2009 -> 2019 Decade in Review

What a significant decade in my life! So many ups and downs and interesting experiences. So much learning and growing! So many dreams accomplished and so much evidence of God’s providence and faithfulness. How can I not be thankful?

I still consider 2009 to be one of the most significant years of my life. I would say it was the peak of my existence but that’s a little dramatic and also kind of depressing for the rest of my years here on earth… *ahem, nervous laughter* so, anyway I thought I’d share the highlights from that year and then the highlights from the rest of the decade. Maybe I’ll throw in some lowlights too just to be real…

2009

The year I turned 20! I finished my sophomore year at Lee University and started my junior year in the fall. I had gotten involved in a community tutoring and mentorship ministry in an immigrant neighborhood near my college campus that I would end up leading the following year. The experiences and friendships formed through this ministry were nothing short of life-changing for me. And my Spanish advanced exponentially this year!

The summer of 2009 was packed for me. I don’t remember the specific order but it involved traveling as a volunteer to Honduras, Mexico, and DISNEY WORLD. Yes, I went to Disney World on a paid trip as a volunteer Spanish interpreter with a Mexican family for a type of make-a-wish dream vacation. Occasionally I think about that opportunity and wonder WHAT IS MY LIFE. (that trip was not without its mishaps and fails – which make for hilarious stories – but it was overall truly MAGICAL)

After having traveled for 5 years with teams, my cousin and I were able to travel to Honduras solo for the first time as independent volunteers. I think the trip was a total of about 3 weeks, which was cut short because of Honduras’ infamous MILITARY COUP that took place smack dab in the middle of our stay. Of course, at 20-years-old I was more concerned about my missions adventure being thwarted than the actual political ramifications that it meant for the country. #typical

Thank God that I have grown as an individual and as a missionary since that trip. I was naïve in so many ways.

We were also in Honduras when Michael Jackson died but that had no implication on my life. I just remembered that being big in the news.

The Disney World experience was enriching in so many ways. I got to see the incredible collaboration of Children’s Hospital of Alabama and the organization, Magic Moments, in granting the wish of a precious little patient whose cancer was in remission. The organization, Give Kids the World, in Kissimee, FL was super impressive as they provided housing, food, and activities to all their guests – families of children with terminal illnesses. One activity in their “village” allowed the sick children to write their name on a gold star and choose where they wanted to hang the star along the roof of “Castle of Miracles” along with thousands of other stars from kids in similar situations. We got park hopper entrances to all Disney parks and to Universal Studios, fast passes to every ride, park meals and souvenirs covered, and the patient’s Give Kids the World button she wore on her shirt signaled all characters in autograph signing lines to stop the line and direct their attention to her. I had never seen anything like it.

The biggest mishap of the trip was that I was the only licensed driver of the group (and the only English speaker) and the family’s vehicle broke down somewhere in south Georgia on our way to Orlando and it was a Sunday and we couldn’t find any mechanic shops open. This was also before smartphones so I guess we were just calling random people asking for help. (we actually waved on a police officer who stopped to ask if we were ok) We finally got in touch with a friend of a friend, some latino mechanic who came and helped us out. That day I learned the Spanish word for spark plugs. And I learned a few other things about my own privilege.

For the first part of this year I was working as an office assistant and board operator at Christian radio station J103 in Chattanooga.

2010

I visited Costa Rica for the first time with a group from college this summer. I tried gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans) and my life hasn’t been the same since.

I think this was the year that I started working in retail – JCPenny!

2011

This was the year I graduated from my incredible alma mater, Lee U, with a bachelor’s of arts in Telecommunications, minors in Spanish, Latin American Studies, and Religion. I was interning (and eventually worked) at Church of God World Missions editing video footage for missionaries around the world. I loved it! I eventually had to leave Cleveland, TN and was super sad.

My highest highlight of the year was visiting Puerto Rico for the first time. ¡Me enamoré con la Isla del Encanto! And I halfway learned to dance Bomba. Second highlight was getting my first DSLR camera (Canon T2i).

In the fall of this year I moved to Panama City, Panamá for three months as a volunteer with a Honduran missionary family.

This was the year I started getting more involved in fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, and specifically against a state-level anti-immigrant bill that was promoting self-deportation of undocumented immigrants. I wrote to my representatives and traveled to the state capital by bus with a group of activists to rally against it.

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2012

I went back to work with the World Missions video editing team for the first part of this year then I was invited to move to Honduras in August on an English teaching contract. I was nervous about teaching and living there for A YEAR but I jumped at the chance. One fateful month after starting my teaching job in San Pedro Sula, Honduras I met Natán Martínez at church. My first impression of him was him standing up in front of the congregation praying a passionate missions prayer for some chosen country of the month… it I weren’t so skeptical of these kind of things I would say it was love at first sight… or love at first prayer… idk. Basically a few weeks after that we were officially dating.

