Two Babies: Our New Normal

Not surprisingly, I haven’t had much time to blog over the last few weeks. Having a 13 month old and a one month old in the house has been a little time-consuming. It has been interesting being back to spit-up encrusted shirts and pulling the nightshift again. If I wasn’t a frumpy-frump before, I most definitely am now. In my head, long nights with a colicky newborn and long days with a mobile toddler justify my refusal to wear anything but yoga pants and never fixing my hair (and don’t even get me started about tweezing).

Also, I don’t know if it’s just in my head (or stuck in my nose), but I’m convinced our house smells like one huge sick-nasty diaper. Along with the smell, our house is now an unsightly obstacle course set with gates, clips, and locks in order to keep our curious daughter from trashing the place (even more). Oh, and the used baby bottles strewn throughout the house are reminiscent of a frat house after a drunken party (ex. I found one under the Christmas tree this morning).

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Don’t judge me for having a blow-up pool in my living room (Hannah).

When I do get out of the house, I’m amazed at the planning and strategy that it requires. I’ve been able to successfully cut down the number of hours it takes to get everyone fed, ready and out the door, but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that while I once lived out of backpack for a year, I now have to pack twice as much gear to do some “quick” errands.

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Pure joy over peanut butter. She’s obviously my child.

Basically, I have a whole new respect for parents. The fact that some moms keep up with things like bathing themselves AND Pinterest is impressive.

Because I’d rather sleep than write, I’m going to jot down a few highlights from the last several weeks:

  1. Our fuzzy foster baby gained almost 2 pounds since coming to us a month ago (I told you we were chunky baby experts). His pediatrician is so impressed by how strong and healthy he is despite his prenatal circumstances. Praise Jesus.
  2. I have become a ninja when changing diapers. Baby boy parts cannot be trusted under any circumstances. #peeEVERYWHERE
  3. My mother in law has been a HUGE help to me and has even spent the night a few times. We have started to really work as a team and our relationship has been strengthened immensely through this.
  4. I’m starting to really enjoy watching how people curiously approach the subject of our babies’ ages. When we’re out in public, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will casually start a conversation for the sole purpose of finding out just how soon after Mariah’s birth Albin and I got back to making babies. I usually let them do the math in their heads before I mention the tiny one isn’t ours.
  5. I’ve spent somewhere around eight hours over the last two weeks waiting in the public health clinic lines to get fuzzy registered, screened, and checked up. Thankfully, this time around wasn’t nearly as complicated as it was with our first foster daughter since now the staff know how to handle temporary custody cases. I only had to go semi-postal on one miserable secretary that tried to override a doctor’s order in scheduling our next appointment (I still don’t know why she became so belligerent). I called her out and she became sickly sweet when she realized that I wasn’t some clueless foreigner and that I was doing a public service for a high-risk newborn. It’s rare that I’ll pull out my gringo directness on a Costa Rican, but when it comes to my kids…
  6. People have been incredibly generous with clothes and baby boy items. Friends, family, and even a Pharmacist from the free clinic have showered us with clothes and diapers. God bless.
  7. Sometimes I get in the fetal position and hold myself when both babies are trying to out-cry each other.

I can’t deny it’s been chaotic with two littles under 13 months, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Waiting in lines, dodging streams of urine, and fielding lots of curious questions are a small price to pay when I consider the privilege it is to get this little guy off to a healthy start in life. I am thankful that I can be a stay at home mom and love on these kids even if it’s not always pretty. I love falling into bed at night knowing that every ounce of my energy was spent loving on the precious lives God has entrusted to me. I know that we’re right where God wants us right now and that’s a good place to be.

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Raising Our Kids: Top 10 Legacies We Want to Live

In my head, our 30’s will involve raising of A LOT of kids–biological, adopted and fostered. As we embark on this journey of being surrounded by little humans, I want to establish some healthy patterns that will hopefully stick with them throughout their lives. I’m thinking the word “legacies” works to describe the ideas we want to instill in our children. We’ve also realized that if it’s going to be a way of life for our kids, they need to see it from us- so I’ve included in italics how we’re trying to integrate these things in our lives.

IMG_3057First and foremost, we want worshipers of God. I want my kids to have the joy of the Lord
and realize that bringing glory to Him influences atmospheres, changes situations, and provides communion with our Maker. I want them to learn to worship him with their voices, but also with their actions and their lives. To initiate this, we’ve started to have “worship night” once a week at our house where we turn off the lights, put on some (good) worship music, and spend time with Jesus.

