When Life in Mexico Just Becomes Life

When I quit my job (six years ago) and moved home to Tennessee, it was with the plan that I would spend a few months with friends in Mexico.  That plan went quickly from spending a few months to actually getting a job in Chiapas–but still with the plan to return to the United States in July of 2012.

You know that trite saying that if you want God to laugh you should tell him your plans?

My six months in Mexico has turned into (nearly) six years in Mexico.  My sabbatical-of-sorts has given me an amazing husband who serves the Lord and two little girls who keep the laughter and love bubbling in our home.  My trip-turned-life has allowed me to grow in my professional life as well, although that is perhaps the less important of these three gifts.

Somewhere along the way, Mexico stopped being funny writing material, and just became normal.  Now it’s the United States and their customs, way of thinking, and lifestyle that seem so foreign to me!!!  The people in the United States live to work and the people in Mexico work to live.  The people in the United States fill up their time with screens and activities that keep them away from their families–and even when they are with their families, the screen is a buffer of distraction.  The people in Mexico have family at the core, and everything else is secondary.

Our life in Mexico is peaceful, which is ironic considering my state is on a restricted travel list for government employees.  Our days are spent with my girls playing with their babies, the rooster crowing at all times of day, and the smell of something yummy wafting through the house.  During the week we buzz to school and daycare, but the evenings are our time–and we aren’t too tired to enjoy them!

When I write, the core is usually a place of great emotion.  When I have emotion that I can’t quite process, it’s hard to put that down into words.  This summer was full of surprise for us, as I found out that I will have to return to Tennessee to teach in order to keep my license.  As I prepare for my final year in Mexico, I no longer am experiencing Mexico firsts, but rather my lasts.  My last conventions. My last first day of school.  My last Independence Day. My last…

And so I find myself coming to this place again to write with a different lens: Yes, life in Mexico is just life, but it is coming to an end as our future unfolds before us.  I am trying to stay positive, as I know that God has good things planned for us.  (And how fitting that the same message that comforted me when I came here is comforting me as I prepare to leave here…)  I know that there are opportunities in the United States that will be good for our family, and that God is taking us back in his time.  I know that there will be ups and downs as we face the challenges of this year.  I know that someday, we will look back on this time as if it were a minor series of events.

Ah, well, what is life if it isn’t “a fine mingling of holding on and letting go?”

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Shock and Sadness on the Day After Elections

I feel sick.  I am literally crying as I write this a country away.

When I visited home during the summer of 2015, Trump had recently began his race.  He had gone on camera talking about Mexicans, and we all were still wondering if it was a joke.  

And that was a question even during the spring of this year:  Is this a joke?   We have all been waiting for the punchline to be delivered.

You know what?  Hate is no joke.  I cannot believe that my countrymen just voted for a man who says the things he says.  Someone who has repeatedly spoken out against Muslims, Mexicans, homosexuals, and women.  Someone who makes fun of people with disabilities.  Someone who jokes about using weapons of mass destruction on other countries.  Someone who every living president has warned us about.  Someone who opens his mouth and spews anger, ignorance, and hatred with every word.

I am reeling, thinking of my little family here in Mexico.  I am wondering  if I need to apply for Victor’s visa earlier than planned.  We were planning on applying for a visitor visa in January.  But now?  What does this mean for us?  Do you, dear readers, realize that with the exception of one brother and my mother, my own family hasn’t met my husband?  Not one family member or friend from home has met my child?  Did you think of us when you voted?  Did you think of the thousands of families like us–or families who have to live seperate in order to survive?

And what does this mean for our country?  Do we really belong to a nation that wants this man as the leader?  I am appalled.  This is the first time in my life that I can say I am embarrassed to be American.  

And I am scared for our future.  

Sweet Will of God

Today I had a friend ask me about what brought me to Mexico.  She and I have known each other for two years, but for some reason, the topic never came up.  She asked, “Did the thought ever cross your mind that you would find a boyfriend in Mexico?”

Whoa.

Talk about a major trip down Memory Lane! As I began telling her the story of coming to Mexico, something occurred to me: this year and last year line up perfectly with the days matching the dates for the year I left the States and moved to Mexico.  That means the day I quit my job (FIVE YEARS AGO?!?!) fell on the same day of the week this year.

