I Disappeared

We were almost home, after 4.5 months we were finally done.

I went through what was supposed to be my last week in Nicaragua. It felt like forever, but I felt like I did a good job being patient.

I went to the US embassy on Friday, not worried at all. We would do the visa interview, and three days later, they would issue the visa. I was done. I was so relieved.

Except.. they didn’t.

As the consular explained to me that they wanted extra documentation.. and that they would not issue the visa until we could produce it, there was no air in the room to breathe. And I disappeared.

I didn’t look at social media or email for days. I couldn’t, I’m sorry. I think I got to the point where I could only manage to focus on the world I’m currently in – perpetually in Nicaragua, not trying to juggle multiple lives and countries.

Yesterday I spoke with our agency in the US, and they helped me to understand what is happening. The US government is putting up a lot of obstacles to legal immigration right now, and making it very difficult for international embassies to approve visas. Even for a child who has been officially and legally adopted by a US citizen.

I have a lawyer and the Nicaraguan ministry of family working on our behalf right now, and David is contacting senators and congresspeople in the US.

Other than that, all we can do is wait. Again.

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Why we’re still not coming home yet.

I feel like I should share more about life here and why we are still not home yet. I think about writing blog entries and then I put it off because I spend 100% of my time here trying to distract myself from looming frustration and anxiety by focusing on working, physical therapy, spending time with new friends here, climbing volcanoes and stuff like that.

The reality is that when we got the call to come to Nicaragua to get our baby in December, I was told it was very likely I’d be home by the end of February. Now it’s mid-March and the end is still not in sight. A lot of people want to know why, so here’s the reason – The Ministry of Family here was working to expedite our case. Our baby has a disability and they wanted to get us home quickly. One of our last steps was to have a court date. Just before the ministry gave us their official approval, the judge that handles adoption cases quickly (within a week or so) was moved, and we had to go through the general family court. There are only 12 judges that handle family-related cases for the whole country, so we essentially had to step into a long line of cases. For weeks I’ve been told “you’ll get your court date assigned next week,” only to wait by my phone all week, and it doesn’t happen. Week after week.

We didn’t foresee this happening, but it’s the reality we are in right now.

It’s not all bad, there are quite a few really nice aspects about being here; if we have to be stuck here for the time-being, we’re in a really good situation! I’m staying in a house with three other people that have been really good friends to us. I have a lot of fun spending time with them, and even get to go to church with them… I have pretty consistent internet access, and I am able to continue doing most of my work remotely. I have also had time to scope out potential opportunities for UTST to operate in partnership here in the future, if we were to choose to do so. We’re in a beautiful country with a language and culture I love and am familiar with, there are beaches and lakes and volcanoes… and really good smoothies. Valley is extremely flexible and easy-going; I can hike volcanoes, kayak lakes, jump in ocean waves, walk for miles, ride hours in crowded busses, all with her as happy and content as can be. My mom, dad, and brother have all been able to visit and help distract me, so that’s been really nice.

The down-side: I can’t accomplish all of the work that I need to from here. I struggle with guilt that I can’t make everything happen for UTST right now, and fear that funding and progress will fall behind what we need for the coming year. I miss everyone at home. I haven’t seen David in two months.. we never expected to be apart this long. This aspect has been the hardest of all. But compared to all of the time that we have had and will have together, it’s a relatively short amount of time. It’s still hard. Our relationship is remarkably strong.. in my opinion. Valley is making so much progress, but I am very anxious to have her evaluated in the US and started in consistent physical therapy. I still don’t even know how much she weighs.

I probably won’t be back by the end of March, even though for a while I was so sure that we would be.

So, that’s my best update for you. Now, I need to get back to keeping my mind completely distracted from all of these things. We’re going to get through this, smiling. And I’ll keep looking at this baby girl and telling her how much she is worth it.

Thank you all so much, once again, for all of your notes of encouragement and your prayers.

Life with Valley

This is our 8th week together in Nicaragua. It’s just been me and Valley here for almost half of it. She’s curious and exploring, playful and wild, but also easy-going and patient. I’m still able to get a lot done for UTST, even while chasing the little explorer (who, with her lack of walking, has managed to become a very fast crawler). It’s easy to go out with her (except for the fact that I have to manage to carry baby and all of our supplies, jumping from taxi to street to bus), so we visit new places and see new things. I’m thankful, because if you know me – I have trouble staying at home for too long.

I’m so very, very encouraged by all of the many notes and messages I receive on a daily basis from everyone back home. Thank you all so much for continuously keeping us in your thoughts and prayers, it keeps me feeling connected with you all.

Many of you ask how much longer we will be here, and what needs we have. I’m hoping we have less than a month left! Things tend to be quite unpredictable, however, so I can’t say that for sure.