Second, we want kids that live out the gospel. Not just kids who are well-versed in all the right answers and know what looking like a good Christian is. We want kids that get their hands dirty and whose first response is to help those in need. We want our kids to know our house is open to the homeless, our food is shared with the hungry, our clothes given to the naked, and our hearts are willing to love well. We want them to stand up for the kids being bullied and make friends with the lonely new student. We want this to be like second nature to them, so we’ve started to live like this: stopping to give away groceries to people begging, fostering needy kids, going onto the streets on Saturdays to talk with the hopeless, finding ways we can stand up for justice, etc.


We want adventurers and explorers.
We don’t want our kids to be afraid of getting hurt, fearful FullSizeRender (25)of the unknown, or planted to the couch watching TV. We want our kids to love being outdoors, to love finding new places, experiencing new things, and meeting new people. We want to raise inquisitive kids that ask questions and look for answers creatively. We want to teach our kids to look for solutions to problems and to not be limited by societal confines. To live this out, we’ve been planning family adventures at least once a month.

We want culturally-aware kids. Obviously, we love cultures and love learning about them. We want our kids to appreciate our Costa Rican and American cultures; but we also want them to have a love for all people. We hope they want to learn new customs, try new foods, learn new languages, and see new places. Obviously, we won’t allow racism in our house, but we want it to go above and beyond that–which means showing our kids how to be open-minded, accepting of cultural differences, and interested in the lives of others that are different from us. I feel like we have a head-start on this one since our family is a fusion of two cultures, but we also have been intentional about visiting other countries, understanding world issues, becoming friends with people from other cultures, and trying international foods.

We want family time to be important and fun. Somehow my parents succeeded in this area and I am grateful. Growing up, I would often choose to spend time with family over going out with friends. We played games, went fun places, respected one another, and had an honest, open relationship. I want that for my kids. I don’t want to be friends with them in a negative sense, but I want them to feel respected, accepted, and loved. I want our family to be a safe place for all of us. A place of trust and acceptance. To do this, one thing we’ve started doing is family game night once a week and the family adventures once a month.

We want individuals. We truly treasure different personalities and interests. We want to encourage our kids to be who God created them to be, not what society says they should be. We want them to feel free to express themselves and be different. I hope that we can encourage their different talents and try to provide them with opportunities to achieve their personal goals. We want to build on their interests, foster their gifts, and teach them to think for themselves. We’ve been trying to do this in our lives as well–to not worry about what people say, what their opinions are, or how they judge us. We’re taking steps to become more of who God created us to be, and learning that it is beautiful.

We want kids our kids to be respectful. We don’t want kids that talk back to teachers and know that we’ll defend them when the teacher calls. We want our kids to be a breath of fresh air for their teachers. We want sons who grow up to be good husbands and daddies. We want daughters who grow up to respect their bodies and hearts. We want a family that respects those in leadership, even though we don’t always agree with their decisions. We hope for a family built on honor: honoring God and honoring one another. In our lives, Albin and I have tried hard to have a mutual respect for one another and to foster a culture of honor in our home.

We want to raise hard workers that know it’s okay to make mistakes. We aren’t looking for perfect kids here, so we want them to know there is grace for when we fail. We also want them to work hard and do their best, so that even if they do fail, they know they gave it their all. We don’t want everything to be about success, failure, or living up to high expectations. We want them to work hard, live fully, and learn from their mistakes. I’ve learned a lot about what true success is in the last four years, so I’m trying to give up my perfectionist ways and live well.

We want kids with a sense of humor. I want our kids to be serious when they need toIMG_2388 be, but I don’t want to them to take themselves or life too seriously. They don’t have to be the class clown or be naturally witty, but I want them to have the freedom to laugh and realize how having a sense of humor helps us connect with others. Life application: 90 percent of my family’s conversations are based on witty remarks.

We want little givers. Something I have strived over for the last few years is being a good giver. I am selfish and I’m not a natural gift-giver, so I wanted to improve in this area. I want our kids to grow up with giving in their blood. I want them to come home hungry because they gave half their lunch to the kid who didn’t have one. I want them to pass a granola bar out the window of our car to the man begging on the street. I want them to value giving over acquiring. I want them to learn to use their money wisely so that they can give as much as they can to those in need. I want them to give their hearts, talents, and treasures to the glory of God. Since I turned 30, I’ve tried to be intentional and give one thing to someone everyday (whether its time, a treasure, or a talent).

