The Estrada Family

A Nica-Canadian family, living in Nicaragua and starting a family!

breaking the silence…

Hey! Its been a while!
Its not that we haven’t had anything to share. Its that my mind hasn’t been able to concentrate on anything for long enough to actually sit down and write an update.

So here is a quick update, and hopefully soon I will be a bit more specific.

  • David’s business, Estrada Language School, is doing much better than David or I expected. David has been packed full of students since the beginning of the year, and we have even hired a second teacher (our sister-in-law, Tatiana) who is also has an almost full schedule! Our plans for next year include registering Estrada Language School as a real business in Nicaragua, and possibly hiring a third teacher! Woah!
  • Bethany started preschool in February and is doing wonderfully! Unfortunately, going to school in Spanish means that she has switched back to using Spanish most of the time. But that just means I have to be extra careful to speak to her in English as much as possible.
  • I am still working at Tesoros de Dios as their Team and Volunteer Coordinator… and I’m loving it. At first it was a bit hard to get used to having to wake up early every morning to go to work, but the joy of getting to come home every night hasn’t worn off yet. Plus I get to see all these amazing kids and their families every day.
  • Fertility issues are still ongoing. I had another positive pregnancy test in July (and all the “pregnant feelings” that go along with it), only to be disappointed a few hours later. I have had blood tests, ultrasounds and results, and things are complicated (and a different blog post might be coming on that one). Long story short: we need some prayer. This has been HARD and emotional (ie, why I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything for more then 5 seconds).
  • We have finally made some progress on the house. Our walls are plastered and beautiful, and we are going back and forth on what our next move should be (continue with the living room and kitchen? or start working on the bedrooms? We can’t make up our minds!).

And, since this is a quick update, here are some photos from the last few months.

 

Bethany's first day of Preschool.

Bethany’s first day of Preschool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethany's piñata for her birthday.

Bethany’s piñata for her birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little model...

This little model…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

has stolen my heart

has stolen my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went on a trip to Ometepe Island.

We went on a trip to Ometepe Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethany and her cousin, Kelly, having a laugh.

Bethany and her cousin, Kelly, having a laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our new cat, Robin!

Our new cat, Robin!

She swims!

She swims!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Freedom

David and I are running another Youth Alpha course, this time in our home church in Managua. It. is. Awesome! Seriously, like, 50 bazillion times better than the last one.  The youth from our church that are running the show are ridiculous (as in, ridiculously AWESOME). We show up at 5:30 on Friday afternoon and everything (seriously, EVERYTHING) is set up and ready to go. They are fulling invested in this program, and in sharing the love of Jesus with their peers. I am so proud!

But, something happened between the first and second week that made me sad, and a bit angry, and slightly dumbfounded. There was a guy who attended the kick off event (which was awesome, by the way) who decided he didn’t want to come back anymore.

Because David has an earring.

Because “how could any man respect God, and stand up in front of people to pray, and talk about Jesus, with an earring?”

Well, actually Dude, FYI, David doesn’t just have an earring. He also has his eyebrow pierced (but he doesn’t wear a piercing in both at the same time…because that would look dumb), AND his lip pierced (ok, that one was a “if you do it, I’ll do it” dare like 8 years ago that just never grew over) AND – oh my gosh, try not to faint from the horror – a TATTOO.

Yep. And somehow he still manages to respect God, and stand up in front of people to pray, and talk about Jesus.

It made me sad because this guy chose not to come back and participate in really fun games and activities, and eat great food, and watch entertaining and insightful videos, and learn about Jesus, because of one guy with an earring.

And it made me angry because how can this guy make such a huge assumption about someone’s relationship with God based on an earring?

I think the first thing that came into my head (and possibly out of my mouth) when I heard about it was, “THAT’S SO DUMB, its just an EARRING!

Buuuuut, the team got together and we chatted, and David decided to not wear the stupid earring. Because if something you’re doing causes someone else to stumble…blah blah blah…

My point in all this is that there are some pretty messed up ideas in this country about what Christianity is, and what a relationship with God looks like. There are a whack-load of churches that WONT EVEN LET YOU IN THE DOOR with shorts on, or make-up, or a hat, or if you are known to frequent a pool-hall. You can’t dance, sometimes you can’t even clap. Women have to wean knee length skirts. Men have to been clean shaven. If someone spots a beer bottle in your garbage, you might have to have a meeting with the entire elders board to explain why you shouldn’t be kicked out of the church. No joke, I once listened to a pastors wife explain how it is not a sin to go swimming, but it IS a sin to wear a bathing suit (*sigh).

Rules, rules, rules, rules, RULES.