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This was also one of the last years that I was into death-defying stunts like hiking through a roaring waterfall with an amateur guide. (NEVER AGAIN) Yes, those tiny people in the photo are my friends and me.

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This year I traveled to Belize for the first time.

2013

I finished my teaching contract in June and made plans to move back to the states. Natán was preparing to start seminary in Guatemala and we were already talking about getting married. We both knew we wanted to be in ministry in Honduras but didn’t know what that would look like. I still had about $20,000+ of student loans to pay off and he had 3 years of seminary to get through. We pledged to do long distance until we met our goals. AND WE DID. 2013 was the start of 3.5 years of LONG DISTANCE dating (kind of already engaged) in two separate countries.

For the last half of 2013 I started the job search. My first contract job was teaching English to adults through a literacy program grant for Hoover City Schools at an elementary school. I eventually started teaching Spanish with a homeschool co-op, and doing Spanish interpreting in medical facilities and Tarrant City School System. I loved each of these jobs. At one point I was working 5 contract jobs at once!

I also started using my photography/videography as a side hustle, doing photo sessions and videoing events.

2016

Natán and I would see each other about twice a year when he’d go home to Honduras for break and I’d travel to see him or travel with a missions group. Finally, in spring of 2016 I traveled to visit him in Guatemala and then again in November to see him graduate. This was when we took engagement photos to announce our wedding date for the following March.

This was the year I paid off the last of my student loans! FREEDOM. And Natán graduated from seminary. I had started raising monthly missions support and that has sustained us in our ministry. We accomplished what we set out to do before getting married and starting our lives as full-time missionaries.

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2017

WEDDING TIME! Natán and I (finally) got married in an intimate ceremony on the Caribbean island of Roatan on March 27, 2017, four days before my 28th birthday. IT WAS A DREAM. It was at my dream location, I wore my dream dress, DSW clearance high heels, my grandmother did my hair AND made our delicious strawberry wedding cake. (don’t tell anyone she iced the cake in our hotel bathroom) We found a great local photographer and were surrounded by closest friends and family. Those who couldn’t be present watched via Skype.

2018

In February of this year I lost my paternal grandmother and it was really hard but I thank God that I happened to be home on a scheduled visit during her last days and I was able to say goodbye while she was lucid.

We got a slow start this year as we founded our poverty alleviation nonprofit organization and we kept hitting bumps in the road. The last few months of 2018 were pretty stressful in our personal lives but we made it through. I was glad to see 2018 go.

Four highlights were: loving married life, visiting El Salvador for the first time, having my mom and grandparents visit us in Honduras, and photographing the birth of my nephew, Brooks!

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2019

In 2019 we officially got 501c3 status as an organization! We hit a few important goals and had our first official benefit event for our org in Alabama. I also turned 30 this year and it felt fabulous.


This last decade brought many pleasant surprises but also a couple painful disappointments. I learned some ugly truths about the world but I think I grew and gained wisdom from it. I am not as carefree and naïve as I was at twenty but that would be kind of weird if I was.

I might not be exactly where I’d like to be for 2020 but as I reflect over the last ten years I think I can say it was a freakin’ good decade. I really don’t have any regrets. Here’s to the next!

Opposite Worlds and Divine Blending

I am part of an online community of missionaries and expats around the world. I’m super thankful for this space that helps me find people in similar situations like myself and it makes me feel less alone. One of these groups has weekly discussion themes and encourages the expat women to post and blog according to it. This week the theme is opposites.

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Literally me in Honduras fanning away my sweat as I imagine the opposite of whatever current scenario happening if I were in the USA

After reading some of the posts, I have come to reflect on some seemingly opposites in my own life. In the last year I’ve become a little obsessive with comparing my life here in Honduras to my life back home in the states. I don’t know if this is a stage of culture shock and I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to justify or reconcile in my own mind but I annoy my own self with frequent comments that I make like, “back in my country…” reminiscent of Phoebe from The Magic School Bus.

So, inspired by a guest blogger on the group’s blog, I thought I would just make a little list of things contrasting my life now to what it might be if I were living in the U.S.: (as interesting as my daily life in Honduras might seem to some in the states, my daily life in the states seems pretty interesting to many in Honduras – for example, it is quite shocking to people in the majority world that we in the states let our central heating and air units run almost nonstop year-round)

  • in the U.S. I would use a dryer for my clothes; in Honduras I use a clothesline (this is just one reason why clothes-washing is a more complicated and involved task from start to finish – there’s no throwing in a couple jeans to wash last minute because you need them the next day.)
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but… As God as my witness, I will have a dryer again!

