Instant pot Black beans and rice

When we lived in Colombia, we did a lot of cooking from scratch. When you can get fresh ingredients year-round, there just isn’t a culture of canning or eating canned foods like there is up north.

I loved making beans in our pressure cooker, and made them almost 3x/week. It usually involved soaking them overnight and then cooking them the next day.

It was just one of those things that fit into the rhythm of a simpler life… you pull the clothes off of the clothes line, , mix up your yogurt starter to cook overnight on the water heater, and you put your beans in water. Simple nightly rhythm.

When we moved to the US, I lost the rhythm. I still think that, 6 years in, I’m still learning how to implement simple steps into our crazy work-filled days.

We invested in an Instant Pot last year on Prime day, and it has been a game-changer for us! We use it at least once everyday, and this is one of the simplest recipes that has made it into the rotation.

I’ve made lentils, black beans, garbanzos, pinto beans, navy beans and red beans with this same recipe, so it works no matter what you’re cooking. It took me a while to get the measurements/ timing down, but I have it pretty fool-proof now.

Ingredients:

2 cups of dry beans (usually a 1lb bag)

6 cups of liquid (I use a box of organic chicken broth, which is right around 4 cups, and then add 2 cups of water.)

1 can of diced tomatoes un-drained (you can use 2 small real ones and the liquid content won’t matter much)

2 cloves of garlic (just for flavor)

1 tbsp salt

You can put any other spices you want. When I’m cooking lentils, I usually put in 1 tbsp of cumin, 1 tbsp coriander, 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp cayenne

Rice (we’ll talk about measurement later)

Cooking the beans:

Put all the ingredients together except for the rice. I usually put the beans in first so they don’t splash, then the liquid, the tomatoes and garlic, then the spices. I stir it all together and put the lid on.

I’ve tried all different cook times, and I’ve found that cooking the dry beans for 40 minutes works well. (Lentils I only cook for 8.)

Also, make sure the vent on the top is closed.

Once the beans are cooked, they should look like this:

Now, here’s where the magic happens!

Cooking the rice:

I use a slotted spoon to scoop out the beans. I don’t mind if a few get left in the pot, but I try to get out a majority.

Then, I look at the cup measurement marker on the inside of the pot. Usually there are around 3-4 cups of liquid left.

For just the 2 of us, cooking 1 1/2 cups of rice gives us enough for a few meals. I only use 2 cups of liquid for 1 1/2 cups of rice. So I scoop out the liquid until the level is down to 2 cups, and then pour in the 1 1/2 cups of rice.

I then set the timer for 12 minutes.

Again, make sure that the vent is closed.

I pour the extra liquid over the beans.

The rice cooks in all that yummy “juice”, and comes out super flavorful!

We like to eat ours with some avocado and grilled meat of some kind. I forgot to take a picture of it before I started mixing it all together… oops!

And yes, that is a disposable plate…. because there are just days that need to be easier. Lol!

We also save it for breakfast the next morning, and mix it up with a fried egg and hot sauce on top. That’s a typical Colombian breakfast, and even our 14 month old son is used to eating rice, beans and egg for breakfast now!

Let me know… how does this recipe work for you?

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Our immigration story part 2: from resident visa to citizenship

2010: We planned our first trip to the US for Christmas. We were told that it could take anywhere from 2-6 months for Leo to get his green card, so we worked it out for other people to stay in our apartment, take over our classes and ministry duties and set off.

Leo had a bucket-list of things to do in the snow, and he checked most of them off, including sledding, a snowball fight and peeing his name in the snow. Lol!

I had an absolute blast introducing him to my family, and we even took a road trip to Chicago to visit friends there. It was amazing!

Even more incredible, we received his green card just 3 weeks after arriving in the States.

It said “conditional”, and we honestly didn’t pay much attention to that. We were just so happy to have that little expensive piece of plastic.

Since we were truly hoping to NOT be gone 6 months, we headed back down to Colombia just 2 months after arriving in the US.

It was never our plan to live full-time in the US. We really loved our lives and ministry in Colombia, and thought we could play it right by being employed by a US mission agency for Leo to keep his residency status even though we lived in Colombia.

We knew that he couldn’t be out of the US longer than 6 months, so we came back up for the summer months, enjoying all the fun of summertime in the Midwest.

We went back to Colombia to start the school year, and then came back to the US for 2 weeks in October.

In 2012, Leo came to the US alone in March and stayed for a week in Chicago with some friends. He had a blast!

His next trip in July, however completely uprooted us.

He flew into Florida, and as he was going through immigration, the officer looked at his passport and asked

“Where do you live?”

“I am a resident of the US, but I work for a US-based mission agency in Colombia”, Leo replied.

“Sir, you were given a 2-year conditional resident visa, which means that you need to reside in the US. You need to apply to remove the conditions of this visa in a few months, and if you aren’t living here, they will probably deny your request.”

What?!?

He called me, panicked, from the airport.

We weren’t ready to pack up and leave.

But we had to.

We worked it out that he would complete his 2 week trip, staying with dear friends in Memphis, and then come back to help me pack up and move.

We had 5 weeks.

You can read more about that trauma in some earlier blogs.

