The La Viña Bolivia conference part 1

I honestly laughed when Leo told me that the Bolivian pastors were asking us to lead their national conference. They are all dear friends, so they know that we’re not pastors (and at the time of the conference we were no longer even on staff at a church).

But, nonetheless, they felt like we were the people that their people needed to hear from.

The theme of the conference? Next Generation.

As we were preparing, I felt strongly that we wanted everything we did to be in a “workshop” model… where there would be time to process the different points we felt led to bring up.

And after all the preparing, only one of the messages went the way we planned, the very last message on Sunday. All of the other ones changed course a bit, but were exactly what was needed.

Friday night, we shared our testimony and talked about how the Kingdom is a family. Most of the people there came with at least one family member, so we encouraged them to sit together and talk about different points.

At the end, we asked everyone to speak blessing over their family members. It was powerful to look around the room and see people speaking forgiveness, life, hope, healing and love. I truly believe that the Lord did something new in many of the families that night!

Saturday, Leo and I switched off teaching in the morning. He led worship and then taught about the worship values and how we write music for our communities, and I taught the kids!

There were a total of about 10 school-age kiddos at the conference, and we wanted to make sure that they felt included. So, after working with them in the morning, they were able to lead worship for the afternoon session.

We wanted to model what it was like to teach and let the littles lead. It was beautiful to watch the congregation respond with all their hearts during the worship time!

The kids did a phenomenal job, and, like always, I made the person running sound work hard with trying to control/boost the volume.

 

Saturday evening, we went way out of the box with a Worship in the Round. We asked the different songwriter/worship leaders to prepare 2-3 songs that they had written for congregational worship, and we put all the chairs in a semi-circle around, with the mics on the floor. We had 3 guitars, 3 mics, a simplified kit and a djembe.

We even placed art supplies and paper on tables behind the chairs for people to be able to draw or write as they experienced the Holy Spirit.

We knew it would be something totally different for everyone, and it took a few songs for people to really engage, but once they did, it was amazing!

Worship was just so beautiful! God is really breathing on a few of the songs, and the response from everyone was encouraging for the worship leaders.

I had planned a sermon for after the worship, but felt strongly that we needed to open up the floor for anyone to share what they were experiencing.

People came up to show their pictures, shared things that the Lord had laid on their hearts, one woman shared a drawing that her daughter had made for her, another asked for forgiveness… people kept coming to the mic sharing their hearts, and it was a true picture of “Everyone gets to play”.

Then, Kimber had the idea of doing ministry time with all the lights out except for the lights coming from the cross. It was perfect.

We encouraged people to not only come forward, but to pray for those around them. It lasted such a long time, and again, people were just so hungry for more of the Holy Spirit!

I really don’t want to forget that night or the moments that happened during the whole conference; the deep conversations, the way everyone loved on Elias, the absolute dependence on Jesus for strength and energy (the sleeping situation wasn’t ideal), and how we worked hard and pushed each other towards excellence.

At the end of the conference, it was obvious why we were chosen for this theme, this time. There is something new brewing in the La Viña churches in Bolivia, and we are so grateful to have played a part in what the Lord is doing.

La Viña Cochabamba

There is a legend from Cochabamba about the women.. the “Cochabambinas”. When a big war required all of the men to leave to fight, the women stood their ground and stopped invading troops from taking the city. They are strong, powerful, capable women.

And that translates into the church! The women who serve, preach and minister are amazing. And Esther leads the way!

I have seen a lot of couples minister in my years of traveling and ministry, and Pastor Remberto and his wife Esther are a power couple. They work so hard, serving and giving everything to their flock.

We were blessed to learn from them, spending time with them ministering side by side.

They have recently been pouring into a young group of musicians. Remberto has become like a father to them, and you can see how they respect and love him.

And while Remberto is an incredible pastor, he didn’t know how to help the team grow musically, or how to help the church’s sound be more appealing.

So, that’s where we came in.

We did worship/music/sound workshops, and Leo helped completely re-wire the sound, hanging the speakers and new sound treatments.

And when I say “we”, it was Leo who designed the speaker stands and the sound treatments, and then he found someone who could do the metal-work and fabricate everything from simple aluminum. And when it came time to putting the foam inside the aluminum frames and hot-glue the fabric to everything… that was me. Then the guys measured and drilled holes in the cement wall to hang all 6 sound treatments

We spent a LOT of time with the team… playing music, goofing off, eating delicious food, and sharing life. It was an instant connection! Even Elias loved getting to church because he knew his friends would be there!