  • in the U.S. I would wear a lot of makeup and fix my hair more; here I wear minimal makeup and opt for braids or buns most days
  • in the U.S. I would probably use a dishwasher (depending where I was living); here I hand wash dishes multiple times a day and my hands and nails suffer from it
  • in the U.S. I would ashamedly eat lotssss of microwavable foods; here I cook more (thus dirtying up more dishes) or eat dirt cheap street food
  • in the U.S. I would live in a completely climate controlled atmosphere at a comfortable 68º pretty much 24/7; here we use only fans with open windows and can’t control the temperatures, smells, or noises that bombard our senses
  • in the U.S. pest control is a breeze; here it is almost a daily battle with ants, mosquitoes, flies, roaches, spiders, and geckos (and once, an iguana in our bathroom)
  • in the U.S. I would keep up with my favorite T.V. series like This Is Us and Law and Order: SVU; here we have no T.V. (but thank God for wifi & Netflix! even with fewer options than in the states)
  • in the U.S. my water pressure would be great and I’d have constant hot water in any faucet!; here we use an external heated shower head that is only hot when the pressure is really low (not to mention we can’t drink from the faucets)
  • in the U.S. I would have SO. MUCH. closet and drawer space; here my husband and I share a single zip-up mobile “closet” and use foldable storage bins
  • in the U.S. I would drive solo anywhere at literally any time of the day or night on great road conditions; here the roads are hazardous, traffic is typically heavy, other drivers are unpredictable, my husband and I share a vehicle and it is stick shift and I’m not comfortable driving it just yet… so I don’t drive :/ (but I will! It’s a goal of mine)
  • in the U.S. I would speak mostly in my first language and communication wouldn’t require much mental energy; here I will go days on end without having a single conversation in English and sometimes it leaves me feeling exhausted
  • in the U.S. I would feel comfortable in public (just the right amount of being acknowledged + being ignored); here I’m stared at everywhere
  • in the U.S. I can suggest to group of friends that we go out for dinner and everyone understands they will pay their own bill; here “he who invites pays” so group outings are few and far between 😉

etc., etc… The above list is specific of my particular situation in either of my “two worlds.” It’s not to say that it would be representative of all living in the states nor all living in Honduras. This is also a very superficial list and doesn’t touch on the subject of violence and fear that is one of the biggest factors of any psychological and emotional changes that I might have experienced in the last couple of years – changes that I most definitely would not have undergone had I stayed in the states. These are my opposites. I live every day trying to figure out how I can stay active in both worlds… and if I should. Some days, I wonder if I’m holding on too much to my comfort zone and other days I wonder if I’m losing my true self in the midst of assimilating into a new culture. Some days I feel brave and accomplished and other days I beat myself up for wallowing in self-pity. (because, I definitely have days when I just want ac and crown moulding and chick-fil-a and a hot bath and to feel comfortably normal)

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What if I could settle for living with these two opposing sides – appreciating the parts of me that have “Honduran-ized” while not feeling guilty for still wanting little American pleasures while living abroad? What if it was God’s plan all along that my upbringing, affinities, calling, and all the new experiences blended together to form a completely unique me?

I visualize it like I’m right in the middle of a Venn diagram where it’s overlapping and that’s where the really interesting stuff happens. I shouldn’t feel forced to sort through things placing them neatly on one side or the other. And if something is temporarily out of reach on a certain side I don’t have to feel like a martyr because it isn’t part of my life at that particular moment. I know I would never be fully content completely on one side or the other anyway.

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nothing to do with the actual content of this post – I just appreciate the Venn diagram humor

I have a never-satisfied longing for my fam back home to truly understand my daily life in Central America. I have to accept that they are not going to understand. I have a never-satisfied longing for my husband to understand my upbringing that is quite the opposite of how he was raised. I have to accept that he won’t truly understand my emotionally-charged nostalgia surrounding the holidays and family beach trips. He’ll one day get to experience that with us stateside but it won’t compare to the memories I have as a child. And I have to accept that our kids will most definitely have a very different experience than either one of us had growing up. They too will have to learn to live with a divine blending of cultures and that will bring its own challenges and rewards.

So, here’s to moving forward and being fully present in the middle of the diagram! Opposite worlds can blend and our lives are enriched because of it.

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How Do I Become Fluent? A Language Learner’s Guide

I occasionally get messages from students taking a foreign language (specifically Spanish) asking how to become fluent. There is no one-track, follow-these-3-steps guarantee to gaining fluency but with a few years of study and practice it’s doable so I thought I’d share some tips that helped me on my journey to fluency in Spanish. (and ones I’m using currently, although not-so-consistently, to learn Arabic)

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Language learning is a lifelong journey. We never stop expanding our vocabulary in any language, whether it’s our native tongue or not.