We came to the US and lived out of my parents basement. Our #1 priority was getting jobs.

In October 2012 we filed form I-751, paid $595 + $85 biometric fee, and hoped for the best.

We got word in November that the conditions on his visa were not removed, but that he was given another year with the conditions.

We continued working our tails off, moved out into our own place and filed again in 2013 for the conditions to be removed. We filed form I-751 again, and paid the $680 total in fees… again.

The conditions were removed, and he had permanent resident status. We bought the house we had been renting, and continued working our butts off.

Leo’s entire family came to the US for a month for Christmas, and it was one of the coldest December’s we’d had in a long time. They LOVED experiencing snow and the cold air. We all packed 12 of us into our tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house and had a blast!

We were also free to finally travel! So the following year, we went to Colombia together. I had gone twice without Leo, and it was amazing to be able to go together again!

In 2014, in addition to traveling to Colombia, Leo was invited to travel to Bolivia to help with a conference. The weeks before he was to fly out, he was at the music store purchasing things he needed for the trip, and his wallet was stolen. It just happened to be the day after he was getting his license renewed, so his green card and license were in his wallet.

He can leave the US without his green card, but he can’t get back in without it as proof of his status.

He had to apply to replace it, which meant filing a I-90, and paying $455 + $85 biometric fee.

They gave him a stamp in his passport, valid for 6 months, that showed he had filled out the paperwork and was allowed to travel.

They said it would take up to 6 months.

We got a letter 6 months later, saying that it would take an additional 6 months. He had to take that letter to the immigration office so that they would give him yet another stamp valid for 6 months.

In 2015, we were spending a month in Peru helping with some amazing churches. While there, I got a message from the girl staying at our house saying that we received a letter from USCIS. I asked her to open it.

It said that his application for replacing his green card was denied because he missed a biometric appointment.

He had never gotten a letter about a biometric appointment, and our mail carriers were awful! We would often get mail for other houses, and neighbors would deliver packages to our house that were mistakenly delivered to theirs.

I was terrified. We were out of the country. Would we be allowed back in?!?

I put in a panicked call to the immigration lawyer at our church, and she re-assured me 3 days later when her call finally could get through.

“The green card is just proof of his status. His status hasn’t changed. It will take him longer to get through immigration, but he has full rights to come back.”

After we hung up, I bawled for an hour straight. In those 3 days, I had gone through every emotion that I went through 3 years before when we had to leave Colombia. I was willing to trust Jesus if we had to leave everything again, but still traumatized from the last sudden move.

And she was right… it took us a lot longer to get through immigration, but they let us in, and suggested that Leo just apply for Citizenship.

In all the paperwork we had looked through, it said that he had to have a physical copy of his green card, but they assured us that if we had a copy of it, that would be enough.

In 2016, we had saved up enough to file the N-400. The cost break-down: $199 for the instructions, $640 for the application fee, and $85 for the biometrics.

Leo became a US citizen in August of 2016. The ceremony was incredible, and in addition to my family and our pastor, Leo’s Mom was there to witness it.

We did all of this without hiring a lawyer. It was an expensive journey but completely worth it.

We have friends who have chosen not to get citizenship, but to renew their permanent resident status every 4 years.

We also have missionary friends whose spouses are from countries where it is even harder to obtain a resident visa, no matter how long they have been married.

Leo is also fortunate, in that Colombia and the US have a dual-citizenship arrangement. Not everyone has that opportunity. This means that he did not have to give up his Colombian citizenship to become a US citizen. This also means that our son has full rights as a dual citizen. We haven’t filed his Colombian paperwork yet, but plan to do so.

I will say that the first time we travelled with both of our blue passports was very emotional. We had taken so many trips where the immigration lines were long and the officers were not friendly.

But now, we are free to roam about the world.

Our immigration story: from Colombia to the US (part one)

When Leo and I met in 2007, we had no idea the up-hill battle that was waiting for us in regards to immigration.

As a US citizen, I didn’t realize how much I took traveling to other countries for granted.

By the time I went to live in Colombia as a 28 year-old, I had already been to over 15 countries: Haiti, Hungary and Austria when I was in high-school, Greece, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Russia and Puerto Rico (although its part of the US, it seemed like a different country!) in college… and then Russia again, Australia, Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania and India in the years between college and leaving for Colombia.

My family valued traveling and knowing other cultures, and I thought that everyone in the world would have those opportunities.

I was wrong.

The first petition: Summer 2008

Leo first applied for his tourist visa the summer after we met. We were hoping that he could just come the the US with me to meet my parents and family and get to know a little more about where I came from. It was such a fun idea!

The fee for the visa application was $225, which, when minimum wage back then was the equivalent of $150/month, was a chunk of money.

He waited in a long line that wrapped around the outside of the embassy for about 5 hours, only to be denied. They said that he didn’t have enough ties to Colombia to ensure that he wouldn’t out-stay his visa and become illegal. He didn’t own a home, a car, have a job at a lucrative company, have enough money in the bank, etc.

So, I stayed in Colombia for the summer as well, and we had a blast! We even travelled to the coast to help lead worship for a conference together, and I was even more convinced that this was the man for me!