Matthew 22:34-40:

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this questions: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “Stand at the church door and stop anyone who isn’t cleanly shaven from entering.

waaaaaait a second…

Jesus replied: “Be the bible police and tell people exactly what sins they are committing.

nope, that’s not it either…

Jesus replied: “BE PERFECT PEOPLE WHO NEVER SIN MAKE SURE EVERYONE ELSE KNOWS YOU ARE PERFECT.

Ok, I made all those up. The NIV actually says this:

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Canadian spelling mine]

In the hierarchy of commandments, that is the most important – Love God and love others. Simple. If you are doing these two things the other commandments are covered too. Not sure if something is a sin? Ask yourself two questions: 1. Is what I’m doing loving God? and, 2. Is what I’m doing loving my neighbours? Did you answer “no” to one of those things? Then maybe you should rethink what you’re doing.

Jesus came to give us freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from the pressure of having to prove ourselves worth of God’s love, freedom from the laundry list of rules that people make for us. Honestly, I really don’t think God cares if I wear a skirt or pants to church. I think he likes it when we dance and clap in worship to him (Hello! King David!). I don’t think he cares about your earring, or tattoo (unless you tattoo says something hateful, like, um, “I hate left-handed people” or something. That’s not loving your left-handed neighbour, and so maybe you should cover it up when you’re out in public (and maybe think about getting it covered/removed).

And that’s what we are trying to show these youth in Alpha. God loves you how you are, right now, in this moment – Tattoos, piercings, the whole package. You maybe have been kicked out of churches in the past, but you wont be kicked out of this church. Because we are all sinners trying to figure out how to love our God and our neighbours. We are ALL broken people who need to be washed in Jesus’ grace and mercy. We are not perfect, and we don’t pretend to be. 

But we are forgiven, and we are free, because Jesus set us free.

And you can be too, all you have to do is ask.

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A New Chapter

I think I have written this post about 15 different ways. Trying to sum up a year in one post is hard. 2014 was hard. As David and I drove to Managua one day recently, we agreed that it was our hardest year since we got married. Its difficult to look back on this year and remember the good stuff. The bad usually overshadows it. Here’s some of the bad I’m talking about:

  • In January we were visiting some new friends at the ministry they work at (They had only been in the country for 3 days), when the ministry’s security guard came stumbling over asking for help. He had been shot twice. I left Bethany in the care of our friend (she locked herself in their room with her kids), and joined her husband to use what I have learned in first aid to keep the guard conscious while David tried to called the police. We ended up driving him in the back of a pick-up to the hospital. Long story short: the guard survived, but was later arrested for some involvement in organized crime, and I was left with some serious fear and the occasional panic attack (both have which have gotten a lot better).
  • Nicaragua experienced big earthquakes, an extreme drought, and then once it finally rained, flash flooding. There were volcanic eruptions (and threatening eruptions) and evacuations all over the country. Mother Nature was a little crazy last year (I think that’s true for a lot of places), and that made life a little stressful. We still sleep with our back door unlocked (because finding the key to the padlock in the dark during an earthquake while carrying a toddler is incredibly hard; just ask David), and my heart still races a bit every time I feel any sudden shaking!
  • Our seriously old, but extremely economical car had problem after problem until we finally gave up on it and basically sold it for scrap. After putting so much money into it to try to fix its 1,000,000 problems, it was frustrating when each fix revealed another handful of problems. The bright side: a wonderful friend, who was here in Nicaragua temporarily, sold us her car for a very good price. Our new car is almost 10 years younger than the old one, it’s automatic, and still pretty economical!
  • I had a miscarriage in early September, and another one mid-November. This hands down was the worst part of our year. Our unwritten goal for 2014 was to grow our family, and two miscarriages bring on a whole bunch of questions and doubts (Whats wrong with my body? Are we ever going to have more children? Why is this happening? etc, etc, etc.). We plan to get some of those questions answered this year, and hopefully find solutions to any problems that arise. Grieving the loss of our babies has been an emotional roller coaster. At times I am moody, sad, grumpy, quick to get angry, sometimes a crybaby, sometimes all at the same time. We hope and pray that the end of 2014 would be the end of that chapter for us, and that this year we can get answers, and grow our family.

In my head I know that 2014 was more then just loss/fear/earthquakes/disappointment, but when I look back that’s all I seem to see and my heart hurts. So along with the bad, I have to share the good, so I have good memories written down where I can see them, to remind myself that this year was actually a good one.