Three messages I’ve gotten recently:

 

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The best learning “tactic” you can have is the desire to learn. My personal motivation was traveling to Honduras as a teen and realizing the need to be able to communicate with the people there. If you want more convincing check out the infographic below about the benefits of a bilingual brain.

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Either way, find your why and your language journey will be so much more meaningful and will be what gets you through the lulls and moments when you feel overwhelmed.

That brings me to my next point… you will feel overwhelmed and like you want to give up and like you’re in over your head and oh-my-gosh-I’ll-never-get-the-hang-of-this-language, why-does-everyone-understand-except-me! I can’t tell you the times I walked into my college Spanish classes with sweaty palms and an abnormally high heart rate. It can be nerve wracking and I think a lot of people give up right around that time. But that is exactly where you have to push on through.

Learning a language will only happen for those who don’t mind looking foolish. If you are self-conscious about how silly you might sound then chances are it will be much nervousmore of a struggle. Because here’s some news: YOU WILL SOUND RIDICULOUS. You will. There is no getting around the fact that as a language learner (LL) you are going to mispronounce words and use the incorrect verb tense and just flat out say things you didn’t mean to say like one time when I told someone I had “a horse in my bathroom.”

*Things to keep in mind

  • Receptive language (comprehension) is typically developed before expressive language. I hear so many LL’s say, “I understand most of what they say! I just can’t answer back!” That’s normal.
  • It’s very unlikely that you will go from zero to fluent in just a year’s time. Allow yourself plenty of time to learn the language and don’t beat yourself up about what feels like slow progress. It’s hard to put a time limit on language proficiency because there are so many factors and we all learn differently.
  • You’ll probably have to invest financially. To learn a language you have to be intentional with your time and money. (but I hope through this blog post to give you some money- and time-saving tips you can use on your way to fluency)
  • There are four parts to learning a language: hearing, speaking, reading, writing. Make sure you are practicing all four!

 

Once you’ve discovered your motivation and accepted the fact that there will be moments when you will feel like giving up and that you will occasionally sound dumb, let’s talk about some practical ways to start and/or supplement your language studies.

  1. Take a class. I’ve known people who have become fluent just by immersion (see below) but if you live in a country where the target language is not prevalent (U.S.) you need to start here with some kind of formal class with an instructor, preferably one you can interact with, not an online class.
  2. Immersion. Whereas the class will give you the foundation for grammar, vocabulary, basics of pronunciation; immersion is the best and fastest way to become conversational and then fluent. It is suggested to have some formal training in the language before this step. Immersion is best carried out by traveling to the country or culture where your target language is spoken in every day life. This works best if you surround yourself with individuals who do not speak your first language. (and/or marry one of them like I did!)
  3. Practice outside of class time. IF you have the desire to learn you will have the desire to practice. (which is how I knew I desired speaking Spanish more than I desired playing the piano when I was younger) 😉 And if you have a busy schedule like I imagine you do, there are ways to multi-task while practicing a language.
    • I used to listen to Coffee Break Spanish podcasts while cleaning and doing laundry. (recently I’ve checked out Pimsleur language program CDs from my local library as I’m trying to learn Arabic and I love their teaching method. I’ll listen to them in the car.)
    • In high school I found a local Spanish language newspaper that I would pick up occasionally to try to read. I’d mark words I recognized and try to figure out the gist of the story. Most local libraries also have children’s books in Spanish.
    • Watching cartoons (for me, it was old Disney movies) that you know the characters and storyline will help give you confidence in the language and you won’t feel as lost as you hear the foreign words. It’s exciting the first time you start recognizing words or phrases and can understand their context in the story.
    • Listen to music. Many popular songs in English are translated to Spanish but just remember that most are not translated word for word. A couple artists I would listen to were Kari Jobe and Hillsong in Spanish. Having music or the TV on in the background as you do other things is helpful even if you aren’t directly paying attention. It is training your ear to the sounds of the language whether you are conscious of it or not and is an easy way to learn popular phrases.
    • Make friends with speakers of your target language! I would keep in touch with friends in Honduras but I also got involved in a tutoring ministry during college based in a neighborhood of majority Mexican and Guatemalan families. Building relationships with these families face to face made me feel comfortable trying to speak their language and motivated me even more.
  4. Apps on your phone are great tools to aid in language learning. Google translate IMG_0515can be used in various helpful ways, (not in translating large texts) for example I use it to “test” my pronunciation in Arabic by using the mic and speaking a phrase I’ve learned and then seeing if it understands me. DuoLingo is fun because it sets up language lessons as a game that covers the four areas: hearing, speaking, reading, writing. It keeps up with your level, lets you set personalized goals, and sends you reminders to practice. This app now offers courses for over 60 languages! (which is crazy distracting for someone like myself who probably has Language Learning ADD) I like the Spanish Dictionary app which works as a simple English-Spanish dictionary but also has vocabulary trivia, important phrases listed by category, and a Word of the Day feature. Mango is another good program offered by some local libraries. A good supplemental website for Spanish (that still doesn’t have an app to my knowledge) is StudySpanish.com – there are good grammar explanations, verb drills, quizzes, audio of speakers from different Spanish speaking countries to hear the difference in accents.