The second petition: Winter 2008

He applied at Christmastime again for a different type of tourist visa, where our church would sponsor him to come. We had to get letters from 5 different Pastors, all explaining that they were asking him to come to speak for specific dates about the work we were doing in Colombia.

The same $225, the same long wait in a line that wrapped around the Embassy, the same answer: no.

We were crushed.

At this point, we knew we wanted to get married, and he was looking forward to asking my father for my hand in marriage in person (he wasn’t so good on the phone).

I went to the US for Christmas with a promise ring on my finger, and had a long conversation with my parents about how to move forward with what we felt like God was calling us to: marriage.

Even though they hadn’t met Leo, he sent a gift of a Bible to me and a letter to my parents. I decided to go ahead and buy my wedding dress and take it back with me to Colombia after Christmas.

We were going to try again for a tourist visa for Spring Break, but my parents said it would be better to just save our money and try for the tourist visa after we were married.

Here’s the deal:

In Colombia, there are only 2 types of marriages that are recognized by the State: a courthouse wedding, or a Catholic wedding. ALL of the Protestants who want to marry in their churches need to FIRST get married “legally”, and then have their church ceremony.

There are NO Pastors who will marry you in a church unless you are already legally married. And, we couldn’t file for a Fiancé visa if we were legally married in Colombia.

So, we took our chances and got legally married almost 2 months before our official wedding. We were not only planning the wedding in Colombia but also a wedding a month later in the US.

Yes, that is 3 weddings total… lol!

The third petition: April 2009

We got everything together and applied for a tourist visa. The same $225, for again the same answer: no.

We were outraged and so sad at the same time. When Leo presented himself the 3rd time in a year, the Consule said “it just looks like you are doing anything in your power to get the the US. If your marriage is real, you need to wait 2 years before even trying to apply again”.

What we didn’t realize is that there is an entire industry of US Citizens getting paid thousands of dollars to marry internationals for the sole purpose of coming to the US. I also heard stories when I lived in Kenya of US citizens falling in love with locals, only to bring them to the US and find out it was all a trick, and that the local only ever wanted to get to the US.

We were advised by other friends at the Embassy to wait 2 years and then apply for a resident visa… that it was extremely rare for the Embassy to grant tourist visas to married couples.

So, we cancelled the wedding in the US, and for reasons completely out of our control, none of my family could come to our Colombian wedding, and they still hadn’t met Leo.

My parents were able to travel to Colombia 6 months after we were married, and we had an incredible time together!

The fourth petition: Summer 2010

A year after we were married, we decided to give the resident visa a try. We knew it was a long process, and we figured that by the time all the steps were accomplished, it would probably be 2 years.

There were 3 basic steps:

1) filling out and paying for the I-130. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/family-immigration/immigrant-visa-for-a-spouse-or-fiance-of-a-us-citizen.html

You had to, again, pay to even start the process. $535 for just turning in the I-130, then an additional $325 filing fee.

2) After his form was received, he was given a case number and a date to appear at the embassy. He received a list of things he had to compile and bring with him:

Medical records (for which, he had to go to one of the US-approved doctors for a complete physical exam, full x-rays and blood work. That cost $100 ( I know… cheap compared to the US, but expensive in pesos!)

Paperwork from our sponsor

Civil documents: police reports (or paper stating that he has no record), birth certificate, marriage certificate, Colombian passport

Passport pictures

He appeared at the Embassy with all of the documentation, and they asked him a few clarifying questions.

3) They gave him another date with another list of items to provide to verify our marriage.

Anyone who has ever married a non-citizen has “The Book”. Some are more organized than others, but ALL contain:

-Pictures together. We chose pictures where also had different hairstyles to show the progression of time of our 3 years together

-proof of joint bills (which was really hard for us, because there was only 1 bill in our name… all the rest were in our landlord’s name)

-proof of residency (we had to get a letter from the school where I worked who had a contract with the landlord, stating that we had been living together and paying rent since we were married in May of 2009)

-proof of marriage (we had to compile letters from friends and family who had known us from dating to marriage to verify that we were indeed a couple. The Embassy asks for 2-3 letters, and we had over 20)

-proof of joint bank accounts (which was super tricky because Colombian banks didn’t allow for joint accounts then… we had to open one at a bank with ties to the US, and even then, we barely had enough money for the minimum amount to open the account)

We also chose to include our ministry letters from when we were dating to the current time, sharing with our supporters about the work we were doing together in Colombia.

We arrived for our joint interview at 7am. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were told to sit in a nice patio area with benches and a clear roof, in front of some darkened windows. There was a coffee and bread station nearby where you could spend $5 on bread that cost $.50 out on the street.

There were 3 other couples also sitting nervously with their “books” in hand, waiting.

I honestly think that we were being watched for the entire 6 hours we were made to wait.

I had brought a book, and we passed the time talking, eating expensive bread and trying to be patient.

One window slid open, and a man called out a number. Then another. Two couples were called up. It was obvious what was going on. One was given their visa, and the other was denied.

We looked at each other and knew that this was it. Either way, this was the day we would know, for sure, whether we would be able to go to the US together.

Our numbers were called, and we stepped up to the window.

