1. I am way more emotional than I thought, and I already thought I was very emotional.
It all started two days before I even left. couldn't sleep. cried all night. lots of mixed emotions about leaving my kids, plus some major feelings of inadequacy as we got nearer to d-day. Then, I lost it again in the airport before leaving (probably normal) and found myself in tears all but ONE day on the trip for one reason or another. feeling so sick I cried (possibly normal), riding on a boat (probably not normal), missing Brielle's bday (possibly normal), hearing about Steve's bad dream (probably not normal), and saying goodbye to my new friends (probably normal) are a few reasons for some of the tears. I knew I was emotional, but good grief. that's too much crying. :)
2. God can use even me. (or not...)
Like I mentioned before, I was really struggling with inadequacy. Here I was with an education degree and a spanish degree but still wondering why I was the one in charge of heading up the VBS (probably bc God made me volunteer to do it). Long story short, we did it. thanks to the awesome music team (and the fact that music is the universal language!!!) and the craft and activity teams, we actually pulled it off. I'm still struggling with the fact that it wasn't as seamless in real life as it was in my head, and I'm not even sure if the kids were impacted by the stories we told or not. But what I do know is that they felt loved by us, and if what sticks in their little minds about the love of Jesus is how they felt when they were with us, then it's a start. a seed. so anyway, all the prep work and prop finding and trying to keep it simple and everything I was stressed out about for the story time was maybe used by God. or maybe not. but he put me there for a reason. and I survived! and yes, I know he probably used it all to His glory, but I'm just saying, even if he didn't, it doesn't change the fact that I did what He asked me to do, no matter what comes of it. I'm obviously still sorting out all those feelings.
3. God at work isn't always something I can recognize.
I struggled the first few days with really SEEING God at work. I kept thinking that my heart would just be bursting with all the wonderful things God was doing in us and through us. But instead I found myself wondering on many occasions what the HECK I was doing on the trip. The evening after we got there was great, but the next day I was SUPER sick, thinking surely I was going to throw up, and wanting it even. It was the only way I could see relief in my future. But thanks to the zofran (which I was really excited about at first, so that I WOULDN'T throw up) I was completely unable. so instead I just sat there feeling like I was transitioning in labor, when your stomach is freaking out, you're sweating, shaking, and needing to puke, and just not sure how it's all going to play out. so that day was really hard, and included my team locking me in the church while they drove to another village for church so I could hopefully sleep it off. which worked. thank goodness, bc I had VBS to lead the next day. but the whole day I just kept thinking "I KNEW I shouldn't have done this! I'm such a travel whimp!!! why did God think this was a good idea???"
and then those first few days of VBS were harder than I expected just because of the language barrier (we did everything in English, but had a translator for the story, all per their request) and everything that I already talked about before. So, yeah, by the evening of day 3 I was sort of to the point of saying, "ok, God, WHAT THE HECK. where are you and why don't I feel you???" (I was feeling very brave to say that to God.) and the very next day was July 18, and if you have the Jesus Calling devotional, you should read July 18. basically it says that sometimes you feel alone, because your union with God is invisible. and then it says "ask me to open our eyes, so that you can find Me everywhere." gulp. I did it, and He showed me. in so many different ways. and I was totally humbled (and embarrassed?) that once again I put God in a box, and expected my own version of Him. but once again (he's GOT to be sick of this!) he just gently showed me more about Him. Man, he's awesome.
and, of course, after that moment not only did I see God working in many little ways, but I could also look BACK and see the ways he already was working, even though I'd missed them. Thank goodness for his forgiving nature!
