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?

Infertility and the holidays

I am currently sitting in the car, with a load of groceries, waiting for my 16 month-old miracle baby to wake up.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in this very moment my heart is so full of joy and excitement, thinking about all of the amazing family time that is coming over the next few days.

I can’t wait to watch Elias eat all the food, shimmying his happy “yummy food” dance in his high chair. I can’t wait to watch him crack up at all his older boy cousins as they run around and play together.

I can’t wait to talk about all the mom things and toddler-life things, and hear stories from the matriarchs in our family.

It hasn’t always been this way, though.

After missing out on Thanksgiving for the 5 years I lived in Colombia, we were finally able to participate when we moved here 6 years ago. Right after my sister had her baby…. and my cousin was pregnant.

I felt like I had absolutely nothing to give to any conversation. I felt so out of place. Truly, most of Thanksgiving Day, I just avoided any conversation and hung out with the younger kids in the basement, hiding.

On top of culture shock, I was having anxiety about my place in the family, my value; and truly struggled to even be happy for how the family was growing. I found myself feeling jealous and bitter that it wasn’t happening for us.

When I voiced some hesitation and anxiety I was feeling to a family member, it was countered with “why can’t you just get outside of yourself and be happy!”

Yeah… not really helpful.

I know that I have friends who might be feeling anxious in these days as well. It might be for different reasons… maybe you aren’t happy in your job, in your marriage, or in your singleness… or maybe you’re just not feeling joyful and you can’t put your finger on “why”.

In my counseling sessions leading up to the holidays the following year, my counselor told me 2 things that helped me.

1) Find my “safe person”… someone I know loves me no matter what I bring to the table. Someone who either won’t ask me the hard questions, or someone who I feel comfortable talking about the hard things with.

2) Breathe in “I can do all things”…. breathe out “through Christ who gives me strength”.

As I breathed my way through one holiday after another, I realized that I was able to show up for my family members.

Instead of feeling shame and anxiety about what I was lacking, I was able to be a non-distracted listener. And, while family members shared their struggles, especially when it came to kids, I was able to stay calm.

(Don’t get me wrong… in my head I was still saying “at least you can have kids”… but I was able to keep that thought to myself and just keep listening.)

What I learned as I would ask questions and listen, is that ALL of us feel like we’re missing out on something… we all have pain from life not turning out as we thought it would… even those who seem like they have it all together.

So, if you’re dreading family time like I did for years, know that you’re not alone. You don’t need to give anything that you don’t have. It’s ok to just.show.up.

Breathe.

Listen.

Play.

I promise you will find joy in a tiny moment, if you’ll just have courage to look for it.

And, if you’re one of those annoying family members, (like we are this year) for whom things are all going pretty well, be the safe person for your struggling family members.

Listen.

Play.

Make inclusive, memorable moments.

Be the person that your struggling family members are grateful for.

On teaching adults…

For as long as I can remember, I have taught kids. Whether in Sunday school, or as an actual certified teacher… I’ve always been GREAT with kids!

I know how to help them get past their fears of failure of trying something new, how to celebrate that they actually DID it, how to push them just enough so they go farther than they thought they could…

I love working with kids!

But this past year there was a shift in my teaching schedule.

I started teaching more and more adults.

Whether it’s someone who was recommended by a mutual friend, someone who found me online and had “that feeling” that they should call me, to a dad of 3 of my students who wants to sing better so that he doesn’t embarrass his daughters… I’ve been teaching more adults this year than ever.

And when the first phone conversation happens, I can sense a dance between excitement and fear in their voices. I feel like they are expressing things to me, as a stranger, that they might not tell most people. They want to try something new, or get back to something that had given them life before, but are terrified of failure.

One couple even waited to tell their closest friends that they were taking piano lessons until a few months in, once they started really “getting it”. They were SO PROUD to tell their friends and their families of their new-found talent!

One of my first lessons with a new vocal student, she literally trembled almost the entire time. But by the end, her countenance had shifted, her shoulders relaxed, her breath became deeper and she finished her lesson knowing she could sing.

I cheered for her the same as I do for my younger students, and the biggest smile spread across her face.

She had faced her fear of trying something that she felt deep down she wanted to do. Each week when she comes, we peel the layers of stress and anxiety and get to the relaxed singer more and more quickly.

I look forward to her lessons and the breakthrough that comes each time.

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.