We handed over our book.

The man leafed through it, and stopped on one of our support letters. He asked about the kind of work we do, and shared that his parents had been missionaries in Thailand.

I honestly can’t remember all the specifics, besides the fact that he spoke to us together and separately, and then gave Leo his passport, saying that his visa was approved. We had 6 months to get to the US for the next steps of the process.

We waited in another line for about an hour for them to put the official visa in his passport, and walked away from the Embassy crying… but this time, happy tears!

Easy-peasy spring rolls

A few years ago, a roommate from when I lived in Bogota, Colombia and her husband came to visit, and we went to our local international grocery store, Saraga. In addition to yummy Colombian treats, my friend found some spring roll wrappers and suggested that we make some spring rolls as an appetizer.

I had honestly never tried to make them before, and they were so easy to assemble!

We bought bean sprouts, carrots, Thai basil and peppers to stuff them with that night.

So delicious!

Since then, I’ve kept a pack of spring roll wraps (so many come in a pack!), and I get inspired every once in a while to make them.

I don’t know if there’s any specific way you’re supposed to do it, so I like to mix it up depending on the food I have on-hand.

The other day, we harvested some cucumbers from our garden, and I though “these will be so delicious in some spring rolls”. So I picked some stems of Thai Basil from our herb garden, cut up some chicken I had from the day before and found other miscellaneous ingredients in the kitchen.

It was a little tricky to assemble such a detailed meal with a toddler at my feet, but I loved doing it!

So, here’s how I make spring rolls.

Start out by getting all your ingredients together. For this I used:

– grilled chicken

– cucumbers sliced julienne style

– a few Thai basil leaves per roll

– green onions (I started with them cut long as in the picture below, but then realized as I bit into the first one that they don’t bite through easily. I ended up chopping them up for the rest, and that worked really well)

– rice noodles cooked in chicken broth

There are so many other ways you can make them! I like to think of it as a “veggie left-over” meal, especially because a few veggies go a long way.

Sauce ingredients:

– PB powder

– MCT oil

– Hoisen Sauce

– Sriracha Sauce

– red pepper flakes

You can also make these vegan by skipping the chicken broth and grilled chicken.

Soaking the rice paper

I soak one sheet at a time in a plate that has filtered water. I simply submerge the disk and wait about a minute or two. I like to wait until it’s transparent.

You want to soak the rice paper so that it is a little sticky but not super gelatinous. I usually can tell when it’s wet enough just by touching it.

I pull it out and place it on my “assembly plate” and stick another one in the “soaking plate”. By the time I’m done assembling one, the one soaking is usually ready to go.

Assembling the spring roll

I like to assemble them with the herbs on the bottom. So, I layer up, starting with a few leaves of Thai Basil, then a slice or two of thinly cut chicken followed by the veggies and a pinch of noodles (I usually use tongs to get them out of the bowl).

I still haven’t mastered getting a tight wrap, and I try to wrap them “burrito style”, folding two sides in first and then rolling, which I’m not sure is correct… lol!

Making the spicy peanut sauce

I’ve been experimenting lately with PB powder. My South American husband isn’t really a fan of peanut butter (gasp!), and the consistency I find at the store is just too sticky for the toddler. With the powder, I can use any liquid to make it the consistency I need, and I love it!

Here’s how I do it:

2 scoops of PB powder

1 tablespoon of MCT oil

1 tablespoon of Hoisin Sauce

1 tablespoon of Sriracha sauce

1/2 tablespoon of red pepper flakes

You can adjust that however you like for your particular tastes. I have friends who prefer to use crunchy peanut butter bc of the nice crunchy texture.

So, there you have it!

I’d love to hear how you make them!

Our Story! :)

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When people meet us, they are always curious about how we met, where we met, etc.  After living in the States for so long now, people just assume that we met here.  But here’s the real story…

I moved to Bogota, Colombia right before New Years in 2007.  I was invited to teach music at an international school, and knowing that a lot of my world would be in English, I asked if it would be possible to live with a Colombian family instead of with the other teachers.  I was placed with a bi-cultural pastor’s family.  We didn’t know anything about each other until I arrived, but we quickly found out that the Lord had indeed put us together!

They invited me to go on a retreat they were leading with a different church my first weekend in country. It was during that trip they discovered that I was a worship leader/speaker, and we had a BLAST ministering together. I learned a TON of songs in Spanish, and was on my way to becoming bilingual (although I had a LOOOOOOONG way to go).

The following weekend, I had been spending time with the English teachers when I got a call from the pastor asking if I would be willing to play the drums for the services the following day.  He said that their worship team had a few different drummers, but that none of them were available.  I immediately agreed and rushed back to their place so he could take me to the church.

I showed up without makeup, in a t-shirt, baggy torn jeans and crocs.  Lol!  (if you know anything about Colombian women, they would NEVER dress like that…).

None of the guys on the worship team spoke English, and, as Leo later told me, upon seeing me they decided to change the set list to translated Hillsong songs instead of their typical latino-flavored songs.

I had a blast!

I think the guys were a little surprised that I could do it.