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Happy language learning! It is quite an adventure. ❤

What advice do you have for language learners?

The Pain of Independence: a political deviant

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I’ve never been too worried about conforming. You should have seen my high school wardrobe (it was, um, *creative*) or consider the fact that I’m from the South but have an actual aversion to sweet tea and the SEC. (Yeah, several of you stopped reading right there. I know.)

I wouldn’t call myself a nonconforming rebel either but I’m pretty good at resisting peer pressure. I always felt that my inner convictions and deeply-held beliefs were far more important than popular opinion. During adolescence, right about the time I started finding my own voice and thinking critically about what I believed I received disapproval for straying a little too far from conservativism. (statistics show that most in my generation have)

About 13 years ago I spoke out in History class at my small, Christian high school in defense of immigrants and felt instantly the chasm between my viewpoint and that of my peers. I’ve since gained much more confidence, knowledge, and courage especially on the topic of immigration and have proudly landed somewhere in the moderate area of the general political spectrum. (and I think the political views of many of my classmates have also evolved) I doubt I will ever find myself at any point in my life pledging loyalty to a specific party.

First of all, I should mention that I’m not inherently political. I don’t keep up with most politics honestly and I certainly don’t go around picking internet fights with every faux news article I see shared. (I. see. a. lot. – hello, unfollow button?) The issues I am engaged with are the result of very strong convictions formed by very personal experiences, my relationship with my Savior, and the study of His teachings. I am an imperfect human doing the best I can to follow a perfect King. I honestly would avoid politics altogether (it just isn’t a pleasant subject) if it weren’t for the fact that it highly affects a lot of vulnerable people for whom I care deeply. I won’t go into detail on each policy with which I agree or disagree or those about which I honestly don’t know much. I definitely recognize that most hot-button issues are not easily resolved and are not as black and white as “right vs. wrong.” If it were so I think we would have more clearly marked camps. Obviously I believe that my beliefs are “correct” otherwise it would be non-sensical to believe them, but I do find it necessary to continually seek new information and perspectives and do my best to respect the individual who holds a contrasting opinion to my own. Respecting the individual does not mean tolerating insults, bullying, emotional manipulation, or speech that denigrates a person/persons. We have the right to shut. that. down.


Conformity vs Nonconformity

A neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, conducted an experiment on conformity vs. nonconformity in a group setting by scanning the brains (using a type of MRI) of volunteers as they answered a series of simple questions. Actors were placed in the experimental groups to confidently give wrong answers. The results, other than confirming previous research that group work influences an individual’s decision-making, showed the why behind a majority of individuals’ conformity under peer 7c2daebd86bfcb3047644e7971b0a4e7--conformity-satirepressure. It didn’t have to do with the volunteers’ conscious decision to change their answers in order to follow the crowd. The brain scans actually showed heightened activity in regions associated with visual and spatial perception meaning that popular opinion had in fact somehow changed the very perception of the volunteers. They were convinced to believe something that wasn’t true.

 

 

On the flip side the volunteers that stuck with their gut and did not conform with the
incorrect answers of the majority showed an interesting find in the brain scans as well. The amygdala, part of the brain associated with emotions such as fear and rejection, lit up. Berns called this “the pain of independence” which he says is “the clearest marker of the emotional load associated with standing up for one’s belief.” It takes courage, friends. Especially if a lot of the time you feel like you are standing up alone.


This is to point out the risk of social ostracism when one is part of a homogeneous group that doesn’t facilitate diverse viewpoints. Peer pressure is a beast.

But what if I truly agree with my group? Great! The objective is critical thinking and being able to arrive at our own conclusion and if that conclusion happens to be exactly what those around you think then, well, majority rules. 🙂 Congrats. (but maybe have a little grace with the person you meet who came to a different conclusion?)

Of all the social settings in which I’ve lived I can say that my college campus, Lee University, felt like that sweet spot of intellectual autonomy + Christian tradition. I felt very little anxiety about voicing my convictions there.