So, here we go, the good stuff:

  • David’s business, Estrada Language School, really took off. Our goal was 8 students a month, and from March to July he has at least 12 at a time. The final count for this year was 35 students.
  • Bethany has been diaper free for most of the year. Even at night! I went the “I’ll give you candy if you go pee-pee in the potty” route, and after about a week I didn’t have to give her candy anymore. Actually, I am only responsible for the “pee” potty training. I had successfully trained her in a week, but she would still cry for a diaper when she had to poop. Then I had to go away to translate, and when I got back, my mother-in-law, Mercedes, informed me that she was officially “fully” trained. Bethany also surprised us by not wetting her diaper at night for about 2 months in a row right after she learned to use the toilet, so we decided to go diaper-free at night too!
  • I started coordinating translators for one ministry, while also translating for 3 other ministries on a regular basis. Meaning that during team season I was pretty busy!
  • We built an addition on our house! The walls, roof and [cement] floor are done, and we have partially moved into the extra space (there are still a few things left to do before we officially take over the space). Our house has almost doubled in size, and I love having a kitchen (even though I STILL don’t have a sink inside yet!!)
  • David continued to study. He is half way through his degree in teaching and school administration.
  • Bethany became “officially” bilingual. Actually, I don’t know what defines someone as bilingual, but up until last year she was primarily speaking Spanish. She knew a few things in English (like numbers, names of animals and the colours), but now she is speaking in full sentences in both English and Spanish. She knows who to speak to in Spanish, and who only understands English, and she has translated for her Mimi a few times!!
  • We got a new dog! Oreo, our previous dog died almost two years ago. We had given one of her puppies to a friend, and that male puppy fathered a litter of puppies at the beginning of 2014, and our friend gave us one of the puppies! I just realized that I don’t have a good picture of our new dog, Batman, but he looks completely different than his grandmother, Oreo, but they have exactly the same personality. It’s nice to have a dog to eat all our table scraps and keep the neighbourhood dogs off our property, and bark all night long for no reason (ok, maybe not the third one…).
  • I finally became a resident of Nicaragua! It only took 6 years!
  • David and I ran two Alpha courses in our community, Los Cedros. From July-October we ran the Youth course, and had 130 youth show up on the first night! We finished up averaging about 80 people a week. And in November and December we ran a Alpha Marriage course for 10 couples (including David and I). It was also a huge success! David and I learned a lot about each other, and we got a lot of positive feedback from the other couples.
  • I got a full time job! I am now the Volunteer Coordinator for Tesoros de Dios, just 20 minutes away from home. That means I wont be translating anymore (I’m kind of sad about that), but I will be coming home from work every night, and I have a fixed salary with health insurance… you can’t beat that.
  • We made a point to spend time together as a family. We took trips to the beach, the local swimming pool, the park, and other parts of Nicaragua throughout the year.
  • We made the most of our Christmas Vacation. I had two weeks off, and David only had a few classes to teach, so we made an effort to visit with people we don’t see often, have dinner with old friend, spend time with people who were visiting, go on trips with the extended family, and spend time together. It was a lot of fun, and I can’t believe I have to go back to work on Monday!

2014 was hard, but my second list proves that it was, in fact, good. I am, however, very glad to put that year behind me.

So here’s to 2015. To answers and solutions, to peace and quiet, to fun, to family, to life.

A new year, a new chapter.

¡Happy New Year from the Estrada Family!

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Thank God for Answered Prayers.

I have been working as a translator for almost 5 years.

Almost. Five. Years.

When I started it was easy — sometimes I spent a week in another city, but I knew my hubby could fend for himself while I was gone. While I was pregnant with Bethany I hoped and prayed that some kind of job opportunity would come up (for me OR David) that would make it possible to stay home. But, alas, only 2 months after she was born I left for my first week away. Since then I have heard, “I can’t believe you have to leave your baby girl, I just couldn’t do it.” more times than I could count. Let me tell you, that doesn’t make it any easier on me. Actually, it just made me feel sad and guilty.

Don’t get me wrong. I love translating. I have worked with teams from all over the US and Canada. I have met tons of people –some of whom have become great friends; I have gone to places in Nicaragua that I never would have visited otherwise; I have seen and learned invaluable things; and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world.

But leaving home for 5 or 6 days at a time, sometimes 3 or 4 weeks in a row hurts. It kills me when I can’t see my hubby and my daughter every day. It makes me so sad when I call home and Bethany is crying for me, or doesn’t even want to talk to me. It is a hard job. It’s mentally exhausting. I am working full time for 5-7 days, and then I am back home being mom. Certain times of year are harder then others, so when jobs are available I have to take them.

Translating is great; I really enjoy it, but I  have been doing it for almost 5 years, and for almost 5 years I have been praying for a job that would allow me to sleep at home every night, in my own bed, 365 days a year.

And almost 5 years later, God answered that prayer.

answered prayers

Two weeks ago I received an email from a ministry where I have been translating for the last year, asking if I was interested in applying for a position that they were creating, or if I knew anyone who would fit the job description. I talked it over with David, and we decided I would send in my resume. one week later I interviewed for the job, and I was told that they had me in mind from the beginning. They had a few more interviews to do, but I would know by the end of the week. Later that night I got a call saying I had the job.

On Monday, I start my full time job at Tesoros de Dios, as their Team Coordinator.