After the rehearsal, the electric guitarist (Leo) stuck around to wait for the pastor to pick me up.  I literally had no idea how to say anything about music or life at that point… and he didn’t really know how to say anything about life and music to me, either… but somehow, after sharing our names, how old we were and how many siblings we had (thank you Spanish 1), I communicated that I write music.

Leo immediately turned on the keyboard and asked me to sit and play him something.  I started playing “We will praise You” from my Captivated:Live cd, and just as I got to the 2nd verse, Leo stopped me.  He said…

“No. No. No…. Jazz…. colors!” and then proceeded to hum the melody of the song and completely changed the chords to sounds I would never know how to make in a million years.  I cracked up!  I remember thinking “I think this guy and I are going to be good friends!”

The pastor came right about then to walk me home (he lived only a block away from the church).

The following weekend, and the ones that proceeded it, I was a part of the worship team. We had rehearsal on Saturday afternoons, and then 3 services on Sundays.  In between the services, we would all go to the cafe across the street to get something to eat and I would try my best to communicate what I’d been learning.  In addition to the Sunday services, I started helping out with the youth services on Friday nights, and teaching lessons at the worship academy on Saturdays. I LOVED it!

Leo also happened to be involved with all of those church events, so it gave us a good deal of time together, sharing life and ministry.  He was hilarious, and an incredible guitarist/worship leader.  It was so much fun to find someone with similar interests and passions!

He started walking me home more, and the pastor would always invite him to eat dinner with us.  When Leo would get home, he’d sign on to Skype and we would chat (all written) while the pastor’s daughter sat next to me to translate and help me learn what to say back.  It was hilarious.  We were NEVER without a bilingual dictionary!

One day, I was walking with the pastor and asked him what he thought about Leo.  He said “Wow!  What a guy!  He loves Jesus, loves people and is always here serving at the church!  You really can’t find anyone better!”.  But then he went on to say… “But I recommend you wait 2 years before you start to date.  Get to know him better, get to know the language and the culture better… Here, Colombian christians take dating VERY seriously.  You first start out in groups, and then the moment you go out just the 2 of you, it means that you’re serious about each other.  Dating in our church culture means that you’re seriously contemplating marriage.”

I think 2 weeks later, Leo and I were sitting on the steps out in front of the pastor’s house talking about what we really felt called to do. And, it was exactly the same!  It was at that moment when I had the feeling “I think I’m gonna marry this guy!”.

It was during that conversation where Leo said that he wanted to be my “novio”… and out of respect for the pastor, I told Leo that he would have to ask permission from the pastor if he wanted to date me.

Sidenote: it had always been an agreement between my dad and I when I was in high-school that if a guy wanted to date me, he HAD to ask my dad first.  It was a safety-net for me and to this day I am so grateful!  If a guy called the house (you know… in the ancient days before there were cell-phones), my dad would ask me “do you want to go out with this guy?”  If I said “no”, then so did my dad.  I have always encouraged young girls who are starting to date to have this same arrangement with their fathers.  It is SO important for their safety and health to have their dads involved with any boys who have interest in them.

So, Leo and the pastor met and talked one evening.  They were in the living room, and I was in the kitchen cooking (the pastor’s wife was out of town).   I was SO nervous, especially after the pastor had said that it would be better to wait 2 years, and it had only been 2 1/2 months!

But both he and Leo came into the kitchen beaming… the pastor hugged us both and said “you have our prayers, our counsel, and our best wishes!”.

A year and a half after Leo and I met, we were married in Bogota!  We just celebrated our 9th anniversary.

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Processing… and waiting

Leo and I are about to celebrate 3 years of marriage!  It’s crazy how fast these few years have gone, and how many obstacles we’ve had to overcome in such a short time!  The few months leading up to our wedding, and even a year and a half into our marriage, it felt like it was us against the world!  Or, at least, us against the US Immigration laws and other issues that had to do with Leo not being able to get to the States.  Now, things have kinda switched around a bit.  Leo even took his first trip by himself to the States in March… a kind-of expensive requirement that comes with having a resident Visa… he can’t be out of the States for longer than 6 months.

We are at a bit of a stand-still now, however.  Leo would really like for us to have a year-long furlough in the States sometime soon, and I agree that we need a break!  Back in October, we were thinking that we could do it this coming January… but things haven’t worked out how we hoped.  We were thinking I could get pregnant, have the baby here in Colombia (I don’t have insurance in the States), and then live the last year of Leo’s residency requirement, before he gets US citizenship, in the States being close to family in a kind-of utopian, rest-filled existence.  Well, obviously, I’m not pregnant yet, and from what we’ve seen and heard from doctors, even visiting the States isn’t a good option for me because of my hormone issues and how connected my body is to seasons.  The two 2-month trips we took during opposite seasons knocked my body off again, and that’s the reason I’m still having a hard time getting pregnant.  And, if we went to the States and were able to get insurance, we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until we’ve paid into the system for 9 months.  So, everything is on hold, and it’s not very fun.

All that to say…I’m not doing well… in many ways.