Maybe trying to raise kids with all the above ideas is a lot to ask. That’s fine; but I want to have a guideline and start these kiddos young on a culture guided by these ten ideas. From the beginning, I want little people that know they have intrinsic value, but know that the world doesn’t revolve around them. I really feel like this super long post could be summarized into one simple statement:

I want my kids to grow up knowing how to love well.

When you love well, everything else falls into place. That makes this list seem way less daunting. When your heart is full of love, the rest just overflows out of you naturally.

“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be                                                 something you do but someone you raise.”

–Andy Stanley

Our Family’s Newest Addition…

We’re (foster) parents again! This time around we were asked to foster a newborn baby boy. He is precious and so very tiny due to being born premature. Unfortunately we can’t tell you his name, give too much information, or post a picture of him for legal reasons, but we’ll just affectionately refer to him as our “little fuzzy” because he has the cutest fuzzy head of hair. Anyway, we are so thankful to receive him into our home and for an opportunity to serve God in this way.

What’s really neat about this whole thing is how God prepared our hearts to receive this fuzzy little babe. When Mariah was born, we spent a lot of long days in the NICU. One of the things that absolutely broke our hearts was seeing the “social service babies.” Whether the mother was deemed unfit to care for the child or she decided she couldn’t take care of him/her, the babies were just left in the hospital until social services knew what the next step was. Sometimes that next step was an orphanage, a foster home, or being claimed by a relative. Until then, the babies just waited there. The nurses did their best to give them attention, but they had so many babies to care for. Albin and I have talked and thought about those babies a lot since then, so when our social worker called us asking if we wanted to take this newborn baby boy, we didn’t have to think about our answer for too long. Just a year after we saw those babies in the NICU, God gave us an opportunity to change the situation for at least one precious life. For as long as we have him, we’re going to shower him with love and celebrate his birth. On top of that, we were experienced with premature babies since we had a crash course when Mariah was born. It wasn’t nearly as daunting to be handed a five pound baby this time around. Funny how God uses our experiences like that…

A few weeks ago I posted about how God was speaking to us about walking like Jesus did and living out the gospel. There is no doubt in our minds that fostering and adoption are close to God’s heart since he’s adopted millions of us into His family and commands us to take care of orphans all throughout the Bible. As we change this tiny person’s diaper, suck the snot out of his nose, and wake up every three hours to feed a child that doesn’t belong to us, we have thought about how this must be close to what Jesus meant when He said to “care for the least of these.” If we are honoring God with this act and changing a child’s story, it is totally worth the sleepless nights.

So, if we go missing in action for a couple of weeks, now you know why. Having an extremely active one year old and brand new baby has brought an interesting dynamic to our household. It’s definitely a challenge, not always comfortable, and we know it will be hard to give him up someday, but the Spirit keeps reminding us that living out the gospel is ALL that matters. We’re excited and thankful that at this time the Lord has entrusted us with the huge responsibility of raising up and loving on two precious little babies. Please pray for our family as we transition to this new way of life and for our little fuzzy, his biological family, and the case workers during this time. Please also celebrate this new life with us!!! Thank you!

 

Mariah’s First Birthday

Today we have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. One year ago our precious daughter was in critical condition and her prognosis was bleak. Today she is a healthy and happy one year-old and we couldn’t be more grateful. For those of you who haven’t heard the long version of Mariah’s incredible story, you can read it here.

The short version goes like this: our daughter was born six weeks early with a deadly bacteria. Within 24 hours, her body started to shut down; she had a collapsed lung and her blood was septic.  When the doctors told us that she may die, we were heartbroken and started crying out to God. After two hours of praying and singing in the hallway outside of the NICU, the doctor came out and told us that Mariah had amazingly stabilized, that her lung “mysteriously” inflated on its own, and that her body had started fighting. From that moment on, every complication from her illness began to disappear.


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For the thousands of you who have prayed for Mariah, I’m going to take a moment and be specific about how your prayers were powerful and effective.