Our devotion times with the team were equally as wonderful. We spent time talking about the Vineyard worship values, reading the Word in the Lectio Divino style, and praying for one another. In one of our sessions, Pastor Remberto started singing out “Ven con tu fuego”. I felt strongly that the Lord was giving us a new song, so we started singing and talking through what it looks like for God to come with His fire.

After about 15 minutes, we had the skeleton of a song!

The team was so excited because they had never written a song before!

We kept working on it, and Remberto was able to translate the song into Quechua, his heart language! When we introduced it at church the following weekend, it was a HIT! We could feel the Spirit all over it!!!

A new experience for me was preaching in Spanish! (As a Baptist pastor’s daughter, I grew up with the idea that I need to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moments notice… I’ve always loved to preach, but had never shared more than a testimony in Spanish… so this was totally new!)

I was honored to preach 2 weeks in a row, and as I was preparing, I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to go with Ephesians chapter 2.

There is spiritual oppression in Bolivia, but a LOT in Cochabamba. There are practices that would shock you if I wrote about them, and we could feel oppression in the air at times. The churches can even be oppressive, which is why La Viña is so counter-cultural… but that’s for another post.

As I was preaching about what it means to be fully accepted sons and daughters, I could see God touching hearts. I ended the sermon reading through Psalm 139, and could hear people crying as they were receiving grace and forgiveness.

Ministry time was powerful. Whole families were coming up for prayer. Even Elias got in on the action, with helping Kim pray for people. He LOVED it.

We are still just so grateful that we were able to give out of our strengths to this beautiful place. The conversations we had were sometimes silly, sometimes deep, and always honest. We hold everyone there in such high regard; and we are just so excited to see how the church keeps growing, both in width and depth. They are ready.

Some travel tips for international travel with a toddler.

So, as I wrote in the previous blog post, we had 5 legs to get to Cochabamba. It was a lot of plane and airport time, as well as super long lay-overs.

Here are some of my tips. (Note: I read a LOT from a lot of other travel moms, and I am not as organized or detailed as most people.)

What we packed:

2 large suitcases (the kind with 4 wheels! I got an amazing deal on them at Costco… 2 suitcases and matching carry-ons.)

A stroller (that we never even opened)- to be fair, Leo’s brother asked us to bring a stroller to them in Colombia, and we weren’t sure if we would ever use it.

Two 4-wheel carry-ons (that matched the big ones… one was filled with books/toys for the airport and plane, and the other was filled with clothes for all three of us in case a suitcase didn’t make it)

A guitar with a soft travel case

The diaper bag

Another backpack with the laptop/iPad and other things that we had to shove in last-minute because the suitcases were too heavy. (We always save space in the carry-ons for this very reason).

On the way down, Elias was still 1, so we made the most out of only checking what we could and carrying the rest.

1) The radio flyer collapsible wagon with tailgate thingy was the BEST investment ever. We took a stroller down for Leo’s brother’s family, and thought we might end up using it, but didn’t even open it once. All we needed was the wagon!

Immersion Hand Blender, Utalent… https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D4CQ23G?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share

Here’s the deal: we aren’t the people who have an immovable schedule, or who make sure Elias always and only ever sleeps in his bed. So, when we ordered the wagon, it came about a week before the trip. We took him for walks in it, had it open in the living room so he could get used to getting in and out of it, and even had him take a few naps in it.

Truly, every nap he took in Bolivia was in this wagon. We would be out at church or at the conference, and he would simply say “tent”, and would crawl in the wagon and lay down. I would cover it with the blanket and he would be OUT!

We DID have to battle a bit with the airline every blessed trip because we also had the stroller, but we simply explained (over and over) that it would collapse smaller than a carry-on, and that we could gate-check it. By the grace of Jesus (and after doing demonstration collapsing, which included sometimes taking the sleeping toddler out of it), they let us take it without paying.

The wagon also provided a TON of fun for other kids wherever we were… I can’t say enough about it!

2) I filled one carry-on with various new, simple toys, and would bring something new out on each flight.

