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.

Our time in Bolivia

I’ve been sitting here, looking at those 4 words and wondering where to even start.

Do I start with the first time I met Pastor Remberto and his wife Esther 3 years ago? When they first asked us to come help them? Do I start with the trip down, and how exhausted we already felt (Leo had pulled an all-nighter the night before we left) and how relieved we were to finally get there?

I will start with something that happened this morning, in Ecuador, while I was taking a nature walk with Elias.

There are fruit trees everywhere here, and Elias has discovered the low-hanging, fruit-bearing branches. He is just now learning to say his colors, and I thought that by telling him that we CAN pick the ripe orange fruits, but we CANNOT pick the un-ripe green fruits, he would be ok.

He was not ok. He wanted to pick every single fruit he could reach. When the tree wasn’t giving up it’s unripe fruit very easily, he pulled harder and harder, with no luck. I tried to explain to him that it wouldn’t work, but he is a very determined toddler.

When he couldn’t pick them on his own, he got frustrated, came over to me, took my hand and asked “please!??” He got even more frustrated when I said “no, I’m not going to help you”.

He eventually got so mad that he got some kind of super toddler strength and plucked all 3 of the unripe oranges he could reach.

His tantrum was over and he was happy. Lol!

As I was watching all this unfold, I felt the Lord say “I make all things perfect in my time”.

The timing of our visit to Bolivia was absolutely perfect. For so many reasons.

At first I wasn’t thrilled about not being with family for Elias’ birthday, but as it turns out, celebrating his birthday in Bolivia opened up some much-needed doors between the pastors and a brand-new family to the church.

And, this year, the national conference just happened to be in Cochabamba, so we were not only able to serve at the conference, but help with the worship planning and practices leading up to it.

There were also some brand new musicians that had come to the church just 6 months before, who needed poured into by other musicians.

The timing of everything was perfect.

The church needed sound help. Badly. Leo was able to design exactly what they needed for sound absorption treatments and a volunteer from the church made the frames out of aluminum. I went with the pastor’s wife and the missionary to pick out the perfect color for the walls, and we spent a day at the church stuffing the foam into the frames, hot-gluing the fabric to it and hanging the treatments on the walls.

Then, it was fairly easy to hang the speakers and re-wire the system so that the singers could actually hear themselves over the instruments.

Our nightly worship practices produced a new song that Remberto was able to translate into Quechua! He has been asked more and more to go preach in the “campo”- mountain farms- and the majority of the people there speak Quechua. There isn’t a Vineyard present in those lands yet, but there is hope that even more songs can be written or translated so that the musicians can go with him on outreaches.

We were asked to help with harvesting some food out in the campo, and watching Remberto in that environment was inspiring. He was a whole different person. He was cracking jokes, captivating the farmers there. You could tell that he was truly speaking his heart language, and that the Lord has favor on his relationships on the farms.

Timing is everything on these kinds of trips, and we see God’s faithfulness in EVERY blessed detail.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wow! We took a look at our account and couldn’t believe it!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

To give, please click here: First Love International.

It’s been a month since we first announced the trip, and we couldn’t be more grateful for those of you who have chosen to partner with us!

Over this past month, we’ve been working hard on the different materials we will be using. One aspect we’ve been really focusing on is the devotions we will be leading with the church in Ecuador.

Here’s what Kim, the Co-Pastor there, wrote to us a few weeks ago:

As I am doing devotions this morning God has shown me a great truth about the worship in Pallatanga. AW Tozer points out that it’s one’s idea of WHO God is that drives how we worship. (Not a new thought, just one that clicked in my heart today). The people of Pallatanga have been taught that God is judging, punishing, damning God who hates sin. But they are only recently being taught that God is all loving, merciful and fully Good.

When they begin to understand who God really is, they will understand how to worship Him. Pray that Pallatanga will experience who God really is.

We are so excited to partner with these pastors and create space where the people of Pallatanga can experience the Father’s heart for them.

Forgiveness

Mercy

Unconditional love

Goodness

Grace

In Ecuador, our “plan” is to spend time with both the youth and the adults, teaching on different aspects of the Father’s heart, and then creating space to experience it.