Its 20 minutes down the highway (I can take the bus or drive easily). Its a Monday-Friday job (most jobs in Nicaragua are 6 days a week), and I get a full time salary and health insurance for me and my daughter. God didn’t just answer my prayer, He gave me exactly what I wanted!

And luckily, I live right next door to the ministry I have been translating for the longest, so when my good friends come for their yearly visit, I can walk across the field to see them. (That’s you, Jill, Grace, Sue, Greg, Kristie, Debbie, Tommy, Amy, Eric, etc).

I will truly miss translating. I will miss the great translators I have worked with over the years, I will miss my fav teams that keep coming every year, I will miss the 3 hour yellow-school-bus rides into the mountains (wait, probably not), I will miss the people we work with in the clinics.

But I am so ready for this next chapter in my life. I am so excited about coming home for dinner every night and seeing my family. I am so excited to get to know the kids and staff at Tesoros.

And I am so thankful for answered prayers.

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six years in pictures

How can I sum up 6 years with words? Not possible. So instead, I searched my facebook albums and my computer for the best pictures I could show you to tell the story of my last 6 years in Nicaragua.

2008

I lived at Arms Of Love Children's Home.

I lived at Arms Of Love Children’s Home.

Doson's 1st birthday party.

Doson’s 1st birthday party.

I was a bridesmaid in Juan and Tania's wedding.

I was a bridesmaid in Juan and Tania’s wedding.

I just love this picture of David and Doson... so I threw it in.

I just love this picture of David and Doson… so I threw it in.

2009

Meagan came to visit and we went on bus adventures!

Meagan came to visit and we went on bus adventures!

We zip-lined over extinct volcanoes filled with water.

We zip-lined over extinct volcanoes filled with water.

I learned how pineapples grow.  (admit it, you weren't sure either...)

I learned how pineapples grow.
(admit it, you weren’t sure either…)

I had fun with kids!

I had fun with kids!

...and more kids...

…and more kids…

...and these girls (Karla and Vanessa).

…and these girls (Karla and Vanessa).

I went to the circus.

I went to the circus.

I got engaged to this guy.

I got engaged to this guy.

interlude... beautiful parrots!

interlude… beautiful parrots!

2010

I married the love of my life.

I married the love of my life.

2010

I had the best bridesmaids a girl could ask for.

Canadians came to visit!

Canadians came to visit!

Just another picture that I love...

Just another picture that I love…

We bought land and started to build.

We bought land and started to build.

Our niece, Sol, was born.

Our niece, Sol, was born.

We moved into our house. (I can't believe it was ever that empty!)

We moved into our house.
(I can’t believe it was ever that empty!)

2011

We found out we were expecting.

We found out we were expecting.

Our niece Kelly was born.

Our niece Kelly was born.

David was super-uncle!

David was super-uncle!

2012

Our lives changed forever.

Our lives changed forever.

I think this is my favourite picture ever.

I think this is my favourite picture ever.

Our nephew Nico was born.

Our nephew, Nico, was born.

And almost immediately the Bethany and her cousin were fighting.

And almost immediately the Bethany and her cousin were fighting.

This little girl made our days more exciting.

This little girl made our days more exciting.

2013

This.

This.

Our nephew, Jefferson, was born.

Our nephew, Jefferson, was born.

Bethany took her first plane...

Bethany took her first plane…

...to Canada!

…to Canada!

Bethany met her great-grandfather.

Bethany met her great-grandfather.

...and her great-grandmother.

…and her great-grandmother.

I wrecked my friends car two days before Christmas...

I wrecked our friend’s car two days before Christmas…

...and got this lovely collar to show for it.

…and got this lovely collar to show for it.

2014

This little girl just keeps growing...

This little girl just keeps growing…

We started building an addition onto our house.

We started building an addition onto our house.

Our nephew, Jean Carlos, was born.

Our nephew, Jean Carlos, was born.

I FINALLY became a permanent resident of Nicaragua!

I FINALLY became a permanent resident of Nicaragua!

It’s been six, amazing, sweaty, fun, emotional years.

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Part 3: Eleven years, His voice, His plan = My Story

When I came back from my second trip, I decided I needed to learn Spanish. I was going to live in Nicaragua after all. So when I picked my first semester classes for my 3rd year Spanish 101 was on my timetable.

Spanish class was torture. I barely passed. I am evidence that languages are better learned in the field. I remember thinking to myself “well, I’ll just have to hire a translator when I live in Nicaragua”. Haha.

Summer 2006 and 2007 I was back at the ranch as the Rec Coordinator, and in the off-season I spent every weekend there. During my second semester of third year I began to realize that I wasn’t as driven as the other students in my program. Some of my friends were already sending in applications to grad school programs, and I just wasn’t motivated.

By the beginning of my 4th year I had an epiphany: I don’t like school.