 

Thankfully, Elias has no issues with flying, and normally falls asleep, but the late flight into Santa Cruz took him a little longer than normal. I busted out some glow-in-the-dark bracelets that a friend gave me, and he LOVED them! I tried to save a few for another late flight, but he wanted all 10 of them. Bless. He had so much fun!

We also had scented play-doh, cars, and magnetic animals.

The awesome thing about flying Avianca was all the food came on plastic trays that were PERFECT for putting all the play-doh and toys on. They even let me keep our trays when they saw how Elias liked putting everything on them.

3) We made sure that the airports were fun places to explore, even when we were exhausted.

So many people were understanding of us traveling with a toddler, and we didn’t get many dirty looks about our little guy running around playing.

Moving sidewalks with papá? So fun! Open space to run and play? Absolutely! Gift shops with all the textures and sensory input? An absolute blast!

In Lima, they had these adorable little fuzzy llamas in the gift shop, and we had a 5 hour lay-over… so, we played and played. Elias loved gathering them all up, and then we’d sing “5 little llamas jumping on the bed” and when one “fell off”, it would go back in the basket. Then, when they were all in the basket, we said “goodbye” and left them. Lol!

We talked to people and noticed things out loud together. I know… we are an extroverted family, but this was great for Elias to see… that in the huge seas of people, we could make friends.

He loved greeting people, giving other kids high-fives, and saying “bye” when we would leave a store or even pass through to the gate.

As we would walk around, we’d point out colors, words, animals, paintings, lights, etc. The airports and planes became like living museums for Elias, and he LOVED exploring.

 

4) We packed snacks, but also made sure to eat meals when we had long lay-overs.

Eating at a restaurant with a toddler is never easy, let alone at an airport restaurant. But, we made the most of it! This is when we would bust out the magnetic toys. We would do puppet shows with the magnets on silverware, play matching (especially with the Noah’s ark set), draw, color, read books and let him try new foods.

Note: Elias is an awesome eater, and we never really make him his own food… he usually just eats what we eat, unless it’s super spicy. So, he not only ate from his kids menu, but would also try food off of our plates. He loves new flavors and texture (I know… we are blessed).

5) We would switch off, tapping out as needed.

Here’s the deal: it was really hard. Leo pulled an all-nighter the night before we left, so he was exhausted. I held Elias while he slept most of the flights, which meant that I didn’t sleep much on the flights, on top of my body being sore from holding him. We arrived to each destination worn out, just from the energy it took to travel there.

But, we did our best to work as a team and give each other a break so that we could give our best to Elias.

I did a lot of deep breathing/breath prayers. “Jesus help me” was my go-to.

The flights to Ecuador were the hardest, mostly because we were all sick from something we ate. The turbulence and crazy travel times (and overnight in the airport) didn’t help, either. Elias threw up on 3 of the 4 flights. I learned quickly that he gags about twice, and then throws up.. so I had time to get the bags out.

Avianca’s flight staff was mostly accommodating, making sure that we had what we needed. The only real issue was when they wouldn’t let me hold him on my lap on the flights after he turned 2. After he screamed for about 10 minutes, they finally let me hold him and all was well.

So, to close, travel is fun and hard and takes every level of creativity you have at the same time… pretty much like all the other parts of parenting. Lol!

The first leg of the trip: Columbus to Cochabamba.

Here’s the break-down:

Columbus to Fort Lauderdale

2 hour lay-over

Fort Lauderdale to Santa Cruz, with 2 hour layover in Bogota. (You know we took advantage of that layover and saw family!)

After a yummy lunch/dinner, it was off for our last flight of the day to Santa Cruz. We got in late, but our dear friends picked us up and took us to their house. Because there were no flights to Cochabamba on Wednesday, we were able to spend over 24 hours in the heat and humidity, with our dear friends, Heber, Karen and Isa.

We talked a LOT about church and ministry, what it’s like to minister with your kids, what Latino ministry is like, how their ministry is doing, and songwriting! We talked for hours while the kids played, hugged, sang, ate, and laughed with each other. Isa and Elias are BUDDIES!

Leo even got to spend a few hours with Heber at the La Viña Santa Cruz recording some of Heber’s songs.

While the guys did their thing, the moms and kids went to the mall to get their nails done. I LOVE pedicures that only cost $5! The nail salon was so clean, and the women were mostly Venezuelan, super proud of their work.