Some of the things I appreciate about my country are democracy and the freedom to express any opinion or belief. In theory we say we can respect differing opinions but we often consider a person with an opinion in contrast to our own to have some sort of character flaw. (or in evangelical circles… a crisis of faith)

Democracy depends on majority rule in the midst of dissenting voices but what happens when the majority conforms to the loudest and most obnoxious voice(s)? I hate to say that more than once I have fallen prey to psychological bullies trying to reason or guilt me out of my deeply-help opinions. Other than these less-than-desirable methods of persuasion I do appreciate having such diversity of belief in my circle.

5a20ce32c8aed4bb9feb267dcf376a65--my-life-quotes-a-quotesI would venture to say that if every one of your friends and acquaintances agrees with you religiously and politically then you probably live in a bubble and are lacking some factors that would help hone your critical thinking skills. Maybe you’ve created that bubble intentionally (I certainly gravitate toward likeminded people) and that’s your right but I’ll probably pass on having a political conversation with you. When entering into any kind of discussion over policy my first thought is, “Who is someone you know personally affected by this?”

Something else that keeps us in bubbles, and has surprised me recently, are our search engine biases. Online algorithms used in everything from our social media accounts to email to the ads on random websites we visit to what we search for in Google often keep us from venturing out of our idealogical sphere. Ever searched for something then all of a sudden see it pop up in ads with every new window you open? Same concept. We typically see what we want to see, literally and figuratively.

Our society, in its ideal state (of being), would be free thinkers and give themselves permission to dig a little deeper than their party and the news clips and sound bites and viral memes. We would graciously admit defeat when our candidate loses and we would have the integrity and humility to admit when our candidate or party is wrong. We wouldn’t assume someone’s entire idealogical makeup based on one position they hold nor would we attack someone’s opposing viewpoint with all the built up force of a lifetime of political frustration.

i.e. I share a heartwarming story about an undocumented immigrant I know who is struggling to make ends meet (unqualified for state benefits contrary to popular belief) and faithfully serves in her local church congregation. This is obviously personal and emotional to me but I am not attacking any opposing view or, believe it or not, trying to promote an agenda. I’m simply sharing a FACTUAL story from a compassionate perspective of an issue about which I care deeply.

This opens a can of worms where others (who in fact have no personal ties to an individual who had to make the difficult decision of leaving their home to provide for their family) assume the right to verbally attack me or the protagonist of my story. My question is, how did this incite such fervent refutation? Why is a popular tactic of arguing politics to take the humanity out of the debate? – and it’s done so passionately?

For the very reason that we usually bring a little too much baggage to the debate, I am very hesitant to share specific political beliefs online. We rarely understand the context, nuance, or background of the person posting the comment. There still exist many who don’t exercise as much deliberation when posting or sharing. Occasionally I’ll entertain a friendly discussion of politics from behind the screen but mostly I feel it is best reserved for personal conversation. (which isn’t necessarily always friendly either, haha)

I could get a variety of reactions to this blog post (assuming that even a handful of people read it) due to the diversity of my friends list. I don’t even know how many might actually relate to my story. My social network includes nominal evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; devout evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; atheists; agnostics; Republicans; Democrats; international friends who don’t know the meaning of either political party; heterosexuals; members of the LGBT community; so many races and nationalities I couldn’t count them all; police officers; active military; veterans; pastors; addicts; teachers; documented immigrants; undocumented immigrants; professors; missionaries; feminists; doctors; lawyers; etc.; all who are human beings with their own experiences, stories, passions, struggles, and beliefs.

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Of course we’re going to disagree on things. Hopefully we can learn from each other without compromising our core values. As Christians, may we use scripture as a pruning tool for ourselves and not as darts to throw at “the opposition.” May we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts… as well as our tongues. Can we vow to put down our weapons of divisive speech and approach each difference of opinion while waving the banner of kindness instead? We are on the same team after all.

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The Worlds of Excess and Lack

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Take about a minute to study the illustration above. Move your eyes back and forth between the child with the iPad and the child eating off the ground. What do you feel?

This hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Shocking.

True.

How can I do more?

It says what I haven’t been able to find the words to say for a while now. Here in Central America I live in the tension that you feel when you look at this image. It’s an uncomfortable place, I admit.

I’m much more comfortable in my middle class home in Alabama, watching House Hunters on TV, surrounded by all my iThings and justifying the couple hundred dollars of recent purchases I just made on frivolous stuff for myself. I mean, I’m not rich and wasteful like those people, right?