We aren’t going with songs that are already written, but we are expecting the Lord to write new songs… melodies, chords and lyrics that come from a fresh experience with Him, grounded in the Word. Songs that will flow from our times together. Songs that will remind us of who He is when we’re tempted to doubt.

This will be new for the people of Pallatanga, as they haven’t really been able to connect the Lord through current worship music. The old style songs that were taught by missionaries of the past are sung out of tradition, but not with any meaning. And the majority of music that is available to them is either translated or seems copied after current styles that just don’t connect.

Our prayer is that the new songs will be birthed with THEIR melodies, chord structures and patterns… the words sing the way THEY would pour their hearts out to the Lord.

We will also be teaching piano and ukelele classes so that they have some kind of musical knowledge to continue writing after we leave.

Our last weekend with them, we will host a “worship on the square”, partnering with the Quito Vineyard. In addition to Leo and I and the Quito Vineyard leading some original songs, it will be beautiful for them to worship Jesus with their brand-new songs!

I know that our 3 weeks there will fly, but we are so excited to have this extended time with this brand-new church plant. We are praying that all of our moments are marked with the Father’s heart.

Praise:

Leo’s elbow surgery went better than we could’ve expected. We were expecting that the surgeon would have to scrape away scar tissue and clear the nerve that was causing Leo so much pain; but in reality, Leo had an anomaly of a weird muscle that was sitting on top of his Ulnar nerve. The surgeon simply cut the muscle and the nerve was no longer compressed. Leo immediately felt better than he has in years! We are so grateful!!!

I was looking up requirements for our (Elias and I) Bolivian visas and realized that I need to get my passport renewed (it expires in October) before I can apply for the visa. I am so grateful I figured that out now, while we still have time!

We are almost done with our bilingual worship album! 4 songs are done, 3 more to finish up!

Prayer:

We are meeting with some folk this week to plan out some fundraising events.

Quality time to work on the different materials we’re going to take with us: a family devotional, kid’s Bible reading devotional, and the songwriting journal.

Our church is sending a team to Ecuador about a month before we arrive. I know the pastors are so happy to have all the different voices joining with theirs in speaking the message of the Father’s heart. Please pray for their time together.

We are still looking for people to house sit/dog sit while we are gone.

Summer plans

We have been invited to partner with Vineyard churches in Bolivia and Ecuador for the summer. We are heading out mid-June, and will get back just in time for Leo to do a training weekend in Atlanta in mid-August. Whew!

Watch the following video for a little more info:

We are so excited!

But, like we said in the video, we need a LOT of help. We need $11,000 total for the whole trip. That includes plane tickets (Elias will only be able to fly free for the first portion), Visas for Elias and I for Bolivia, costs in-country, costs for supplies and materials, covering things here while we are gone, etc.

If you can donate, please give at First Love International.

Bolivia:

We will be training up leaders in Cochabamba. The first week, we’ll be doing worship and kids ministry workshops for the church there, and then the following weeks we will be helping with a conference for Bolivian La Viña pastors and leaders.

From there, we will head to Pallatanga, Ecuador. You can find out more about the ministry Here.

In Ecuador, we will be doing nightly classes about worship, creating space for them to really connect with the Lord and express their hearts back to him.

A trip like this also needs a LOT of prayer.

These next few weeks, please pray specifically for the following:

Space and time for us to get the training materials together.

Leo has another surgery on his arm coming up in a few weeks. Please pray for complete restoration.

Finding someone (or a few different folk) to dog sit/ house sit for us.

Time to finish our EP

Booking the space for the fundraising concert

Health (we’ve all been knocked down by a cold the last week).

Thanks so much for following along with us! 🙂

Here we go again!!!

Five years ago, Leo had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia with a team of folk from different Vineyard churches and do a week-long training on worship. He loved being able to use his gifts and pour into the pastors and worship leaders!

While there, we knew that some of the pastors would be coming to the States for the International conference the following summer, so I encouraged Leo to really listen to the Lord as to who he should invite to stay with us.

He invited the De la Cruz family… a family of 5 pastors from Lima, Peru.