I’ve read 2 books lately that have really helped put words to my emotions.  One is “God on Mute” by Peter Greig.  He skillfully writes about the many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Ultimately, it’s because our life is meant to glorify Him, and He will do what He wants with us.  We can’t manipulate Him, have enough faith, or do enough good things to change His mind.  He knows what is best for us in the long-run, and He will have His way.

The second book I devoured this week is “A Million MIles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.  I know it’s been out for a long time, but I finally had time to read it this week… I was sick at home for 2 days.   He writes about the importance of having a story, but yet knowing that our personal story ties in with the big Story that is weaved through generations of lives.   The greatest stories are those that have an obstacle too big for the main character to overcome without great sacrifice.

We don’t have many helpful answers to my health issues, but I can’t help think that somehow malaria has something to do with it.  My liver was pretty damaged during the whole ordeal, and your liver is what processes your hormones. Almost 7 years ago, I had to understand that if facing death was the price, it was worth knowing Jesus through the pain.  I knew the presence of the Lord through my pain… a kind of knowing that gets into your bones and holds everything together.   However, the last few years, I haven’t wanted to know Him in my pain and suffering.  I have wanted to know Him in the blessing… in the easy things… and nothing has been easy.  It’s been rather crazy actually.  But, in the area of my health, I’ve had to face another, very real thought:  if malaria is the price of not having natural children, is it still worth it? Is this my obstacle that comes with great personal sacrifice?

I don’t know why being in pain as a wife is so much harder than it was being single.  Maybe it’s because as a single person, serving Jesus, I knew that He was all I had… it was just me and Him, and as much as I was hurting, He was the only one who could hold me and bring healing… and I was willing to trust Him.  Now, as a wife, I serve my husband and Jesus, and my focus gets all off when I forget that my husband, while he can hold me, can’t bring healing or light to the dark, almost hopeless areas of my soul.  And while the tangible is seemingly more available than the eternal, I’m mad at both.   It was easier to believe in God’s sovereignty and timing when I thought it more closely lined up with mine.  More closely being “o.k. maybe not this month… but definitely this year, right?”.  2 years, and more un-answered questions later, I’m not doing well.

We have a beautiful tangerine tree in our apartment.  Our first Christmas together, we couldn’t agree on what kind of tree to have because Leo couldn’t understand the tradition of cutting down a beautiful, living thing just to decorate and watch die; and I couldn’t handle the feel of fake trees. So, we compromised and bought a small tree to decorate.  Bogota isn’t the best place for any kind of fruit trees because it’s so cold; but when we got the tree, it had 7 little tangerines growing.  The tree is supposed to bloom every 4 months, and then from those blooms, produce fruit.  I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s bloomed since it has stayed in the little corner of our living room that gets sunlight, and we’ve only had 1 tangerine grow since we plucked the first 7.

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This month, however, I saw little buds forming.  It was interesting to see them coming up from all different parts of the tree.  The buds have since turned into leaves or little white balls that will burst open into the most delicate, sweet smelling flowers.  This past week, I’ve been waiting for the first flowers to bloom, and just this morning, we had 3.  I remember thinking as I was tending to the tree this week that I don’t know how much bigger those little white buds can get before they break open.  They have such tension before they burst!

We are living an overwhelming amount of tension right now, and it’s easy to get mad at the tangible elements: our non-existent savings account, our tiny apartment that wouldn’t even fit a baby if we wanted it to, our lack of material things that would supposedly make things so much easier (… if I could just have a fancy mixer with all those fancy attachments so we could eat even healthier than we do now,  or a juicer so we could do one of those “cleanse” diets…), Leo’s citizenship process that is still so expensive (and will continue to be for another year and a half) that he needs to finish before we can adopt, etc.  It is overwhelming!

In the midst of this waiting for whatever is supposed to come next, however it’s supposed to come, I’m trying to choose to believe that this tension we are feeling is going to break forth into something beautiful and sweet-smelling soon.  It just has to.  We are desperate.

Pray for me… pray for Leo… pray for our hearts to be willing to line-up with God’s timing for many different things.  Pray for balance between being faithful with what we can control, and having faith for what we can’t.

Wednesday, April 4th in 2 de Mayo

For pictures from 2 de Mayo and the river village, you can go to:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151471705950215.840641.741380214&type=3&l=6671fd9562

Waking up this morning, my first thought was the girls on the porch.  I hoped that they hadn’t gotten wet in the storm that lasted all night.   Sure enough, they were completely dry!  The plastic that Neil hung up just before the storm came completely protected them!

As we were all waking up, we had a great conversation with Neil.  I asked if he led family devotions every night, or if it was just because of the movie.  He smiled and said that they’ve done it every night for the past year.  With a huge grin, he started telling us this story:

“You see, I used to say I was a Christian.  I went to church, prayed, sang the songs, did everything I was supposed to, but I also had my other life.  I would drink with my friends, and even stay away from home sometimes.  Last year, a woman at the church had a word from the Lord, saying that He wants His church to be pure and spotless… that He wanted us to turn away from our wicked ways and give all of our lives to Him.  This word also came with a warning: that if we didn’t turn away, He would bring judgment on us.   My friends and I didn’t believe this, so we continued doing what we had been doing before.  After 2 weeks, all three of our families got sick.  We all knew at that moment that the word was true, and that we needed to really give our lives over to the Lord.”