We play the comparison game. The truth is that in the U.S. I feel borderline poor and almost convinced that I deserve more: more convenience and comfort, better service, newer gadgets, faster technology, the latest styles. But who is making me feel this lack in my life? Advertising companies? The family down the street? That friend from high school who flaunts her lavish lifestyle on Instagram? Maybe it’s time to cut those things out. I’ve recently started a discipline online of unfollowing people/media/companies that feed that insecurity in me, that insatiable hunger that tells me I need and deserve more more more. They. Are. Lies. (For parents, it might be those that convince you that you should take out a 2nd mortgage just to get your kid all those gifts for Christmas.)

As an adult (more specifically, an adult living as a foreigner in a developing country) I am fully #woke to the fact that in my family we were lavishly spoiled as children during Christmas. (which I loved as a kid, don’t get me wrong) But I think it fed that little materialism monster in me and now it’s my job to try to starve him.

It’s the reason I have a hard time answering when someone cheerfully asks, “Do you love living in Honduras?” Well, part of the time, yes, but not because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself or super comfy or even “living the adventure of a lifetime.” My lifestyle here is very different and a lot of days are hard. It helps keep me grounded and more aware of the majority world’s reality and I value that far more. In the states I can easily and comfortably forget the suffering of those outside my door – the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. Even when I go back home and spend an extended length of time I start to forget. We humans have such short attention spans.

Here, the suffering is unavoidable.

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Now that I have seen I am responsible. – Brooke Fraser


If you’re still wondering if you might be considered rich or not by global standards, Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 1.20.26 PMcheck out the Global Rich List and see how you compare. I can bet you’re at least in the top 3% richest in the world. 😉

  • sidebar: It certainly isn’t a USA vs. majority world problem either. Economic inequality is sometimes the most extreme within the borders of one single country. The gap between rich and poor in Honduras is painfully obvious.

I just finished reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker – I’m behind the times, I know. The tagline is “an experimental mutiny against excess.” Yes. It encouraged me (Again. I will forever and ever need these reminders) that there is value in living more simply and that most of the things we think we need aren’t really necessities but, in fact, excess. The premise of the book is to free ourselves of the bondage of materialism while at the same time opening our eyes to the needs of others around the world. liberation + solidarity.40e6ebd24f7c0e79951a2463ca2290e6--truth-quotes-a-quotes

A good friend of mine used to say, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Amen.

A few years ago I blogged about something similar after reading Jeff Shinabarger’s book More or Less.

I wrote, “the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here (Honduras), which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.” The car I felt embarrassed to drive during college now looks like a huge blessing when I consider that most families here do well to buy one used shared vehicle. And mine was one of FIVE vehicles that my immediate family owned – practically unheard of here in Honduras.

I’m caught between these two worlds – but I want so badly that they understand each other.” (Full blog post here.)

My great frustration in life is feeling misunderstood. (My Myers-Briggs [INFP] and Enneagram [4 w 5] personality type results confirm this) So, as if to complicate things even more I decided to move to and marry into a new country and culture and language. Communicating effectively and achieving “being understood” is even more challenging yet at the same time more rewarding when it happens.

And it’s not just on the Honduras end. Sometimes it’s hard for family and friends back home to relate to my daily life (no fault of their own) or to understand that the values, norms, and status quo in Honduran society are different. It gets tricky trying to balance two different value systems. Small talk becomes even more painful when you have so much heaviness weighing on you. Very few in the states truly understand the plight of an average individual trying to make ends meet in a developing country like Honduras and even fewer truly grasp the reality that: The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income. The inequality is staggering and it’s an inequality that has actual faces and names here.

Did you know? The money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed all starving children around the globe? The 60 billion dollars spent on Black Friday in the U.S. could solve the food crisis TWICE and the water crisis 6 TIMES?

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The wonderful thing is that statistically, Americans are more likely than any other country to voluntarily give to help the poor in other countries. Ironically, those with lower incomes actually give a higher percentage. We could improve on the fact that there is still 33% in our country who do not donate to charity at all.

On my previous short-term trips I would come home to the U.S. to my big comfortable bed and just cry because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong with how I saw the majority of Americans living – their skewed priorities, their indifference to “outsiders.” Unfortunately after a few weeks, those strong feelings of unrest and conviction would start to wane. The awareness that 62% of the population of Honduras live below the poverty line would fade to the background of my consciousness because it was no longer right in front of my face. I would continue with my life and get caught up in the same trivial first world problems. I now consciously choose to keep it in the forefront of my mind no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

I also choose to keep speaking up about it. I’ll be like that annoying dripping in the kitchen sink that just won’t. shut. up.

You’re welcome.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matt. 6:19

What are some practical ways you liberate yourself and your family from the bondage of materialism and/or stand in solidarity with those suffering in and outside our borders?