The week they stayed with us was a blast! They would be up early for the conference, Leo and I helped run the all-day children’s ministry portion, and then we would all stay up late sharing our stories, testimonies and visions in ministry.

Around our kitchen table, the family invited us to go to Lima, spend a month, and teach their people a little more about what we were doing to train up kids in ministry. And we did! That following February, we flew to Lima for a month and stayed in their house. We had an incredible time together sharing life, training their kids and kid teams and helping with two camps.

We came away from that trip feeling like family!

So, it was a no-brainer when they asked us to come speak and help out at their regional conference in Colombia the following year (which also happened to be when we got pregnant!). I taught about kids ministry, Leo taught about being proud of his Latino heritage and how to reclaim indigenous worship. We both felt at home with these dear pastors who became friends.

We made promises to come to Bolivia as a couple for a few weeks and do similar things to what we did in Lima.

But my pregnancy was unexpected and rough… let alone trying to figure out how to be parents…

This past October, when Elias was 15 months old, we were invited to go to the same bi-annual regional conference, but this time in Ecuador. We had a blast! We spent a little over a week with our friends, reconnecting, and renewed our commitment to come visit.

We also met an incredible couple from Pallatanga, Ecuador who, in addition to running a camp and conference center, are planting a Vineyard church. And, while they are phenomenal pastors, neither of them are really musicians nor know how to help their people truly connect with the Lord through music.

The translated stuff just doesn’t cut it for their people, most of whom are indigenous.

We have experience helping different people groups, especially indigenous, find their voices and write worship music with their own melodies, chords, lyrics, etc.

We open up the Word, and create space for people to experience God. Worship always flows as a response to His presence. It’s incredible to watch it happen; to experience people connect to the Lord for the first time through song.

And we can’t wait to be a part of what the Lord is awakening in Bolivia and Ecuador this summer!

On finding your voice

This past year, I’ve ended my Wednesday night teaching schedule at the house of a fun young couple who inherited an incredible grand piano from a relative. They have the most beautiful space for it in their living room with 2-floor ceiling. There is a stunning chandelier that hangs from the ceiling above, and the husband even painted an incredible 10 ft x 8 ft abstract painting to hang on the wall beside it. He had to stretch the canvas himself and everything!

This couple is incredibly talented.

And, upon inheriting their piano, they decided to take lessons. The husband had taken lessons as a child, but nothing “stuck”, and the wife is a viola player.

Our first lesson, par for course, we went over the basics… where the notes are on the piano, where they are on the staff, and we had fun improvising (getting the fingers all moving!).

As the weeks went on, they grew incredibly in their abilities to where the husband could expertly play Moonlight Sonata, and the wife could play Vietnamese songs from her childhood with such skill!

But, one week the conversation changed from piano to voice. Both of them work in public speaking, and they thought that taking voice lessons would help them develop stamina and learn vocal health.

During the conversation, the wife shared that in elementary school, she had auditioned for the choir. The students were all scored based on how well they could sing, and she got the lowest points possible.

It scarred her so deeply that she decided to never sing again…. not in the shower, not in the car, not even humming. Never.

I can’t imagine that!

Now, when I start with a new student, I let them in on how I work: our lesson is a safe space to make mistakes, to try something new and hard, and to keep trying!

And, the truth I speak to my nervous voice students is this:

Everyone can sing, they just have to find the right song in the right key.

So many people compare themselves to singers on the radio (who, lets be honest… are processed and auto-tuned).

My goal is to help everyone find their voice, and to help them sing in a healthy way so that they can sing for their whole life.

So, I let my student in on all my thoughts, and we started with finding her range.

She could sing over an octave, all on pitch! For someone who has NEVER sung, I was super impressed with her!

Once we got the initial jitters out of the way, and with even more encouragement from her husband, she sang “You are my sunshine” perfectly.

It was so beautiful!

For Christmas? She is singing “Mary did you know”, and the sound that comes out of her is absolutely stunning. I get goosebumps every time!

I am just so blessed and honored to be a part of the story of this amazing woman finding her singing voice.

 

So, what about you?

Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something and you actually never tried again?

What would it feel like if you actually took a chance?