  • Mariah’s lung inflated on its own which allowed her heart to get enough oxygen to pump the medicine through her blood more effectively.
  • Her body began to stabilize its erratic sugar counts.
  • Her heart rate and blood pressure stabilized.
  • Her blood became bacteria-free.
  • Her brain scan came back normal and she has no brain damage from the many seizures she had during her first 24 hours.
  • She was able to skip the Intermediate Care Unit and went from the Intensive Care Unit straight to the General Care Unit.
  • Her virtually non-existent immune system at birth has fully recovered. White and red blood cell counts as well as platelet counts are leveled.
  • Despite being born premature, she has reached her developmental milestones.
  • Her umbilical hernia has closed up and healed.
  • Her hearing test came back perfect despite the doctors’ concerns that the strong antibiotic would cause deafness.
  • The initial concern over her inability to gain weight has clearly been erased.
  • As far as we can tell, she has outgrown her dairy allergy.
  • She has overcome the sensitivity in her arms from being tied down and stuck with many IV’s.
  • God sustained us through that difficult time in the hospital and for the four months after that we spent in isolation as we waited for Mariah’s immune system to develop.
  • We’ve gotten the opportunity to share Mariah’s story with thousands of people, many of whom were going through heartbreaking circumstances with their own newborns.

Man, we’re just thankful. There is nothing like seeing God work so directly and completely. We share her story everywhere we go because we just can’t keep quiet about it. Hearing doctors and nurses call Mariah a miracle and marvel at how there aren’t any residual side effects is such a testimony to God being the great Physician.

Obviously, we’re experiencing a lot of emotions today. I remember the trauma of hearing the doctors bluntly use the word “death” and of the nurses asking if we wanted a priest to come and say her last rites. I remember the heart wrenching sound of my strong husband’s grief-stricken sobs. I have the image of my tiny baby girl hooked up to tubes and monitors burned into my mind. I remember the feeling of complete helplessness as I held my breath willing her chest to continue its rise and fall. I remember the feeling of stroking her little hand and crying silent, hot tears about not being able to hold her as she cried.

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At the same time, I remember the absolute joy I felt when I heard her cry for the first time. I remember the doctor telling us she had stabilized miraculously. I remember the Spirit whispering to me that she wouldn’t fall. I remember singing my heart out in that dark hallway even though I could barely move after the C-section. I remember when I was finally able to hold her again and how I would sit for hours singing to her. I remember panicking when a new orderly was unsure of why my daughter wasn’t in her normal NICU bed (she had been moved to the general room). I remember the absolute relief it was to call the hospital early every morning and hear the nurse say that Mariah was stable through the night. I remember belting out the song “I’m Overwhelmed” through tears of joy in that dark hallway after the doctors moved her out of the NICU. I could go on and on…

So as we celebrate her first birthday today, I know we are blessed. We have a little girl that can scream at the top of her healthy lungs, that can lick the bottom of her shoe and have her immune system kick in, that can express herself with that strong-willed personality that fought off death, and that can bring hope to others with her testimony.

Glory to God! He has entrusted a treasure to us  and we are eternally grateful for what He has done!

Psalm 66:16 Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.

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The Gospel, Dumb and Dumber, and Radical Living

“We got no food, no jobs…our pet’s heads are falling off! What the heck are we doing here Harry?”

This ranks up there in my favorite movie quotes, and believe it or not, while Dumb and Dumber wouldn’t win any awards for its profundity (or wholesomeness if we’re being honest), Albin and I have found ourselves asking each other this same question over the last few months. Thankfully, we have food and jobs (well Albin does), and fortunately our pets’ heads aren’t falling off, but as we’ve been confronted by the gospel in the last few months, we’ve looked at each other and said, “What the heck are we doing here?”

Albin and I have been passionate followers of Jesus for a long time. In the past, we’ve served Him in many different ways: overseas missions, ministering, leading bible studies, fostering, etc., but in the craziness of trying to survive our bicultural marriage, we feel like we’ve lost a little focus. What we’ve done in the past doesn’t justify what we’re not doing now. More importantly, living out the gospel is a way of life. Are we walking that out? We might have food and jobs, but there are millions who can’t say the same. Hopefully, no one’s pets’ heads are falling off, but being dead serious, billions of people are dying without Christ and without hope.

What the heck are we doing here Harry?

Recently, God has been wrecking us all over again with the gospel. I wouldn’t say it was a complete overhaul since we’ve known about this for a long time, but definitely a paradigm shift about who Jesus really was, what He really did, and HOW he really lived. His way of life was countercultural, radical, uncomfortable, and completely challenging. Albin and I have begun asking ourselves, “Do we look like Jesus? Are really living the countercultural, radical life that Jesus has called us to? What are we doing here?”