*Two other life changing books on my shelf regarding this topic are Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.*

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Newlyweds on the Mission Field

It’s time to give you the lowdown on what we’ve been up to these last few months! And give you an idea of our 2018 plans.

Natán and I are living in the northwest region of Honduras and have been settling in quite nicely to newlywed life. I really can’t say enough just how thankful I am to have married someone so selfless and caring. Not only does he care for me well but he has such a heart for the marginalized and oppressed. I couldn’t ask for a better partner as we navigate this new phase of life as esposos, missionaries, directors of a nonprofit, and – for me – an expatriate in a new land and culture. It takes a lot of adapting and compromise.

We certainly couldn’t do what we do without the backing of an incredible support and prayer team back home. Even though we haven’t personally reached 100% of our monthly support goal, the Lord doesn’t cease to amaze us and continually proves Himself as our Provider.

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In our work we see heart-breaking scenarios and subpar living circumstances. 62% of the population of Honduras live below the national poverty line, or in other words, under $2.50 a day. Most of these people live in rural settings and work in agriculture. Limited education, improper nutrition, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate hygiene practices, and lack of employment opportunities or unpredictable crop yield all contribute to cycles of poverty that continue for generations. Our goal is to help families break these cycles through holistic community development programs.

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According to the CIA World Fact Book

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Lenca Indian girl in the kitchen of her home – Intibucá

We’ve identified two needy villages to begin with in the west and southwest region of the country. We’ve started with some exploratory trips and small-scale initiatives but our goal is to implement projects in 2018 that will result in self-sustainability during our 3 year involvement. (The first villages will be our pilot programs and each year our goal is to initiate new holistic programs in new needy villages.)

I posted the following on my Facebook page this past July:

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Elderly lady in the “living room” of her home – Copán, Honduras

While we don’t want to create dependency among our villager friends or base our friendship on what we give and what they receive, we recognize that certain groups of people are especially vulnerable with little chance of reaching self-sustainability such as the abandoned elderly and disabled. The lady pictured above is one example of that and is a recipient of food “handouts” whenever we visit her village.

We have a couple friends who are on board with the program in Copán and give financially specifically to fund our efforts there. We are planning a few end-of-year fundraisers to kick the program off so stay tuned! You can find giving info here.

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A recent visit to our village in Copán teaching appropriate hygiene practices and disease prevention

To get a better idea of how we distinguish relief work (which is not our focus) from development work, check out this chart developed by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

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Blending: Newlywed Daily Life

Today marks four months of marriage. I’m totally counting (and celebrating!) each month but Natán told me just to let him know once we’ve reached a year. *eye roll*

These four months have involved a lot of blending. Blending of two distinct cultures, upbringings, families, personalities, responsibilities, communication styles, general preferences, and expectations. In a lot of ways we had already started some of the blending almost five years ago when we started dating. The fact that I had moved to a new country meant that I was already doing quite a lot of adapting previous to meeting Natán. If I hadn’t been open to a complete cultural change from the beginning there would have been (and would still be) a lot more friction.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t lay down some gringa rules in this Honduran household. 1. Bath and Body Works Wallflowers and candles – this house will smell like a magical garden of magnolia blossom white tea ginger honeysuckle sweet pea, dang it. 2. Decorative pillows are meant to be seen, not touched and certainly not slept on. 3. You can eat your stinky dry cheese all you want but I will keep the fridge stocked with my heavenly cheddar cheese, even if it means splurging a bit at the grocery store. 4. Let me introduce you to a little invention called a coaster. 5. I’m sorry, we’re doing what today? Is it on the family calendar??

He likes to joke that I’m “American-izing” him and my whiteness is rubbing off on him. 😉 (you. are. welcome.) Occasionally when he doesn’t want to yield to my really great American idea he claims imperialism. (deep down I know he likes all my ideas)

[One of my ideas is that he will continue to eat fried okra with as many meals as possible until he is as obsessed with it as I am.] 2017-05-02 18.56.45

Contrary to common belief about Latin men being machista he is a wonderful partner who treats me as his equal and willingly shares in domestic responsibilities. I’m so thankful for that. Really, it’s something that attracted me to him from the beginning. I recognized that he knew how to run a household and wasn’t afraid of a broom and dustpan. I’ve learned valuable home skills from him too like how to wash clothes by hand in the pila (outdoor wash basin) and make flour tortillas.

Newlyweds

I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural than becoming his wife and blending our separate lives together. I halfway expected a big moment of either euphoria or difficulty. Maybe that moment is on its way but so far I can attest that it has just felt right. As a person who thoroughly enjoyed and made the most of singlehood, I now know that I really really enjoy marriage in general and I really really enjoy sharing life with the person I wholeheartedly decided to marry. ❤

 

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