4. I have a lot more anxiety than I thought.
I knew without a doubt that this trip would stretch me in ways that I haven't been stretched in many years. What I didn't realize was how crazy my mind would go with the idea of the bazillion things that could happen to orphan my three dear kids. leaving them was VERY hard and I don't normally feel that way. I'm the first to promote mom-breaks. but man, this was some "break." Every situation had my mind reeling. I'll only go into detail about one for you though. :)
so, I'm not a fan of water. I think it mostly stems from the little girl drowning in our pool in California when I was a little girl. I would just much rather be on land than in a boat, and if I'm feeling brave I'd rather be on the boat than in the water. I've been like that for many years. yes, I've tried skiing a few times. it was sorta fun, until I fell and then went back IN the water. I'll take the boat, thankyouverymuch.
oh, and also, I am not a huge animal lover. I love them from a distance, but in general, I just don't trust them. might be because my mom had dog bite scars on her face for her whole life. might be because of the crocodile wrestler guy I saw at Busch Gardens on vacation as a kid who had to RUN for his life out of the pit thing because they turned on him, OR, it might be the fact that the real crocodile hunter guy DIED, and he knew everything there was to know. so I'm just saying, I don't trust animals. only puppies and kittens, and only for a short period of time.
so you can imagine my anxiety bubbled over when I boarded a boat (where I couldn't see out the windows!!!!) for a TWO HOUR boat ride to an island to go snorkeling (swimming WITH THE ANIMALS!!!). I have told Steve many times before that he should never surprise me with a cruise. not on my bucket list. have no desire, whatsoever. we did a dinner cruise on our honeymoon and that I could handle. nice little boat. but that's good enough for me. so anyway, I don't know how serious Steve ever took me about that whole thing until Friday morning when everyone was filling the boat with excited chatter about the day ahead. and suddenly he looks over to his left and finds his bride crying uncontrollably but hopefully not-so-noticably.
I was a total disaster. I was trying really hard to stop crying and to not allow my mind to wander unnecessarily. but man, it took like at least ten minutes for them to get this boat ready, and it felt like FOR.EV.ER. It was not working to try to calm myself down. it was not working to snuggle into Steve's arm. It was not working to recognize the fact that this was from Satan himself, and I knew he'd attack me in this way (I just didn't know it would be that bad!!). Eventually, I convinced myself that as soon as the boat started to go, I had to give it to God. I did not want a miserable day of fear and anxiety. I wanted to experience God's creation in a way I never had before. I wanted to feel His peace. and sure enough, the boat started to go, and I let out a big sigh, like I was blowing it all out of me and up to God. and it worked. God gifted me with his peace, and in that one moment I knew my anxiety was gone.
see? I could even take a picture! it doesn't look that scary now... :)
ok, well that was until I got in the water and had a school of those little trumpter looking fish RIGHT AT MY EYEBALLS! It took a little more prayer for me to trust the snorkel equipment and convince myself that I could, in fact, breathe, even though I was under the water. anyway, once I realized that the fish had a ridiculous ability to not crash into people, that helped, and I actually ended up enjoying my little journey on top of the sea. I still had some major freak out moments, but thankfully Steve was there and I could make bug eyes at him or squeeze his hand when I was feeling particularly proud of myself for being in the water with certain creatures.
well, THEN...we got back in the boat and went over to the SHARKS. I'm not kidding you. I'll have to see if I can upload video on this blog so you can see what I swam with. I was swimming WITH sharks, and I touched one! and Steve held it and I didn't totally spazz out! and I touched these HUGE stingrays! me. I touched them. on purpose. it was crazy. one of our guides, though, Rex, must have caught on to the fact that I was particularly jumpy, and decided on more than one occasion to throw chum at me so that this HUGE school of fish would race right toward my face! I screamed every time and had to surface to get all the salt water out of my snorkel and my mouth and my nose because apparently I lose the proper hold on the mouthpiece when I scream. He's lucky I didn't start crying again or he would have felt bad! instead he just thought it was really funny that I did the same thing every time.
so there ya have it. my most anxiety filled day turned out to be some of the memories that will last the longest I'm sure, and certainly be the most clear. I'm so thankful to God for his peace during that day!