I’ve been reading two books recently that I would totally recommend. The first is Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker and it has challenged me immensely. Not only is she hilarious and doesn’t always use a filter (kindred spirit), but I love how she, her family, and her church have changed their focus from “blessing blessed people and serving the saved” to living missionally in order to reach the “least of these” in Austin. She challenges Christians to live out their faith according to Isaiah 58 (loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share your food with the hungry, provide the poor with shelter, clothe the naked, take care of your own) and Matthew 25 (being a faithful servant and stewarding what He has given us, and feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, etc.).

The second book I am reading is called You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity, by Francis Chan. Again, he and his wife talk more about changing their perspective from focusing on their marriage to focusing on how they can help each other impact the kingdom for eternity. As a result, they spend way less time worrying about the little annoyances in marriage and spend way more time on loving others and serving Christ…which in turn has blessed their relationship a million times over. Something he said that has stuck with me the most is this:

“Many people will tell you to focus on your marriage, to focus on each other; but we discovered that focusing on God’s mission made our marriage amazing. This caused us to experience Jesus deeply-what could be better? Eternal mindedness keeps us from silly arguments. There’s not time to fight. We have better things to pursue than our interests. Too much is at stake! God created us for a purpose. We can’t afford to waste our lives. We can’t afford to waste our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness.”

I’ve also been spending a lot of time in Matthew from the Bible and just observing how Jesus handles situations. Wherever He went, the lame could walk, the dead were raised, the sick were healed, the blind saw, and the mute spoke (Matthew 9). In the same passage (vs. 9-12), Jesus is criticized for hanging out with drunks and “sinners” and he tells them to do something that has struck me profoundly:

“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

What does that mean? To me, that means to stop doing religion and start living as Jesus lived: with mercy. That means to follow the example set in Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

So again, we’ve been asking ourselves, “What the heck are we doing here Harry?” Are we living lives that mirror Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25? I know people shy away from the term “radical” because of its uncomfortable connotation, but seriously, are we living radically? Are we focusing inward to have the perfect marriage or focusing outward to use our imperfect marriage to impact the kingdom? Are we wasting our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness, rather than being eternally minded?

People want to see the church rise up and look like Jesus, not just hide behind facebook and bash whatever topic is the new political flavor of the month. Jesus called us to live a completely different way of life, not just trying to follow all the rules and look religious, but to:

Act justly (This means taking action for just causes)

Love mercy (Love serving the least and those in need)

Walk Humbly with God (Acknowledge our need for a Savior and walk it out accordingly).

Where does that leave Albin and me? We’re still working it out. We’re not setting out for Aspen like Harry and Lloyd; but we’ve refocused and are trying to walk this out. It’s not always pretty, but we know it is the Holy Spirit in us that is going to teach us. All we know is that we need to do it. Put our faith into action and make it a way of life. Will you join us in this journey? I’m writing about this because I want to be held accountable and I want others to join us in this. I want to see two normal and imperfect people on a journey to countercultural living and using our marriage to impact eternity. I want our kids to grow up expecting our family to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and invite the homeless into our home. We want to leave that legacy and we realize that we can’t just sit around, read about it and talk about it. We need to live in a new way. Jesus said to “Go and learn” what He means when He says that He “desires mercy and not sacrifice.” That’s what we want to do … continually position ourselves in places where we can go and learn how to live out the gospel and look like Jesus.

“We cannot think our way into a new kind of living, we must live our way into a new kind of thinking.”

-Richard Rohr

Photo credit: Everett Collection

Photo credit: Everett Collection

What If I Married the Wrong Person?

What if I marry (or married) the wrong person? Is there one perfect soulmate out there for everyone?

Those questions seems to resurface all the time and I’ve always wondered lost sleep over them. I mean, that is a whole lot of pressure. You have to find that one perfect man out of the 3 billion(ish) on the planet? What if I make a mistake? Does that mess up the whole order of perfect soulmates because I married someone else’s perfect mate and now they’re endlessly wandering the earth trying to find someone that’s already taken? And if I do make a mistake and I don’t believe divorce is an option, am I just stuck with the wrong person till death do us part? Thinking about how I could be miserably mistaken my whole life or about how I could possibly screw up the arranged order of the perfect soulmates of the world is enough to give me an ulcer.