Which means that this day, this time five years ago I was having a really hard realization that a relationship with a man I loved was coming to an end.

Which means that it was this month five years ago that I took a trip to West Virginia with some dear friends where I received renewing and encouragement I didn’t believe I needed.

Which means that it was five years ago that I sat in a Sunday morning meeting and cried throughout the hymn that said, “I worship thee, sweet will of God…”

Five years.  A lot can happen in five years.  Thankfully, God’s will for our lives will always be the best.  And when we allow him to have control of present, he can make something spectacular for our future.

So tonight I sit in my home in Mexico–five years later.  My baby is gnawing on my toes and pulling at my skirt-tail.  My daughter just yelled at me to come help her from the other room.  The four of us just got back from walking to the store to buy tamales and burritos from the street vendor.  And tomorrow I will (hopefully) go to Sunday morning meeting and we can sing the words of this hymn.  The words in English still have such great meaning for me!  I worship thee, sweet will of God, and all thy ways adore–and every day I live I seem to love thee more and more.  Perhaps  it’s the third verse means the most to me in Spanish–because the others are practically translated the same:

  I have no regrets today–I trust in your goodness.  I enjoy now the blessing of pleasant freedom. 

 

First Day of School

Tonight I told Ale about a first day tradition from my youth: at night, Aunt Jen-Jen and I would lay in bed and dream about the first day of school.  It was her secret to falling asleep, and rather effective!    “Just think about your first day,” she would say.  Tonight I added, “Think of all the fun you are going to have tomorrow–all the friends you get to play with!”  

I remember thinking about Sister Bear’s kindergarten as a kid–wishing I had barrels of clay to play with or a see-saw right there in the classroom!  I wonder what she thought of as she fought sleep last night.  Maybe getting to paint?  Reading her name like Froggy?  Having snack like Emily Elizabeth? 

Ale’s favorite book! This was taken for our summer reading storytime’s final day!

 

We checked out a pile of first day books last week, and we have read them together.  We’ve talked about “nap time,” and how it is okay to just rest quietly.  We tried on her socks and shoes, and practiced using the potty in her skirt.  And I have been the nervous one, knowing that this year will be one she remembers for the rest of her life!  

In just a few hours, my little girl is going to her first day of Kinder 1. In Mexico there are three years of Kindergarten, the first being when students are three years old.  She is excited, and ready for some out of the house stimulation.  And lucky for the both of us, she will be in my school!  I can’t wait to see her playing outside, talking Spanish to her friends, and wearing her tiny uniform.

When I had a class of students, I would always pray for them this first night before school.  I would pray that God would give me the kids that needed me.  I know that the biggest testimony is often that of a little life though, and I think of that these days: how can I help her little light to shine for others?

I read these verses this week in Deuteronomy 6:

“…and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.”

I want to do a better job of that first part (loving God more) AND the second part (talking to my girls about my love and desire to serve God.) If her life can be used, even at age three, then what she is seeing and hearing at home must be the right things!  

The backpack show

   

Quick pose before leaving

 

 

Family photo for Ale’s first day!

  

Ale and her teachers

 

A Letter to My (Other) Mom

Dear Mama Burkett,

I thought of you today as I twisted up my hair.  You taught me this style–half bun tucked into a French twist.  I remember still watching you in the basement comb your long black hair, then explain how to flip that bun over. 

I thought of you on Sunday.  I opened my eyes during prayer when I heard Allie giggle.  Her friend was sitting in front of her, and they were making faces at one another.  I had a flashback to a meeting where you told me to close my eyes by sign language.  

And even as I write this, I think of those conventions as a child.  You and mom were the meanest moms on the grounds.  Thank you for that.  We never got to sit and read.  We never got to skip out on Spoons like some of our friends did.  And, once we were old enough, sleeping there meant we were expected to wake up and serve.

Thank you for your service.  As an adult I learned that the vegetable house at convention is no joke.

They call a pillar such a name because it is strong.  It’s origin means of the nature of stone.  The pillar is the support for a building, and often, when the rest of the building has crumbled away, the pillars remain.  We use it to describe people like you–unmoving, supportive, and ever steadfast.