That evening, we flew to Cochabamba. We got in at night, and as soon as we arrived to our house, I was totally at peace. We had a whole floor of a house to ourselves! Bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom… all of it. All to ourselves! When the pastors built their house, they dedicated the 3rd floor to house visiting teams and pastors. You can just sense the peace in that place!

And, in our bedroom, we found 2 beds (of which we ended up only using one for the entire 3 weeks. Little man just refused to sleep on his own… lol!).

But the best part? The pastors had found all these precious stuffed animals. Elias always slept with a bear, elephant and a big puppy, but we had to leave those at home. And what did we find sitting on the twin bed (that he should’ve slept in)? A bear, elephant and a puppy. As well as an entire laundry basket FILLED with other little stuffed animals. Elias ran from the room to the table where we were sitting, thrilled to show us all the animals he found.

I could tell the pastors were relieved to see that he was happy. I know they truly set out to bless us, and even in the smallest details, we all felt taken care of by our Father.

We went to bed at peace about spending the next 3 weeks with this beautiful family, and couldn’t wait to see the church the next day.

5 reasons volunteering, even as a toddler mom, is WORTH IT.

For the last 20 years of my life, I have either been on paid staff, a guest worship leader or speaker, or a key volunteer at a church.

I love The Church. I love serving her, watching even the youngest ones using their gifts to edify Her.

And yes, I know that WE are The Church. It isn’t contained within 4 walls of a building. I get that and believe it with all my heart.

But, there is a pep-rally of sorts that happens, usually on the weekends, when we all choose to come together from our different neighborhoods and corners of our sub-cultures and raise a unique sound that will never be lifted again. We choose to join our hearts and minds together to celebrate, learn, commune and meditate on the person of Jesus. We see Him at work in each other, we see Him in the faces of the other, and we hopefully walk away better and more open to the voice of the Holy Spirit during the week.

Now, my niche in the world of “professional Christians”- those of us who are actually paid by our specific churches- has always been with worship, and teaching children and youth. It is a blast!!! I would ALWAYS say that I had the best job ever!

If you know me in real life, you know that it is my passion to raise up youth and children to know and love Jesus and follow Him. I especially love training them to use their gifts to teach others about Him!

When I had Elias last year, I honestly thought that I would be able to continue working at church. However, at the 6 week mark, when I was done with taking time off, I knew it wouldn’t work.

For starters, I only worked at the church for 20 hours a week, with most of those being weekend hours. I didn’t get maternity leave. I was still not making the amount of money hourly that would actually contribute to our household. And, my husband was also working for the church, so weekends were tricky when we were both pulled in opposite directions. There was also no opportunity for my position at the church to grow… so it was a pretty easy decision (on paper) to step down.

But the reality? When I knew it was my calling? Wow. So hard!

I stayed on as a volunteer on Saturday nights, which was still hard because Elias wouldn’t go to anybody. My husband would run sound most Saturday nights, so as I was in the children’s area rehearsing with my team, he was in the sanctuary and unable to help. Elias was so little, and the noise was too loud during rehearsals. I would try to take him to the nursery but he would SCREAM until he would fall asleep. It broke my heart. There were actually a few times when I “wore” Elias on my back and put his little headphones on so I could lead worship and he could be with me. He loved that!

I was always drenched by the end.

It was exhausting.

I started getting anxious as I would drive to church on Saturday nights. How would he act? Would he be ok? Would he be willing to go to anyone, or would I have to wear him?

During those few months, a few different people stepped in. One staff member would just wear him as she walked around completing her duties at the Saturday service. Another mom he knew would just take him to the nursery and sit with him so he wasn’t with strangers. I was so grateful!

However, with wanting to be at church together on Sunday, it became less and less practical to come both Saturday night and Sunday. So, I stepped down from leading kids worship right around when Elias turned a year old.

We would come with Leo on Sundays, help lead worship, and enjoy being together in one service.

And, again… people stepped in to help. We have such an amazing community!

There was a switch that happened for Elias when he started to walk at around 13 months. He was ok with not being held all the time. He was more ok going to other people.

So, here are my reasons I love volunteering, even with my toddler:

1) Church is literally his favorite place to be. Whether or not I’m leading worship with Leo, Elias walks all the way up to the front during worship, and he lifts his hands, claps and sings along.

When Elias wants to keep moving and not sit still, literally at any point, he can walk down the halls and hear worship. He has been known to walk into the 5th grade room, into the 1st-4th grade room, and even up to the screens projecting the service in our church cafe.