I’m pretty sure I did almost get an ulcer early on in our marriage because there was a small part of me that wondered if Albin was really the one for me. It was terrifying. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know we had a rough start, but apart from all that, I felt like he didn’t even know me. Like didn’t know what really made me tick. I assumed that if we truly were soulmates, he would just “get” me. He would understand what I needed and it wouldn’t require me spelling out everything. He would always make me laugh, he would understand all my vague comments, and anticipate my needs. Basically, he just needed to be a mind-reader because “happy wife, happy life” … right?

Wrong. Painfully wrong.

Not only did I find myself feeling misunderstood and lonely, I found myself with a husband who was frustrated because he couldn’t make me happy. I had no idea what was going through his mind and that frustrated me as well. I had an illusion that we would always be on the same wavelength and when that bubble was burst, I started to question whether we were right for one another. Some of it was selfishness (like the hope that he would anticipate my every need, bahh), some of it was an expectation that we would naturally be interested in the same things (like… where to go out for dinner), and some of it was just our deep-down desire to know and be known. As we’ve worked through these things, we’ve had a big breakthrough: truly becoming “soulmates” takes time, effort and practice.

It’s finally sinking in that we have to work hard to be soulmates. We have to put in some effort to learn what makes our spouse “tick.” We literally have to practice being the right person for our spouse. It’s all about being intentional. I’ll be sincere and admit that being intentional isn’t necessarily my forte. Being intentional requires effort, forethought and selflessness. It requires me putting myself aside and choosing to do something that doesn’t necessarily appeal to me like it does to him. It requires him to ask me if I want to talk about something even if he’s tired and has no desire to open that can of worms. It requires both of us to be interested (or at least try to be) in what gets the other person excited.

The problem is that it’s so much easier to think about how my needs aren’t being met. It’s far simpler to sit and lament our differences than it is to surrender our will and actively pursue a compromise. It is so much easier to sit around and think about what Albin doesn’t do for me or how he doesn’t “get me” than it is to flip it around and think about what I can do for him or how I can engage him more fully so that he feels fully known.

For example, discussing politics doesn’t appeal to me and I usually avoid political conversations at all costs. Albin, however, loves getting into a good political debate. For years, I’ve literally blown him off every time he tried to start a conversation about politics. Basically, it would go like this:

Albin: What is your opinion about [insert current issue]?

Me: I don’t know, maybe [insert quick generic answer].

Albin (silently waiting for me to return the question, which doesn’t come because I’m avoiding the conversation): Well, I’m not sure I agree.

Me: Okay. What do you want for dinner? [End of conversation.]

Rude, I know. I’m a slow learner, but almost four years into this, I’m realizing that Albin gets some sort of intellectual satisfaction from hashing out a political topic. If that’s something that he is interested in, why do I have to be a jerk change the subject? Is it really that hard for me to ask him what his opinion of the topic is and (heaven forbid) actually listen to his rationale? He listens to me spout unimportant crap all day and doesn’t blow me off. So, I’ve tried to be intentional and engage in a conversation that interests him. Maybe a little effort on my part makes him feel like he has a partner that values his opinion and with whom he has an intellectual connection. If that’s the case, me taking five minutes out of my day to debate about the government is worth it. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy these conversations now because he gets me thinking about current events and things in the government that I actually should be pondering.

An example for me would be something that Albin did recently. Playing games is one of my love languages and something that I associated with family. I love to play games, specifically Nerts. Albin will play games, but it’s not something that satisfies some deep inner need of his, and plus I think he hated Nerts for a long time because I may or may not go overboard and get too intense when I play. Anyway, it really bothered me that he never wanted to play games with me. It was like pulling teeth. Like how hard was it to sit down a play a few games of Yahtzee for goodness sake? It’s silly, but I actually wondered why I hadn’t considered this game drama before we had married. Would I have married this guy had I known he wouldn’t always be up for a game of Scrabble? Does he even know me at all?

Finally, several months ago, Albin suggested we started having game nights once a week. He said he wanted to get better at Nerts and he thought it would be something for us to look forward to on Thursday nights. I ripped his clothes off right there. Just kidding, but his offer spoke to me on some deep level. He’s gotten really good at all games since then and now we really do love game night. He was intentional and sought to engage me in something that was important to me and that I associated with the concept of family…which made me feel like we were more of a family in a way. Like maybe we weren’t on two completely different wavelengths after all.