I’m grateful for the hard choices you’ve made.  And the hard conversations I overheard.  I am grateful for the testimonies and prayers through the years– I can’t quote them, or even recall what one was at the moment.  But they were there.  Steadfast.  Steady.  Strong.  I am grateful for the friendship that you helped cultivate.  And the spiritual love that you helps to fertilize seeds long ago planted.

Love,
Your (other) daughter

My Worries as a “Teacher Mom”

My biggest kid is starting school next year.  (Here in Mexico kids start around age three in preschool.)   I have been a little concerned about something, and tonight I decided to write about it:

What if my kid is worse than I think?  What if she isn’t always the person I see her be, and she morphs into a school monster?  (Some kids are totally different in the privacy of their own home…) What if I can’t see how she really is through my mom-blindness?

This is seriously worries me.

I think mom-blindness is a real thing.  It doesn’t matter how big your kid gets; once they engage in an altercation with someone, the mama bear emerges with claws blazing.  Sometimes we think bears only attack when provoked.  That’s where the expression comes from, right?  It’s the don’t-pick-on-my-baby response that every mom has.  

That’s all fine and dandy, but guess what?  This morning I read about a guy who was attacked in his tent while he was asleep.  When they recovered his possessions, everything was chewed to bits.  With no true cause, the bear attacked a man and all the inanimate objects in his tent.

What if I am a mama bear when I shouldn’t be?  Like, maybe MY kid is at fault and not the other person sometimes.  

I have tried to explain to daycare some of Ale’s “quirks.”  She doesn’t talk until she’s comfortable.  She is fully potty-trained, so I can’t explain why she doesn’t tell you she needs to go.  She didn’t have a sibling until three months past, so maybe that is why she doesn’t share.  But what if all of these are just excuses, and my kid is just that kid with a crazy teacher mom.

What if I make too many excuses for my child’s behavior because of mom-blindness?

I am making it my purpose to be less subjective.  I will try to take a step back and consider my kid’s potential for misbehavior when analyzing what other people say.  I will try to see the situation through their eyes.  I will try to see past my innate love for my child, to see the real her (faults and all).  Then, I will love her anyway.

An ex’s mom told me that once: “We don’t always like what our kids do, but we still love them.”  I understand that better now than ever before.

So, I will love her.  But I don’t want my love to ever enable her misbehavior to continue.  I want to be able to correct my child and love her at the same time.  And I want eyes that see clearly through it all.

  

A Birth Story, Part Three

So at this point, I was 41 weeks and 4 days.  I had reached the government doctor’s deadline.  I had accepted a potentially dangerous intervention, thankfully without results.  Now I was just waiting.  I am lucky that my support system was as amazing as they were!  Between my suegra, my husband, and my midwife, I was good to go!

On Monday we decided we would continue to wait.  We wouldn’t return to the government hospital, as I had been instructed.  And I was okay with that!  After all, my body knew what was right, and I had confidence in it.

I had a message from my private doctor asking how things were, and I responded with a quick, “All is well! The pill didn’t work, so I am just waiting!”  I didn’t want to tell her too much.  She is wonderful, but I felt a bit awkward because I wasn’t having her at the birth.  She was my back-up plan incase things didn’t go as well as expected at home, and additionally had been the attendant at Ale’s birth.  I didn’t want us to end our relationship with poor terms–I wanted to keep things positive with her.

Then everything changed on Tuesday.  That evening I received a message from my same private doctor telling me that she was worried.

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“We have to induce labor by Thursday in a hospital with fetal monitoring or a c-section by Friday.  I’m worried.”  My heart dropped into my stomach.  I cried alone for a while, and then began literally walking the floors.  Maybe I could convince my body to send me a baby.  Finally I woke Victor up, and explained, through tears, the message I had received.  He was comforting, and reassured me that the baby wasn’t ready.  When she was ready, then she would make her appearance.  We decided to go for a walk (at around 2 a.m.) in the neighborhood, and we woke up his mom to let her know that she might need to listen for Ale.  Then we took off.