2) Elias loves being around other kids! He knows he is a part of a huge community, and he LOVES being a part of the different music classes I’ve taught. And the kids love him!!! They are so patient and kind. One of the best parts is that our church is filled with people of all different nationalities, languages and races. So his best buddies don’t usually look like him!

3) It solidifies for me that it truly takes a village. I’ve always loved pouring into other people’s’ kids… but my heart absolutely melts watching other people pour into my son!

4) Elias gets to watch his parents love Jesus, teach the Word, lead worship and pray for others! Now, he is starting to join in, and we want him to!

5) Last but not least: being a volunteer means that I can pick and choose the opportunities that fit best for our family. When I was on staff, I was the one who had to pick up the slack when volunteers weren’t able to show up. But now I get to choose. And I am grateful for the opportunity to choose things that fit us the best.

I am so grateful to be able to walk this amazing journey, and to now be able to serve as a family is beyond words.

The flexible nap schedule, the (sometimes) over-stimulation, the poopy diapers that need to be changed at not-so-convenient times… it’s all worth it!

I am the hot mess mom

We have had a crazy week. One of those weeks that I would totally judge my mom-friends for when I would hear them complain. I would think to myself “at least you can HAVE that kind of week”.

Infertility made me judgmental and jealous when I would hear how hard being a mom is.

And I catch myself all the time when I am tempted to complain.

This gift of being a mom is hard, and I am so grateful! I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not even for the chance to take a shower by myself. Lol!

This picture was taken at 9:45 pm last night. Inside a Wendy’s. As my soon-to-be 15 month-old was having his first experience of dipping fries in ketchup, and then subsequently going to town on the little plastic container to get every last bit of ketchup onto his hands, in his hair, on his shirt and possibly some in his mouth.

His wonderful silicon bib became the placemat because I haven’t gotten his nice little silicon placemat back in the diaper bag since we left it at a friend’s house last week and they mailed it back to us. It still sits in the package on the counter.

I told a friend the other day that our “schedule” is a little different that most… we are all in bed by 10:30, and that we are usually up by 10 at the latest. She looked shocked, and said “well, that’s great if that’s what works for you”. Lol.

A few years ago, a buzzfeed video came out, showing different kinds of moms. The PTA Mom who had it all together, the parenting expert Mom who had read all the articles about all the things, the crunchy Mom who was still nursing her 3rd grader, the hipster Mom who was raising her child with a typewriter and vinyl records….

…and then the hot-mess Mom ran into the scene with her pj’s on, and a stain on her shirt that could’ve been poop or chocolate.

Even though I didn’t know if we would ever have kids, I knew at that moment that I was going to be the hot mess mom.

Elias takes at least one nap a day in the car as we drive home from somewhere, and most days I just chill out in the Cheerio, library book, empty Kombucha-bottle, dirty clothes, toy-filled car while its running and try to decide if it’s worth getting him out or contributing to global warming while having the car run for a few hours (because as soon as it shuts off, the nap is OVER…).

I’m grateful that Leo and I both mostly work from home, but we don’t have any kind of schedule. We sleep at crazy hours, have clients and students coming in anywhere from 9am to midnight.

And 15 months into this, we aren’t much better at communicating our schedules.

Last week?

Total hot-mess family week.

We took off 2 days to drive out to Fort Wayne to spend time with friends. We left Thursday morning with plans of taking our time and getting back Saturday afternoon.

Well, my brother and his family had to evacuate because of Hurricane Florence, and they were only going to be in town to see us on Saturday… so we squished all of our plans to see friends into 2 days instead of 3, and got home at midnight Friday night (luckily, Elias is used to sleeping in the car, and he slept the entire 2 1/2 hour ride home!).

Saturday, we spent a good chunk of time with family at my parents farm, but now that Elias can get into EVERY GOD-BLESSED thing, it was more like chasing him around, making sure he wasn’t getting into all the things he could. Somehow, we didn’t watch closely enough (big shocker), and he hid he remote.

That night, we led worship at a Spanish-speaking church with our band. The event started at 8pm, and we led worship from 8:30-9:30 pm. I couldn’t find a babysitter, so I was wearing Elias the whole time. He was trying to grab the mic from me while I was bouncing around singing to keep him distracted and happy.

I was drenched by the end of it.