I know, I’m slow,  it took 3 years of university to figure that out. All I could think about was Nicaragua. Instead of studying I was googling ministries in Nicaragua, and day dreaming about going back. Med school was out of the question. I couldn’t imagine having to wait another 4 years to go back. After a lot of prayer, I made a final decision. I changed the courses I was taking to the last 3 credits I needed to graduate with a general BSc, and applied to graduate in December. At the same time I started looking more seriously at ministries in Nicaragua. I had 4 months free, and money that I wasn’t going to be spending on tuition, so I started looking for a place where I could volunteer for a few months.

I decided to do a short solo trip because I was a little nervous about committing to anything longer. What if I couldn’t handle it? I wanted enough time that it wouldn’t feel like a short-term trip, but short enough that if I realized I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t have to change my ticket. I decided to go for 2 months.

There was one website the I kept going back to in all my searches. I must have read it 50 times. It wasn’t a big ministry, and the website wasn’t fancy, but it called to me. It was a little school in Managua. So I emailed, “Hey, I have two months and I want to know if you could use some help.”  and got the response “Ya! sure!”

January 21st 2008 I was back in Nicaragua for the 3rd time. The beginning was hard. I still struggled (hard) with the language, but I loved the little school and the neighbourhood I worked in. I was picked up at the airport by a woman and her husband. She was the director of the school, and we instantly got along really well. At the time she had a beautiful baby boy who was 2 months old (He’ll be turning 7 in November!)

About half way into my second week she suggested I start taking Spanish classes (I couldn’t spend my entire 2 months here only speaking to her!), and she suggested a great teacher: her younger brother, David.

February 8th, 2008

February 8th, 2008

David and I hit it off really well, and soon we were “novios”. I knew pretty soon after we started dating that I would marry him one day.

During my two months here I helped out at an orphanage for three weeks. I think it was during that time when I was really sure I would be moving permanently to Nicaragua. I had been working with kids for almost eight years at the Ranch, so working in an orphanage seemed like a was a logical next step for me.

2008 was my last summer as Recreation Coordinator, and boy it was a hard one! I look back on that summer and know that God was preparing me to leave my home and the place I loved the most. It was the hardest job I have every done, but the job I loved the most. I am still so grateful for the time I worked there. It helped shape me into who I am.

As I prepared for the big move I started getting anxious about the language barrier. Thanks to David I spoke a lot more Spanish then I did before, but I was going to be living in an orphanage where there were no other staff who spoke English. I prayed (and prayed and prayed and prayed) that God would help me. “I need some supernatural Spanish here, God!

And let me tell you, He answered.

I think my high school teachers and university professors can attest to the fact that I’m not the smartest kid out there. I think 5 years of French, and Spanish 101 can show you that I do not learn languages easily (ask me to count to 10 in French… I can’t). But when I moved here, the Spanish just started flowing. There were times that I opened my mouth and words I didn’t even know I knew came out. It. was. a. miracle.  There is no other way to explain it.

Moving to Nicaragua in October 2008 was the fulfillment of a plan that God called me to 5 years earlier, but it didn’t end there. Now David, Bethany and I are in it together and I never get tired of hearing little whispers and hints from God about whats to come.

I know now that when ever I hear silence, it not because Gods not there, or he doesn’t care, it’s because he is waiting for just the right moment to tell me the next step.

I know now that even though I can’t see where the path is taking me, I need to enjoy every twist, turn and bump, because each step in the journey is important, not just the destination.

 

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Part 2: Eleven years, His voice, His plan = My Story

Summer 2004 I worked as Head Counselor at Circle Square Ranch in Brantford – my first time on the Leadership Team – and September 2004 I started my first year of university at UW (University of Waterloo). As time went on, and my Nicaragua trip was further behind me, I began to question if I was really called to Nicaragua, or just to be a missionary. As I considered other places I would like to go, I applied for a 5 week summer trip to Tanzania with other students from my school, but I didn’t make it on the team.

Summer 2005 I was back at the Ranch, this time as the Recreation Coordinator. The Ranch quickly became my second home, and I started working weekends with retreat groups when I started back at school. Around October or November of my second year at UW, I went to a Med-club meeting and someone announced a potential service opportunity: A medical trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I signed up as soon as I could. An opportunity to go to a place I love, doing something I love? Heck yes.

May 2006 we traveled to Costa Rica and began our two week service learning trip. Truth: I hated it. The food, the language, the heat… I struggled with all of it. I remember questioning what God was thinking. “Sorry God, I must have heard you wrong. I’m not going to be a missionary. I just want to go home“. I was counting down the days until I would get to go home. We finished up clinic in Costa Rica, and made our way towards the Nicaraguan boarder.