“We went in front of the church and confessed our sins, and then truly turned away from our wicked ways.  We’ve seen the Lord’s blessing and protection ever since!  We have even started going to other villages to tell them about Jesus!”

He excitedly went on about his passion for the other villages to know the power of believing in Jesus, and we listened to every word.  It was amazing!

Last year, we found out that Neil and some of the other men, aside from making money from their hand-made crafts, were also growing coca (the plant that eventually gets turned into cocaine).  The houses and boats of these men were the finest in the village!  When Neil said that he turned away from his “wicked” ways, he later explained that all the men stopped growing coca.  That is a very bold step, because in these villages… if you’re not growing coca, you’re against it.  The guerillas and other para-military groups depend on the villagers’ “willingness” to grow coca for their own financial needs, and in turn, the groups “protect” the villagers.  Last night, when Neil was praying for protection for his family, he was praying against a very real threat since he has stopped growing coca.  The love that we already had for Neil just kept growing deeper and deeper as we talked this morning!

We all had to get to the pastor’s house for breakfast, and it was tricky!  Our morning routines were a little off, anyway.  With the river being so high (and there being no latrines), we literally had to pee off the side of the house.  For guys, this is pretty easy… for girls, however, not so much!  I mean, it’s easy as long as you get over your need for privacy and realize that your butt is going to be hanging out for anyone to see!  The problem with peeing in the river is that there are little fish that follow the flow of urine up into your body and then attach themselves with little hooks to your urethra…. not very pleasant to think about!  But we were told that if we had our bathing suits on while we peed in the river, we’d be fine.  So, with my bathing suit on, I sat on the submerged front step of Neil’s house and peed into the river.  Not even 5 seconds later, there were fish all around me.  SO GROSS!!!

Anyway, most of us ended up walking through the river to the pastor’s house for breakfast, and when we got to his house, we found out that the lower level got flooded during the night!  The lower level is where the girls were camping, too!  They told us that because they could already hear the water hitting the floorboards when they set up the tent, as soon as they heard the thunder they decided to move it… it was a crazy complicated process as they had to wake everyone up and re-arrange everything.  But, at least they were dry!

Liz and Lauren said that a few of the days on the trip felt like we lived 3 days in one… and this day was no exception!!!

After breakfast, we loaded everything up in the boat and headed over to the school.  We yelled out to everyone as we were going that we would be setting up the medical brigade and the kids’ ministry stuff… so everyone was welcome to join us.  Ruben and Andrew pulled us over, and as soon as we got to the school, we realized that it was locked!  As we were waiting for the schoolmaster to come with the keys, the kids slowly started showing up.  They were really shy, and didn’t speak a lot of Spanish.  They would just look at us, covering their smiles with their hands.  Kylie found one of the sponge balls that we brought with us and started playing with them, throwing the ball back and forth in the little cement space outside the classrooms.

The boats kept coming, and the cement space quickly filled up!  The schoolmaster came with the keys, and was able to unlock the room for the medical brigade, but the room for the kid’s ministry had some kind of lock on the inside.  A kid climbed up the wall and reached through with a piece of wood and got the door open.  All the kids entered the room at once, yelling and running in circles.  They were SO happy!

And, this is where it started to get interesting.  Literally, a few of the kids understood Spanish… but the rest… not so much!

I found one of Leo’s friends, Nehemias, and asked him to help translate for us.  He was more than willing!  We started out playing one of our favorite games, “come, little sheep, come!”.  Daniel and Sara are amazing at this game!!! We then talked about how Jesus is the good shepherd, and how He protects us from all the evil around us.  We taught the kids how to draw a little sheep head and the had a good time gluing cotton balls on their little sheep bodies.

As we continued with our childrens’ ministry, it got even harder to work with a translator.  Personally, I LOVE that our students have to struggle with this!  They are so used to BEING the translators for teams and preachers that come to visit, that the experience they have actually needing to be translated for is so valuable!  My favorite part was when we were teaching the kids how to say John 3:16.  Nehemias would say a part, and then the kids would repeat after him.  They repeated everything… the words and his vocal inflection!  The Tikuna language is so beautiful!

After all the children’s ministry was over, we made sure that everyone got their oatmeal and cookies.  Then, Lili took a model of teeth and a giant toothbrush to show the kids how to properly brush their teeth.  It was precious!  She asked for volunteers to come up and model it as well, to show that they had learned.  Then, it was chaos as we started handing out the toothbrushes and little gifts.  We tried our hardest to have the kids form a line, but that didn’t work.  Then, we had them go back into the room and sit down to wait, and that mostly worked, but as soon as we gave a gift to one kid who wasn’t sitting down, we were mobbed all over again.

The little girls got beautiful barrettes for their hair, and the boys got little toy animals that grow in the water.  Some kids got little flute whistles that we could hear even late into the evening.

Once again, the students did a phenomenal job!  Diana and Mafe decided to stay with the medical brigade and help Hector pull teeth.  They were having such a fun time!  Laura was helping bathe the babies with fevers, while Lili was painting all the womens’ fingernails.   I was so impressed with each person on the team and how they found the place where they could serve the best!