The next day was Sunday, AKA: “chase Elias around the church and keep him from going on the stage while Papa is leading worship” day.

I have no idea who thought up the idea of an 11:30 church service, but they don’t have babies. I’m convinced.

He gets so crabby, and I can’t even think about taking him to the nursery because he just screams when either one of us leaves him with strangers. So, that day, just because I was so tired of chasing him around, we went to hang out in the nursery.

Side note: there needs to be a “toddler room” right next to the “cry room” where parents can watch the sermon and let their toddlers play in a semi-confined space.

Then, Sunday night, some dear friends had their last concert in Columbus before moving to Texas. Leo went early because he was running sound, and Elias and I got there right at 7:30. We were there until 10:30pm. Elias fell asleep in the car before we even pulled out of the driveway of church.

The rest of the week was filled with friends coming in from out of town, 2 more gigs, on top of a normally pretty crazy schedule. One night, we were even up until 1:30!

There are days I look at us and am so grateful that we are old 1st-time parents. We have seen so many of our friends learn the hard way that this parenting journey is one of Grace. Their best-laid plans sometimes fail, and the best toys aren’t the ones that cost the most money, but usually the boxes that the toys come in.

We treasure each moment, and try to be as present as possible as we navigate schedules and obligations.

But other days? I feel my age. I am exhausted and frustrated with myself that I can’t have it all together.

As my little man’s personality and desire for independence grows, I am trying to guide him into making the right decisions for himself… letting him fall a little, letting him eat that random piece of breakfast off the floor that the dogs obviously weren’t interested in when he “shared” it with them.

And I’m trying to just keep everything in perspective. It’s ok if the dishes get done once a week. It’s ok to wear the same clothes a few days in a row. It’s ok to put Elias in whatever clothes are clean, regardless if they match.

At the end of the day, God gave us the gift of parenting Elias’ precious soul. He knows who we are. We have already changed so much in this whole process, but one thing will remain the same: we will always be “in it” together. Whether that’s traveling, serving, helping friends, leading worship, eating, cleaning, playing…

We are doing this “hot-mess” life together.

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?

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!

Miracle Morales

Between Leo’s accident, a rough pregnancy, and the exhaustion of the first year of being parents, I feel like I’ve lost the last 2 years of my life.  Lol! I also realized that I hadn’t written out the story of our miracle.

It’s long, but worth the read!  Even as I’m typing this out, it isn’t lost on me that some of the characters in this story were people God used to bring other seasons of my life full-circle in HIS story of redemption.

For those of you who have known us for a while, you know that I had quite a few years when I struggled with my health.  As soon as we were married, we took the “we’ll trust God” approach with growing our family, and didn’t really use any measures to prevent it from happening.

After a while, we knew something was wrong.

After finally seeing a fertility specialist here once we go to the States, we got some heartbreaking news:  I probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant.  He said “we could pump you full of hormones and try, but if I were you, I’d think about just saving my money.”  We were determined to do something, but the day I went in for another check-up, the doctor found yet another cyst on my ovaries and said that there was nothing he could do.

That was in 2014, right around when we got Canela.

Our marriage had been through some hard times before, but nothing like that year.  I felt so guilty, so ashamed, so sorry that Leo had married me.  I knew he would be an amazing dad, and I felt like I was holding him back from something he was made to do.

We had to take an honest look at each other and ask 

“Am I enough for you?”

“Are we enough for each other?”

“If it is just the two of us for the rest of our lives, will we be ok?”

We had to die to the idea of being parents. 

Sidenote: Yes, adoption is an option for most couples, but this is before Leo was able to become a citizen, and we knew we weren’t in the place to even try to adopt or foster. 

Fast forward 2 years to the accident.  Leo had taken a brave step to quit his job so he could focus on his ministry and music full-time, and 2 days later falls and shatters his elbow.

Our dog was about to have puppies.

It was crazy!

As people were coming over to our house to pray for Leo’s healing, a few of them bluntly said

“I feel like Jesus not only wants to heal Leo, but wants to heal you, too”. 

Not just one person… but a few!

*I have had MANY people pray for me over the years… hands on my belly, crying out to Jesus kinds of prayers… “seeing- us-with-a-crib” kind of prayers… and I had honestly not really put any stock in prayers for a baby for a LONG time… but this time was different.