Something amazing happened. When you cross the boarder from Costa Rica into Nicaragua, first, you have to leave Costa Rica, then you walk over about 100m of no-mans-land, and finally you enter Nicaragua. As I walked I had this crazy feeling come over me. It was that feeling you get when you finally come home after being away for a long time. It was the feeling I got when I drove down the load driveway to the Ranch. It was a feeling of peace. I was entering a country that I had only been in once before, two YEARS ago, and I felt like I was going home.

In that moment I knew two things for sure. 1. That feeling of peace came from God and God alone. 2. This was His way of telling me “Two years ago I didn’t tell you you would be a missionary just anywhere. I was being specific. Nicaragua will be your home“.

Ometepe Island

Ometepe Island

The rest of the trip wasn’t necessarily easier after that. I still struggled with the language. I still hated the food. But I didn’t want to go home anymore.

Because a part of me knew that I was home.

—–

If you made it this far you’re in the home stretch! Part III will be posted tomorrow!
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Eleven years, His voice, His plan = My Story

October 28th, 2014 marks six years living in Nicaragua. I like to call it my Nica-versary. In honour of my six years here I decided to write out the story of how I got here.

A lot of people assume that because I am married to a Nicaraguan, I moved here for him…

False.

…David was a bonus thrown into plan that God gave me way before we met.

Eleven years ago, I was in my last year of highschool for the second time (wait, what? Ya, for real. Long story short, the Ontario board of Education decided to change EVERYTHING, including getting rid of grade 13- or OAC – in our province, and I was in the first year of the new plan. So we graduated with everyone a year older then us. Double the graduates = a lot harder to get into any universities. This girl cracked under the pressure and so I had to re-take a few classes and take a few new classes to pull up my average, even though I had already graduated). I was part of the Student Leadership Team in my church, Spring Garden Baptist in Toronto, and I was trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do with my life.

I prayed and prayed during that time that God would give me a little guidance about where I should go to University, and what He wanted me to do with my life. The response: silence. I was SO frustrated. Almost all my high school friends had gone off to university. They had plans, and goal, and they knew (more or less) what they were doing. And I felt stuck. God had no plan for me.

And then one night at a leadership team meeting the first step in God’s long and elaborate plan was placed before me. We were told that there was an opportunity for the SLT to go on a missions trip to Nicaragua. I knew immediately that I wanted to go. I got home from Church that night, put the pamphlet down on the table and said “I’m going to Nicaragua in March!” I don’t remember exactly what my parents said, but I know it wasn’t all positive. The next day my dad brought home a printed out version of the CIA fact-sheet on Nicaragua with a bunch of highlighted reasons why I couldn’t (or should’t go).

But I was 18, and insisted that I would fund raise the $2200 I needed to go on my own, so I signed up.

Over the next 6 months as we prepared for the trip I felt like I was still getting no response from God about my future. I started getting acceptance letters for Universities in early March, but I had no idea where to go or what to do with my life.

On Thursday March 11th, 2004 I stepped foot in Managua for the first time in my life. It was hot, and smelly, and beautiful. When I woke up the next morning I actually forgot that it was my 19th birthday for the first hour or so.

Our trip was what I would typically call an “exposure” trip. We were introduced to various ministries, we painted a church, we built a basketball court, we went sight seeing, we cut grass with a machete. We were split up into groups of 2 or 3 and sent to live in houses with Nicaraguans. We rode on big, brightly decorated school buses, or in the back of pick-up trucks. We saw joy and hope in the midst of  poverty and suffering. I think I can safely say that everyone on the team was changed by what we experienced.

Volcan Masaya

Volcan Masaya

Wednesday was the day that stood out the most to me. Probably because its a day that changed my life forever. We were visiting a school and playing with the kids out in the school yard. We brought a parachute and some balls and just had fun. We were surrounded by probably 150 kids, and as I stood out there, in the middle on the yard, with kids running around me, for just a minute I felt like everything got quiet. And then I heard His voice. God. He spoke directly to me and said, “You’re going to live here one day”.

I remember getting back on the bus after our time at the school and crying with one of my friends. God DID have a plan for me. I had be frustrated and angry for months because I felt like God wasn’t listening or talking to me. But what he was really doing was waiting. If he had told me back in September that I was going to live in Nicaragua one day it wouldn’t have made any sense. He had to bring me here first before he could reveal his plan to me.

When I got home I was finally able to make some decisions. I chose to study Bio-medical Science at the University of Waterloo. My plan: undergrad>med school> somehow eventually become a missionary doctor in Nicaragua.

You’ll have to come back for part II. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t go to med school!

 

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How to make rice: Nica Style

Disclaimer: if you are looking for exact, step-by-step directions
 to make the perfect pot of rice every time, look somewhere else.
 When you ask a Nicaraguan how to make rice you will get the most
 vague, un-exact set of directions you've ever heard, and you will
 be left with a million unanswered questions (That everyone will
 answer differently).  This is the country where people use fistfuls
 as a measurement. Everyone makes rice a bit differently. 
Sometimes it tastes amazing, sometimes its just...rice.