Albin and I definitely are not experts and clearly Albin is the deeper of the two of us (deep theoretical conversations vs. my board game needs), but we’re learning and I like our progress. As we become more intentional, we get along so much better, agree on so much more and feel more fully known. Even silly things like (finally!) agreeing on a restaurant, conversing about legislation and keeping a running Yahtzee tally going forms a connection and creates room for us to become soulmates for one another.

En fin, I’m trying to learn from my own lesson today and think about what other areas I can put myself aside to be intentional with Albin. What ways can you be intentional and engage your spouse today?

“I have found the one whom my soul loves.” Song of Solomon 3:4

                                                                                                                                   

 

Finding Hope in the Struggle

Directly after posting my last blog, I laid down with my teething, cranky baby and tried to get her to go to sleep. As I lay there, I was flooded with self-doubt. I worried my post was too negative, too honest, or that people might think our marriage has been just one big, sad mess.

As soon as I started going down that road, God reminded me that He asked me to start this blog and that He challenged me to be as honest and vulnerable as I could be. He reminded me that vulnerability brings freedom to me and to others. He whispered to me that the reason I needed to talk about the struggle was so that the others who are struggling know that they’re not alone and absolutely must know that there is hope, just like I’ve needed to know. I thought for a moment about what “hope” had come out of our struggles and that’s what I want to share about today. The last blog was to let you know that you’re not alone and this one is to let you know that there is hope.

Marriage is a two-edged sword. Your spouse usually draws out many of your good qualities. It’s fun to do life with someone and marriage can bring so much joy. That sword also can pierce you and bring out all the ugly. All those dark, stinky little areas you hoped no one would ever see, and even those areas you had no idea were all that bad; someone has a front row seat to all that crap. The beautiful thing is that God uses marriage to bring those dark hidden things to light, to make you more of the person He created you to be.  When someone else can see those areas in you that still need a little (or a lot) of work, you can work together to improve.

We all know that adversity begets character. As Albin and I have struggled through various circumstances and differences, we’ve matured greatly. We’ve grown in ways I could have never imagined. We sharpen one another, we support one another, and we challenge one another. If you’re never challenged, do you ever go to the next level? If you never face adversity, do you ever really grow?

This is the hope that I have found that comes out of the struggles in marriage. Yes, we have truly had to fight for our marriage and for one another, but we have become steadfast in the process. We are far from perfect, but we are a united front. We look much more like Jesus now than we did when we were first married, and our marriage is far more Christ-like now than it ever has been. When you do life with someone that is committed to making you better, you both will inevitably grow. I recognize that God has used the madness to edify us, stretch us, and teach us things we couldn’t have learned any other way. We can comfort others who have had a miscarriage, encourage others who feel like living in another culture is impossible, minister to those who have deathly-ill babies in the NICU, and rejoice with others who are celebrating the small victories in marriage. Why? Because we’ve been there.

As you go through difficult circumstances together, you are bonded eternally. That’s what our vows were all about. No matter what, we will support one another. A few years ago, we had a dinner with a man that was telling us about a big mistake that he made in his first year of marriage.  He told us that they are doing much better now (many years later), but that his wife had never forgotten how he treated her that first year. I want to turn that around a bit: Albin, I will NEVER forget what you did for me our first year. How you supported me in my mess, how you loved me through the struggles, and how you fought for me and our marriage. You have loved me as Christ loves the church and that testimony has given me the utmost respect for you, even when we struggle.

There is something remarkable about two people who are committed to one another despite adversity. What a testimony it is for two people to keep coming home at night to work it out and not just calling it quits because of hardship. Sometimes the struggles are big, life-changing events, but sometimes they’re just little things. Even on the days that I bust out my crusty old granny panties or the times that I forget to tweeze and my eyebrows start becoming one (more often than Albin and I become one), I can be assured that Albin still loves me. Despite any nasty habits (I won’t elaborate) that Albin may have, he can be assured that I’ll still love him as well. This is what we signed up for when we said, “I do.” Whenever we make the choice to cling to each other when doctors give devastating news, forgive when the other doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or even if it’s something as small as not minding the full-coverage undies or unkempt uni-brow, we glorify God when we choose to love.