Leo’s mom had come to visit and celebrate Leo’s citizenship ceremony with us, and in the stress of it all, I went off the rails with my diet.  (I had completely changed my eating habits after the news of our infertility to try to help keep my hormones balanced).  I had another bout with a cyst and anemia that about took me down for a while.  The worst days of bleeding, I was in a dear friend’s wedding, or else I would’ve gone to the hospital.

It didn’t feel like God had heard any of the prayers that I was finally willing to let others pray.

In desperation, I found a Groupon for acupuncture.  I was willing to try anything to get my hormones and cycle back on track. And, just as God would have it, the precious acupuncturist is a Chinese Christian who goes to Vineyard!  She spoke life over my body, almost prophesying as I laid there on her table for 6 sessions over the few weeks.  My period finally stopped.  I was so grateful!

I had also made an appointment at my OB’s office to see if they could figure out what was going on.  I remember going in, and having the ultrasound tech look at everything.  I hadn’t seen my ovaries since the fertility doc, and all I remember then was seeing the cyst.  This time was different, however.  This time, instead of cysts, my ovaries were full of follicles.  I mean, I had never seen that with all the different ultrasounds over the years!  The tech said

“I don’t know… everything looks perfectly healthy and normal.” 

I laughed.  I had never heard that before!

In that moment, I felt the Lord say “Get ready!”. 

The following week, we were having a worship and healing night at our church.  I always stand towards the back of the sanctuary, just hanging back and watching what Jesus is doing.  Leo was running sound that night, so I just sat in my own little section of chairs on the main floor in the back.

I remember seeing a precious Indian family up in the next section.  During the ministry time, I walked over and offered to pray for them.  They were grateful, and Jesus really moved!  After I was done, the woman looked at me and said

“While we were worshipping, I saw you in the corner.  The Lord told me that you were going to come pray for me, and that I need to pray for you to have a baby.”

Uh… what?!  Ok.

She went on to say “Do you mind if I pray for you in my native language?”

She poured out her heart to God on my behalf for what seemed like 30 minutes.  It was beautiful.  I felt something break off of me, and there was so much peace!

2 days later we left for Colombia for a month.

We got back from our vacation, and while Leo was leading worship at church, I was home.  I decided to take a pregnancy test, since I hadn’t had my period since the bleeding episode almost 2 months before.

It was positive.

I can’t tell you how many tests I’ve taken.

This was the first one that was ever positive.

I was sitting in the bathroom, shaking.  I doubted the test.  I took another one.  Positive.  I thought that maybe it was just that brand, so I took another one that used words instead of symbols.

“Pregnant”

I cried.  I debated calling my best friend, but decided that I should wait to tell Leo first.

But how?

On one of our more hopeful trips to Colombia, we had purchased a baby-sized Colombian soccer jersey.  We kept it out until I couldn’t look at it anymore, and I buried it in a dresser drawer.

It took a while to remember, but I found the little jersey, and wrapped the pregnancy tests up in it. 

When Leo got home, I presented it to him.

“What is this?” He asked?

“I think we’re going to have a baby!” I cried.

We laughed and cried all night!

The next day was Friday, and I called the OB’s office to schedule a blood test and another ultrasound.

They were able to get me in right away for the blood test, and confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant.

We saw my parents that weekend, for the first time since we had been back from Colombia.

My mom pulled me aside and asked

“Honey, were you in a place where you could foster or adopt any kids?”

“No, why?” I replied

“I had an incredible, tangible experience with the Lord, where I felt Him tell me that you were going to meet your child in Colombia.” 

Silence…
Because of all the pain we’d experienced, we didn’t really include our parents in any of our infertility journey… we didn’t want to cause them pain as well… and we had lost  previous pregnancies (that we found out about after the fact) that we also hadn’t included them in on, so I wasn’t really ready to share. 

So, I just kept sipping my water, and without looking at my mom said

“Nope, we weren’t doing any ministry with kids this time.”

She slowly replied “That is so weird.  It was such an intense experience, and I just prayed for you everyday you were there.”

“Huh”.

When we had the ultrasound that following week and heard the little heartbeat, we called both sets of parents to share the news and to ask for prayer.

I told my mom “We didn’t meet our baby in Colombia, but it looks like we made it there.”

Our little miracle baby was “made in Colombia” and due on the 4th of July.

Already showing his bi-cultural side!16177700_10158168584320215_2479383839146418530_o