All morning, we gave everything that we were to love the kids and teach them these valuable stories!   We were ready for lunch when the time came!

Once again, Andrew helped pull us back to the pastor’s house so we could eat.  Most of the people had already seen the doctors, and were just waiting in line for the dentist.  So, we decided that it would be wise for us to try to go to another village to help them with medicine after lunch.

Monica knew of another village just down-river, so we loaded up whatever medicine we could fit and were on our way.

The river was so full!  We passed house after house that the water had damaged or entered, and some of them seemed deserted.  We also passed random houses with anywhere from 5-15 people.

On our way, we had to stop at a floating police station on the side of the river.  Liz and I started sweating a little bit because we left all of our paperwork back in 2 de Mayo, and without proper documentation, they could’ve fined us!  They just wanted to see who we were, and what we were doing.  When we told them we could give them medicine on our return trip, they let us go, no problem.  What a relief!

As we rounded the bend into what should’ve been the entrance to the village, our boat got stuck.  Even though everything was flooded, the water there wasn’t deep enough for us to go farther into the village, and even though the water only came up to our waists, the current was really strong!  So, John, Pravaas, Batman and Andrew all put on life jackets and floated down into the river to let the people know we were here.  It was a really funny sight!

Slowly but surely, we were visited by different people.  They would tie their little canoes to our boat, and then come on board.  The doctors and some students were inside, running the program, while the rest of us were on the bow of the boat worshipping in Spanish and Tikuna.  It was so much fun!  We were “parked” right underneath a HUGE lemon tree… that is, the lemons themselves were gynormous!

The guys came walking back up from the village completely painted red!  They found some achiote and covered themselves in it!  They passed it around for all of us to try, and we painted ourselves silly.  We had so much fun laughing and painting ourselves before the people started showing up.  Andrew dunked himself in the water to see if it washed off, and it didn’t!  We were all freaking out as we had silly symbols painted all over our faces.  The “paint” was really oily as it turned out, and it took a little bit of effort, but we were able to get it all washed off eventually.

One of the young guys that was first to see the doctors and get medicine came back after about 45 minutes with a boat filled with women and children.  I was so happy that he had done that!  All the babies had fevers, and most of the kids had weird rashes all over their bodies.  One little girl just fought and fought and didn’t want to take the medicine!  Stefy had to try 3 different times while the little girl’s mom held her tight.  That girl was a fighter!

I imagine that we were able to serve over 60 people from that village, and even though the village is only 20 minutes from 2 de Mayo, it was obvious that the people had no hope.  There was such emptiness in their eyes.  Monica kept praying and declaring victory over abuse and depression as they were coming through the “line”.  We just worshiped and worshiped.

It was a beautiful boat-ride back to 2 de Mayo.  We stopped back at the police station, and Leo became fast friends with the police officers.  We even gave them a water-proof Bible, as one of them was a Christian.  God is so good!

We got back just in time to get ready for the evening service.  Leo went straight to the church to get the sound and movie ready (they stopped it last night about 20 minutes from the end), and the rest of us got a bite to eat… wading through the water of the pastor’s kitchen.  I figured out a few days ago that the sole of my left boot was coming un-glued, so I was walking around bare-foot, hoping that the mosquitoes wouldn’t eat all of my feet… not that there was much left after all the ant bites during the day!

The church service was packed!  After the movie finished, Pastor Burgos felt led to pray for different groups in the church body:  it was the men’s turn first, and it was powerful!  Pastor then invited the wives up, and Neil yelled “Amen!”.  He loves to pray for his wife! 🙂  As Rocio, Kylie and I went around praying for the women, there was something beautiful happening.  They were crying out to the Lord, drowning out our prayers.  One woman started singing and dancing holding her baby tight to her.  I had no idea what she was saying, so I went to one of the elders and asked if what she was singing was for all of us, or just a deep prayer from her to the Father.  He said it was just a deep prayer and to keep praying for the other groups of people.  So, we invited the youth up, and the team prayed for them.  Afterwards, we had the children come up and their parents make a circle around them as we prayed.  It was beautiful!  Parents were crying out for their little ones to grow up in the ways of the Lord, and in purity.  I still get chills when I think about it.  It was such a beautiful picture of protection and covering!

After that, it was worship time!  Sandra, Carolina and Paula all got their tamborines out and danced while the women sang.  It went on and on, and we didn’t want it to stop!  Then, the youth and children took turns singing.  They were totally bold as they did so.  They even sang my favorite song… ch-ta a ey… 🙂

After the worship time, Sandra asked that the villagers close their eyes and pray while she and her team dance over them and let the Holy Spirit minister to them.  As a team, we went around and prayed for as many people as we could.  Words really can’t describe the feelings of peace and battle that we had at the same time!  Lili and I prayed for all the kids individually, and then I went over to Neil’s wife to pray for her.  I have a feeling that the Lord is going to use her gift of music all over Tikuna land, and I prayed that He would give her new songs to declare His glory.  It was powerful!

We went to bed that night exhausted again, but so grateful for everything the Lord was doing in 2 de Mayo!  We keep praying that this village will bring many others to the saving knowledge of Jesus!