On this walk we came to the conclusion that we needed to just calm down.  We made a plan to ignore the doctor’s message, and take a little staycation at a local hotel.  The doctor had encouraged me to go to a temazcal, and this hotel has a sauna in the pool area.  We came back to the house, and I sent messages to my midwife and my family to let them know they wouldn’t be able to reach me on Wednesday.  I was going to shut out the world, relax, and enjoy my last days with Ale as an only child.  We would try to ignore the doctor, but would keep in contact with the midwife.

The next morning, I felt a billion times better.  I received a message from the midwife assuring (AGAIN) that all was well with the baby.  She wasn’t too big.  I was healthy.  She was healthy.  We could wait before trying some interventions to induce her birth.  We were going to focus that message, and forget about everything else.  We reserved a room at the hotel, packed up Ale, and drove about 2 miles away to relax.

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Ale and Daddy at the hotel.

We had a great time hanging out at the pool–and remembering our visit there for my birthday before Ale was born.  I got in the hot tub that I had avoided the previous trip, went to the sauna twice to relax, and played with my family in the water.

Pre-Josie 1

Ale loves on Mami and Baby Sis.  Mami is 41 weeks, 6 days pregnant.

It was amazing.  I even had some contractions that came and went–just like all the other times.  We went out to grab pizza, snacks, and a giant bottle of water to keep us going until check-out the next day.  I took a bath in the first bathtub I’ve been in since summer.  Ale fell asleep watching cartoons, Victor began watching the news, and I read a novel on my iPad.  It was late, but we were enjoying our stress-free family staycation.

I didn’t even think it was worth mentioning when the contractions started again…

 

 

Solo Dios Sabe (Only God Knows)

Mexicans use “only God knows” as an accepting phrase when life has given something unexpected.  It is like saying, “God knows best.”

 
Victor and I have been reflecting a lot on our first days in Mexico.  Today is the four year anniversary of my arrival to Chiapas–and last week was his four year return arrival to Mexico.  I sat in meeting Wednesday night, and cried through the Spanish version of “Oh! For the Peace.”  I could help of thinking back to how broken I was four years ago–and how much healing I’ve received.  It isn’t because my trust has been perfect, but rather because I am still seeking perfect trust.

Oh! For the peace of a perfect trust, my loving God, in thee.  Unwavering faith that never doubts thy choice is best for me.

I made a lot of choices for myself in 2011.  Some of my decisions were selfish–seeking to hold onto what I wanted rather than what God wanted for me.  I was trusting God though, when I turned in my notice for my job.  I was trusting God when I moved back to Tennessee.  I was trusting God when I accepted that position in Chiapas.  It wasn’t easy or what I wanted in many cases, but his choice was best for me…

Best though my plans be set at naught; best though the way be rough.  Best though my earthy store be scant–In thee I have enough.

I planned for years.  Planning was comforting to me–and exciting!  I loved thinking of how my life would unfold, and of the people that would be part of my life in the future.  I never planned for a rough road.  I never planned for a six-month position in Mexico to turn into more than four years south of the border.  I never planned on my heart healing with each charming smile from my Mexican husband.  I tell people that my greatest lesson was leaving Virginia where I made a great salary (for a teacher), had tons of possessions, had great friends and family but I was unhappy–to find my happiness in Mexico, where my pockets were empty, my suitcase could fit all I owned, and I was far from everything and everyone I had held dear to me.

Best though my health and strength be gone, tho weary days be mine; shut out from much that others have: not my will, Lord, but thine.

The healing that came to me in Mexico didn’t just come to my heart–but also my overall health!  It’s hard to explain to my friends here how sick I was.  I remember thinking, “I’m 26 years old!  I shouldn’t feel like an old lady!”  I got out of bed in the morning, and my body hurt.  I had unexplainable inflammation everywhere: my knees, my hips, my back, my stomach, my throat, my eyes, etc.  I don’t know what the biggest change has been–maybe the tranquil life in Mexico, maybe a change in my diet…  (Now the groaning that happens when I get out of bed now has more to do with this baby that will be arriving in about four weeks.)

And e’en though disappointments come, they, too, are best for me, to wean me from this changing world and lead me nearer thee.