Not bragging or anything, but my mother-in-law has the rice thing down. Her rice is always great. I have heard lots of people talk about how “Doña Mer (Mercedes) makes her rice grow” (aka, it expand). If you really know how to cook rice, it grows.

It took almost 4 years of marriage before I finally broke down and asked Mer to teach me to cook rice HER way. David taught me early on…and it was so confusing I just didn’t cook it. Then we got a rice maker, and David happily ate rice for a few years without telling me that rice made in a rice maker just isn’t the same. (One day one of his brothers finally spoke up and I realized I had been serving sub-par rice for years!) Since Mer taught me, I’ve been making rice at least once a week, sometimes more. It’s actually easy to do once you figure it out.

So here we go. The most vague set of cooking instructions known to man.

First, you need the right cookware. You can’t just cook rice in any old pot, you know? If you use a pot with straight sides you will likely get rice stuck in the bottom that will burn and ruin it all. I recommend something like this pot:
POT1
You can buy cast aluminum pots like this anywhere in Nicaragua. They sell them in the markets and on street corners. You can buy ones small enough for a kids play kitchen, and big enough to cook rice for 100+ people. I can cook 1lbs of rice in this pot. I could probably get 2lb in there if I was really careful when stirring.

You will need:

1 cast-aluminum pot with lid (or something similar).
1 big metal spoon. (a wooden spoon doesn’t efficiently scrape the bottom of the pot.)
Rice (Some people are passionate about the quality of their rice. We use El Faisán.)
vegetable oil
onion, chopped
salt
water

[You’re probably asking, “how much?”. Well, here’s the thing: I don’t know. When I was taught how to cook rice there were no measuring cups or spoons used. You just have to eye-ball it. When I made this rice I didn’t measure the oil, salt or water. I used 1lb of rice, and about 1/3 of a medium-sized onion.]
How to cook rice:

1. Travel to Nicaragua and purchase a cast-aluminum pot. (Just kidding! But hey, if you come down, swing by my house!)

[optional step: wash your rice. I seriously don’t understand the washing the rice thing. It would make sense if you are buying rice from the big open sacks in an open air market. But even when Nicaraguans buy the pre-packaged rice they still find it necessary to pre-wash the rice. To wash the rice you need to pour it into a bowl, and cover it with water. Swish the rice around with your hands a bit and then pour out the water. Repeat until you think the rice is sufficiently clean.]

(Full disclosure: I don’t pre-wash my rice. And when I do, I think it tastes exactly the same.)

1. Turn on your burner to high, add some oil to the pot. If you add too much oil your rice will be…oily. So stick with just a bit. If I add to much I either scoop some out with a spoon, or add extra rice!

2. add your chopped onion to the hot oil, mix it up a bit.

Oil onion

3. When your onion is nice and sizzle-y, pour your rice into the pot. use your spoon to coat the rice in the oil.

4. (this part was hard for me to get the hang of.) Don’t hover over your rice! Let it cook a bit in the oil. Do other things, prep the rest of your food. Every once in a while go back and give the rice a stir. Some of the grains of rice should get a nice toasty colour.

5. I add my salt at this point, only because if I don’t I will forget completely. To make true Nicaragua rice you need to add more salt then you would think is necessary. Nicaraguans love their salt. Add your salt and keep toastin’!

mix salt

7. When your rice is nice and toasty (but not burnt) its time to add the water. Careful, because when you add water to hot, oily rice you are going to get some instant boiling and sizzling. When my mother-in-law explained how much water I should add, she showed me with her finger. If you put your finger straight down in the water until it barely touches the rice, the water should come up the top of your nail (the cuticle).

But here’s the thing… the water is BOILING. How are you going to put your finger in there?! And, with all the onion/oil/toasty rice the water is not going to be clear….so its hard to see when the rice is!

So keep this in mind: Too much water will ruin your rice, it will be soggy and over cooked, and you can’t fix it later. But too little can be corrected later by just adding an extra sprinkle. So, just like the oil, less is better.

8. Give your rice a stir every few minutes as the water is boiling down.

9. When the rice is still wet, but there is no visible water ON TOP of the rice, (there are holes in the rice where the water vapor is escaping), give your rice a stir, turn down the heat to low, and put the lid on.

add water

10. Again, don’t hover! Check and stir the rice every once in a while to make sure it’s not burning. When it seems to be getting dry give it a little taste. If it’s a bit hard, sprinkle some water over the rice and leave it a few more minutes.

11. Enjoy your (hopefully) tasty Nicaraguan rice!

028

You can serve this rice with everything.

Literally.