5. I'm a very relational person.
I already knew this, but it had been a while since I felt the effects of it. My favorite times of the whole trip were the ones where I was just hanging out with people. I LOVED being with the girls after VBS and braid-braid-braiding all their hair. they loved it. I loved it. and something really special happened because of that. After one day of doing only girls' hair, on day 2 this cute little old lady Flora (aka mi favorita) asked me to braid her hair. her long beautiful hair went down past her butt, and she wanted "two" on that day. so I gave her two. and then on day 3 a few more of the ladies asked me if I would do their hair, and by day 4 I was doing almost only the ladies' hair, and teaching some of them how to do it too! I think they're crazy because I really like Katie's (my braiding partner) style of braiding better than mine, but they all seemed to love the clean tight braids that I can't seem to get away from even when I try. :) so that turned out to be this little thing that only I got to experience-the women coming to VBS to get their hair braided afterward. It also allowed me to talk with a few of them (sometimes in Spanish, although they also like to practice their English) about the church there and encourage them to come on Sundays. it was so great.
another memorable moment for me was on Monday, day 1, when after lunch I sat down with the pastor's wife Elsa and sweet Veronica who made us lunch and asked if they'd be willing to talk with me in Spanish. So there we sat for probably a half hour, talking about families and villages and Belizian customs in marriage, and all sorts of fun stuff. I wish I had more confidence to speak Spanish here, because I know that I CAN do it, but it's just been so long since I felt fluent. So anyway I felt like God gave me that little moment to remind me that I really can still do it. :) oh, and I was also the translator for the kids. whenever our team didn't understand, they'd bring the kid to me to figure out what they were saying. fun!!!
and, of course, I can't forget about how much I loved our team bonding. we played so many fun games. most often it was UNO or Mafia. The best part to me was that by the end of the week, our "team" bonding included a bunch of our new Belizian friends from the church where we stayed (which was different than where we did the work and the VBS). We also ended up having a potluck turned worship time on Thursday night. It was so great and felt like a little slice of heaven where we all worship together in different languages, and the whole evening ended up being a HUGE blessing to everyone involved.
**OK, gotta wrap this up. I've been working off and on on this post for the last couple weeks, but it's been hard becasue (shocker) my body freaked out when I got back to the US and I've been fighting a huge cold or allergies or something that is totally SUCKING out all my energy. Plus I had Maria and the kids here for a week which was so fun but hard to blog, and now this week I'm hosting the 5 Day Club at our house (like a mini VBS). so my thoughts haven't been fully forming in this whole thing, but I have one more thing to say.
One of my favorite high schoolers EVER was on this trip with me. Her name is Katie and she's just really freaking awesome and loves Jesus and people so much. I slept right next to her all week and warned her that she was in Steve's spot so sorry if I snuggled up to her in the night. :) she's just the sweetest girl I've ever known and after a trip like this you feel really close to your teammates.
anyway, this last week she's been having severe pain in her head. She's been struggling with migraines for a while too. So she was admitted to the hospital here for a series of tests and such that could give her and her parents some answers. Things seem to keep getting worse, and yesterday she ended up in the PICU in a medically induced coma. now there are more problems and they need to wake her up today. This is all just so scary and I feel so sick about it. We are giving our presentation tonight at church and it's just so sad that she won't be there, and all our minds will be with her and her family while we gather without them. :(
so, if you're the praying type, PLEASE storm the gates of heaven with us on the Nissen family's behalf, asking God to intervene and give the doctors insight and the family peace. Pray that Katie will be pain free when she wakes up today. and that there will be no long term effects of all these complications. and pray that God will begin using this horrific time RIGHT NOW to begin drawing people closer to him. I'm sure Katie has a bazillion friends who are struggling with this right now that God can work mightily in.
I feel like I'm not done talking about Belize. if you ever talk to me in real life you'll get more bits and pieces. but I can hardly even focus my mind off of Katie enough to finish up this post. I'm sure that I've changed in a way that will come out in all my future posts, even if you don't notice. :)
God works in so many ways, and I'm just so honored that He chose ME to go on this trip, and to learn to know him more, and to be stretched and poked and prodded by Him in so many ways. I'm already thinking about the next trip and when we can take each of our kids and go back and see our friends again. I didn't expect to make FRIENDS, and after all the hard things for me during the week, I was shocked when it was still so hard to leave. so I guess the only answer is to go back! RIGHT?!?!?!?
anyway, gotta run. thanks for all the donations to make this trip possible. I didn't even talk about the money part which is totally awesome. another post I guess. probably a budgeting post. :) and thanks for all of you who prayed for me. I can't imagine how I would have survived without your prayers, since there were times I felt like I was barely surviving with them!!!
Please pray for Katie!!!!
til next time, and after I am hopefully back to 100%....