Now I can say that I am thankful for the struggle. It may not look like other “perfect” marriages. We may look a little weathered or feel like we’ve been married for longer than three and a half years, but we wouldn’t change any of it. Every day we are helping each other to become more of who God has called us to be and glorifying Him as a result. What better a purpose to serve in marriage than that?

Based on the overwhelming amount of messages that I received in response to Tuesday’s blog, it’s pretty apparent that we’re not the only ones who struggle. I’ll also admit that I’m thankful that not everyone thought our marriage was one big, sad mess as I had feared (sigh of relief). Isn’t it incredibly freeing to admit that we’re not perfect and realize that others aren’t either?  I appreciate all of you who have messaged me and told me that your marriage isn’t perfect, both new marriages and experienced marriages, bicultural and same-culture marriages. It is my prayer that all of us not only find freedom in admitting the struggle is real, but also that we relish in the hope that God is making something beautiful out of us through it.

 

Marriage Struggles (It’s Not Just You)

[A brief interruption in the First Year Fails series of blogs because this is fresh in my mind.]

A few weeks ago, we were on vacation with my family and we met a woman who was sitting near us at the pool. Somehow we got to talking and she asked where we were from. When she heard Albin was Costa Rican, she said that she was married to a Peruvian. Thinking I had found a kindred spirit, I asked her how being in a bicultural marriage has been for her. She seemed puzzled, so I asked her if it had been challenging for her and her husband. She still wasn’t sure, so I clarified and asked, “You know, like with cultural differences and everything?”

Her response: “No.”

Somehow I always feel a little smaller when someone says that their bicultural marriage hasn’t been difficult. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve received that response, but it always takes some composure to not have a surprised look on my face.

Directly after the initial surprise, the myriad of usual doubts came streaming through my mind:

Am I just dramatic? Am I the only one who struggles with this? Is it a personality issue?

Do Albin and I just suck at marriage?

We chatted for a bit longer and then got back to baking in the sun. I kept thinking about that conversation and came to a conclusion:

She was lying.

Okay, maybe she was being truthful, but it made me feel a lot less like a loser to think that she was lying. I began to contemplate how I was a loser and my marriage was a loser-marriage, and everything I did was loser-ish, which I recognize is a completely unhealthy train of thought, but I promised I would be honest.

Anyway, the next day I checked over my email and received a message from a woman that is married to a Sri-Lankan. It was perfect. She said, and I quote,

“I’ve met a few other white, American women who are married to Sri Lankan guys and literally the first thing I asked them was, “DO YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCE IN YOUR MARRIAGE?” just desperately hoping for someone to understand what I’m going through.  To my dismay THREE of these women thought for a second and said, “hm, no, not really.” So anyway, I’m really thankful for your blog and to find someone who understands the challenges that come from marrying someone from a different culture.”

Props to God for his always-perfect timing. What an encouragement it was to continue to be honest about my not-so-perfect marriage. There is something so powerful in knowing that I am not alone in this, that there are others who understand. Bicultural marriage is not impossible, it’s not a constant struggle, and it’s not miserable by any means. It’s a beautiful adventure, but it’s also a unique circumstance that can feel very lonely if you don’t have a support group of people who just get it.

Since starting this blog three months ago, I’ve received a lot of messages and emails from women all over the world who are in bicultural marriages/relationships and who all have one thing in common: they want to know that they aren’t doing this alone.

Well girls, the good news is that we’re not alone. I’ve reached two new (and healthier) conclusions:

First, our Creator sees every detail of our lives and knew we would marry a man from another culture before we even truly knew that other culture existed. He goes before us and behind us. He will not leave us alone.

Second, there are countless couples out there who work through cultural differences every day just like us. Some days are easy and some days are just plain hard, but every day that we choose to love our spouse is a victory.

I hope this encourages you as much as it has encouraged me. Sometimes we don’t want an answer, a solution, or advice; we just want someone to acknowledge the struggle. We realize we will become stronger through these things. We recognize that there is a purpose and that things could definitely be worse. That’s not the point. The point is that if we’re being genuine, we all can say that ANY marriage can be downright hard sometimes. It just is and that’s okay. You’re not alone. If anyone out there needs a kindred spirit, I’ll go ahead and answer the question of whether or not bicultural marriage has been challenging for my husband and me:

Yes.

And that’s okay.

“The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV

Al and Mariah

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.

.

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.

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