(Actually, in Nicaragua many people think that if there is no rice, then it’s not really a meal. Even if there are potatoes, and pasta, and bread, you still need your rice!)

p.s. Sick and tired of plain white rice? (ya, me too sometimes!) Use chicken broth instead of water for a yummy change. Or add carrots (chopped or grated) and other veggies. There are endless ways to make rice less boring, Let me know if you have any secrets!

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dreams

Just a note before I start writing what I actually WANT to write about: 
If you ask me how I'm doing, the answer most likely is "I don't know". 
Literally my day is filled with such a roller coaster of emotions, I 
don't think I can sum it up in a quick response. In Nicaragua, when 
you ask someone, "¿Cómo estás? ("How are you?), you sometimes get the 
response "Aqui". Which literally translates to "here". I guess that is 
a good way to describe how I'm doing. I'm here. In the middle of it all.
Yesterday was probably one of the most physically painful days of my life. 
I didn't fully realize that by opting to let things happen "naturally" it
meant that I would be signing up for a pain that is a slightly scaled down 
version of labour and delivery. Complete with about 5 hours of escalating 
contractions that quickly progress to being right on top of each other, 
and whole bunch of stuff that you don't want to read about on a family blog.
I don't really know if the physical pain was just adding insult to injury 
(i.e. I already lost my child, now I have to feel like I'm delivering 
it too?) Or if helped to have a physical pain to go with what I was feeling 
emotionally. But either way, today is a slightly better day. My physical 
symptoms of the miscarriage are starting to diminish. And, though 
emotionally I still have a ways to go, I fell like the physical healing 
will help me get back to a somewhat "normal" life. Whatever that is.

Alright, now on to what I came here to say…

dreams

I don’t dream very often. Actually, I probably do, but I don’t remember my dreams very often. But sometimes, not very often, I have very vivid, almost real dreams.

I believe that God speaks to people through dreams. There are so many examples in the bible of God speaking to people through dreams that it would take to too long to list them all here. But I don’t believe that its just something from biblical times; I believe God speaks to people through dreams today.

When I was only 8 weeks pregnant with Bethany (and we still hadn’t told anyone yet), a woman from our church told me that she had a dream where she saw me standing in church holding a baby. She believed that God was telling her to tell me that soon we would be parents. It was such a relief to hear her say that. And I am so thankful that God gave her that message for us.

I had two dreams last week that were so vivid that those few minutes while I was waking up I truly thought they were real. And now, in retrospect, I think God gave me those dreams to help me with closure.

The first dream, about 5 days before the bleeding started, was beautiful. I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She was perfect. I saw her clearly. Her skin was a little bit lighter than Bethany’s was when she was born. And her eyes were a light, honey brown colour. She didn’t have a a head of thick black hair like Bethany did, but wisps of  light brown hair. In the dream we were sitting on our couch, talking to some people over Skype (who had apparently helped with the delivery…via Skype – that was the only bizarre part of the dream!) and I was nursing my new baby daughter. The part that stands out to me the most was the name. We named her Amberly. I don’t know anyone with that name, I don’t think I have even heard that name before. But it was so vivid. Amberly.

When I woke up I was so hopeful! By that point I already knew about the possibility of a blighted ovum, and I was concerned that we didn’t hear a heartbeat the week before.  I felt like this dream was hope that everything would be ok.

But the next dream, two nights later, was the opposite. I was lying in the ultrasound room in the hospital, and my doctor was checking for a heart beat, David was standing behind her. Then she turned the screen towards me and explained that there was no baby, that the sac was empty, that I was having a miscarriage. In the dream I left the room and just screamed and cried uncontrollably. I woke up feeling out of breath, and extremely confused.

The crazy thing is, that second dream was an exact depiction of what actually happened on Wednesday morning. When we got into the car after leaving the hospital I told David. “I dreamed this. Exactly how it happened.”

Except for the crying. I mean, I cried, I cried hard, but at the same time, as Dra. Aragon told me that the sac was empty and that there was no baby, it was like I had already been prepared for the news.

I don’t know exactly why I had that second dream, but I do think it helped with the impact of the news. It reminds me that God is in control of everything, that he has our days planned out before we are born.

And the first dream? I think God was giving me a few precious minutes with my beautiful little girl. The image of her is forever etched in my memory, and I know I will recognize her one day when I get to heaven. She’s lucky. She got to skip this sometimes crappy, sometimes painful earthly existence and go straight to eternity with Jesus. If it can’t be me holding her in my arms (or my womb) at least I know its Him. Its comforting to know that she is having fun in heaven playing with her cousins.

And of course I looked up the name Amberly yesterday. It comes from the name Amber, and means “beautiful jewel” or a warm honey colour. Having never heard the name before, it fits her pretty perfectly.

I am so thankful that God let me see my baby girl at least once. And, although I am still struggling to get through this and come to terms with why this all happened, it is so nice to be reminded that my God loves me and is carrying me through it all.

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