This happens mostly with work.  I let work become too important in my life–and every time I do, something has to shock me back to refocus on what’s important.  When I feel myself slipping into frustration and disappointment at work, it is usually because I’ve not been putting God first.  It is a good reminder that this world and the things in it are vain–and that my treasure has to be things that aren’t of this world.

Oh! For the peace of a perfect trust that looks away from all, yet sees thy hand in everything, in great events and small.

I remember my friend saying, “Someday we will know where Nino belongs,” and the comfort that gave me.  I look back four years–and even beyond to my last days in Virgina.  I think of the events that led up to my salida, and how easy it is now to see God’s hand!  God gave me peace as an answer to my prayers: I left knowing that God’s will was best.  I prayed, “If what I want isn’t your will, help me to accept it.”  I honestly believe that is why I was able to move forward and embrace the blessings in Mexico: not because of something in me, but rather because God helped me to accept it.  I can see his hand in my choices in Chiapas–and in the path that led me from there and back again to northern Mexico.

That hears a voice, a father’s voice, directing for the best; Oh! For the peace of a perfect trust–a heart with thee at rest.

The rest that comes with peace in trusting the Lord–that is what can’t be replaced!  When complicated choices lie before me, I want to remember that the devil is the author of confusion.  I can trust the Lord to continue leading and guiding our family, and put my own wants and desires aside.  As I enter my fifth year in Mexcio, I long for the peace of a perfect trust: and someday I know I will be able to look back and see God’s hand leading, guiding, and protecting.

Only God knows…

Water in the Valley of Baca

Last night, as I thanked a brother worker again for cooking supper, he said, “It was really a privilege.  It makes us feel at home–like we are family.  And that is the way it should be.”  And it is true!  Being with the visitors that are here for convention fills a little empty spot inside of me.  It reminds me that fellowship with others is important!  And having the privilege of wonderful visits in this time makes it hard to think of returning to the States.

I’ve been thinking of that Psalm that talks about the valley of Baca.  (Also believed to be the city of Mecca, the valley of Baca is reportedly where Hagar and Ishmael found water.)  I know what it is to be in a desert place.  I understand the desert place spiritually and physically.  And I understand the value of water after having lived in a country where water is a precious resource.

So, when I think of that dry mouth and the thirst that leads up to dehydration, it is easy to see that spiritually that can happen too.  I sit in English conventions with such a full heart–I get to soak up the sweet water from heaven that is so freely given.  Other times, I feel like I am crying for water like Hagar, searching for something to nourish my family and me.

But like Hagar, there is always just enough water to keep me going.

This week hasn’t been a week of searching for water, but it has been a week where I can say, “My cup runneth over…”  I feel that my Spanish is at a level now where a conversation with the workers isn’t a struggle.  My eyes have been opened to see the struggles of my little meeting, and with that, I feel an outpouring of love towards the members there.  I have wonderful examples here of many ladies who have kept going from “strength to strength.”  And despite living in a desert, we have water in the valley of Baca.

An Open Home

For as long as I can remember, when I would think of growing “older,” my desire was always to have an “open home.”  I wanted to have a place that God’s people could meet–and a place where the workers would always feel “at home.”

I woke up this morning with the hymn “Homes of Zion” on my mind…again…

Take my home and consecrate it, Use my heart, my hands, my all;
Let me live in loving service, Make Thy will my daily goal.
Make my home a home of Zion, Place to pray and meditate;
Where God’s family can be gathered, Safely met inside the gate.

We had the sweet privilege of having a new sister worker join us for her first night in the work this week.  I could hardly greet her without tears springing into my eyes.  Victor, ever yet innocent, sweetly asked the other workers who were with us to share their testimonies.  Together there were nearly 100 years of service from the four workers that had supper with us.  Even now, my heart is so full when I think on their influence in multiple countries all over the world.

Again Friday night two brothers stayed with us–we didn’t have supper or get to visit much, but I was so happy that they were with us.  One of the brother workers has shared music to the hymns in both English and Spanish when he has been with us before.  This visit he gave me one of the sweetest gifts:  Cds with the music of Juventino.  THE Juventino singing his own hymns.  (Juventino wrote many of the hymns that we have in the Spanish hymn book.)  It is so nice to listen and even understand a little…

My heart is already so full as I prepare for special meeting today–but my need is ever-so-great.