.
  3. Recognize that bringing two people together from different cultures requires a lot of work and ask yourself if you’re willing to do that work, and possibly live far from home.
  4. Get to know that person and start seeing a godly counselor. Now.
  5. Understand laws and conditions about marriage in your home country and the other person’s home country. Go into this process with more patience that you’ve ever had. Expect things to be frustrating, to make no sense at all, and to never be a simple process. Have no expectations and you won’t be disappointed. Prepare for long lines, different answers from every person you talk to, and more forms than you’ve ever seen in your life.
  6. Marry the person. No joke, the wedding planning will be a breeze compared to proving you’re not an illegal alien. I mean, haven’t you ever seen the final interview scene from The Proposal? If you haven’t, I’ve included the link for your viewing pleasure.
  7. Prayerfully decide where you will live and then begin the process of gaining legal residency.
  8. Become a team. This means that you pray (more) together, wait in line together, fight for one another, hate immigration together, don’t go to bed angry with one another, don’t blame the other person for a ridiculous trait their country has, have lots of sex (to release tension acquired at immigration), and encourage one another. It’s the only way.

It all started with a tuna sandwich…

A tuna sandwich.

About two weeks into our marriage, I was playing the dutiful wife and packed Albin an excellent lunch for work. It was comprised of a huge tuna sandwich, salad, probably a piece of fruit, and a snack. When he came home that afternoon he was scavenging through the fridge almost immediately. I casually asked if he liked his lunch and received a meek “sí” in response. Confused, I asked if he didn’t like tuna. He said that he enjoyed his lunch, but that he still felt a little hungry after a lunch that small.  I assured him that we would have a big dinner, but he didn’t seem nearly as enthused about that as I was. I began feeling slightly irritated that I even went to the trouble of making him a lunch if he wasn’t going to appreciate it.  Sensing my frustration, he slipped out onto the thin ice of stating how one’s culture does things. He said, “In Costa Rica, we are used to eating large lunches and smaller dinners.”

In my mind that was absurd. But we tried the whole “big lunch, small dinner” thing because I was going to overcome this whole living in a different culture thing. It was honestly like I had a Sunday afternoon food coma every. single. day. After eating my heavy lunch packed with carbs and topped off with loads of beans I was either out cold at my desk by 2:00 p.m. or locked up in the faculty bathroom learning about the side effects that black beans had on my “only ate baked beans once a year on July 4th” guts.

And from there we hit a stalemate. It became a thing for us. A little crack in our united front.  It was silly really; but while we laughed it off, it was a foreshadowing of our future of compromise and understanding that is inevitable for a bicultural marriage to succeed.

The issue with bringing two cultures together is that there are a lot of things. You’re bringing together two completely different outlooks on language, cuisine, relationships, government, etc. etc. etc., and it is a challenge. In a sense, all marriages are bicultural. No matter where each person comes from, the two bring very distinct opinions, stories, and beliefs about almost EVERYTHING. Maybe every marriage comes to a point where “living on love” crashes into the reality that you have to do life with someone that challenges what you thought was the “right” way of doing things. Despite the fact that my husband is a great man and I love him dearly, it is tough to swallow that my way isn’t always his way. When I first learned Spanish, I remember thinking that Hispanics said everything backwards. I mean why would you say “River Big” instead of “Big River?” When I finally opened my mind to accept that they weren’t speaking “backwards” and that their way of speaking made sense too, Spanish started to click and became a new normal. That’s what I want for our marriage. Realizing that no one has it backwards will help our relationship “click” and become our new normal.

As I said in my “About Me” page, I really feel a calling to talk about marriage between two people from distinct cultures. When we first got married, I started searching for information about bicultural marriages- stories, or self-help books or basically ANYTHING that could help me feel less alone; but there was an overwhelming lack of material.  I want to get the conversation started. I want to hear from others in the same situation who are fighting for their bicultural marriages. I want to know other people have to alternate having gallo pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice) and Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast to keep the peace. Basically, I want to know we’re not alone, and that despite the struggle, there is a special kind of victory when compromise is found between two cultures.

So here it goes. I hope that as I tell my story of triumphs and trials, I’ll find community, support and guidance from others who are living what I am living.  This is my story, please feel free to share yours.

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