As for our needs – honestly, the biggest need that we have is funding. Agency fees and lawyer fees are expensive, I have to pay on top of our rent at home to stay here, we’re paying off plane tickets, and we will be facing an unknown amount of medical bills when we get home and have Valley’s condition evaluated and treated by specialists in the US. We need funds. The most sustainable way to support us financially is to support my position as director of UTST. It takes so much work for me to try to fund my own salary, and becoming a supporter takes a huge burden off of our shoulders. You can do that here. We also have a fundraising page for adoption expenses, which is located here.

In terms of supplies, we have wonderful friends collecting diapers (size 2 and 3) and gift cards. We have very little cold weather clothes (if we manage to get back while it’s still cold out) – she’s currently wearing 12 months size clothes.

Thanks so much for all of the love and support, friends!

Something Unexpected

I imagined blogging and instagramming our way through our adoption process – that’s not what happened. We have had little to share because up until this point, everything has been up in the air and uncertain. And now, within one whirlwind week, everything went fast forward. Many of you reading this may not even know we aren’t in the US right now (I know, I’m sorry, things got really crazy really fast and we had to just go for it).

Here’s the quick story-

A while ago, we submitted an inquiry about a waiting child in Nicaragua with Spina Bifida. I had inquired about waiting children a few other times, and they were usually already matched or unavailable.this time though, they said they were having a hard time finding a match for this child because of her disability and the requirement to stay 12 weeks with her in her country – Nicaragua. They asked us to send in our paperwork to see if we could get approval. We did, and didn’t expect to hear back for a long time. We started slowly learning about Spina Bifida and what the possibilities could be. Spina Bifida is when the baby’s backbone and spinal cord doesn’t fully close in utero, and nerves are exposed during the birthing process. This can cause nerve damage from the waist down, including full waist down paralysis. Most babies with spina bifida also have hydrocephalus and have shunts installed- which involves the brain and is also a little scary. Spina Bifida is considered a “snowflake condition,” in which each individual with the condition is affected differently. We had to take all this in, knowing very little specific information about her, and decide whether or not we could handle the full range of possibilities. We decided to go for it.

Here’s how our last week went:

Monday, we heard that our paperwork had been approved and we could be traveling to Nicaragua early in the new year. We started setting up livig arrangements with a host family.

Tuesday night, we heard that they wanted to expedite her process. We needed to be in Nicaragua on Thursday, before their offices closed for Christmas. We booked really expensive tickets and had 24 hours to prepare.

Thursday at 4 AM, we were at the airport, feeling slightly crazy.

Friday at 8 AM, we went to meet the baby.

Saturday (yesterday) was our first full day with her – we have to foster her for 12 weeks before they will finalize our process and give us a court date to come back home.

Her name is Valeria (rhymes with malaria), and we’re calling her Valley, she’s 18 months old, she has motion in her legs and feet, but we probably won’t know fully what kind of nerve damage she has until we see specialists in St. Louis. She is crawling and can stand with assistance. She is also the sweetest and cutest. I’m not allowed to post photos or any identifying information until we get home.

I am going to be working remotely, managing UTST from here, and David will have to return home for work within a few weeks.

I would have posted this sooner but my computer cord broke as soon as I got here.

warning: politics inside

I’ve struggled with a dilemma in my mind, recently, amid the ocean of political debate happening on social media. I have seen about 20 articles or posts per day that I strongly agree with, and I want to share them all. I don’t. I start to post things, and then I don’t. I want to stay out of political debates, especially on social media. I, just like everyone else, really wish I could change the minds of those I disagree with by participating in social media banter. But I know that’s not likely. There are millions of people out there sharing a lot of words; what makes my words any different?

I’ve been having a dilemma in my mind recently. I can’t stand the political debates taking place right now on social media, in which people feel like they can say anything to the great cyber world, and not really changing anyone’s minds about anything.. just losing friends and respect and all of the above. At the same time, I really believe it’s not ok to not stay silent about things that matter. I admire bold posts by my friends speaking out with fierce and open hearts. I’m thankful for them.

So, unlike certain political candidates right now, I don’t want to be loud-mouthed. I won’t force my thoughts or opinions or ANYTHING on anyone. Because I respect you. So I figure, if you’ve made it this far, you might actually be interested in hearing my thoughts.

It is astounding to me how many of the issues being pulled back and forth in the name of politics are directly about women. Whether it’s the refugee issue – because an astonishingly high proportion of refugees being granted asylum are moms with kids – or the pro life/pro choice issue, the list goes on.

I got a degree in sociology first, then one in global political science. Why? Because I love the way in which looking at issues through a sociological lens can inform the political debate. Sociology looks at groups of people and ask why things are the way they are. This provides a much more holistic, well-rounded, and colorful approach to political issues, which are often presented in black and white. It has been my practice, with any issue I have studied or worked with, to look for ways in which the issue can be prevented in the first place.

Unfortunately, I hate debating. So all you’re going to get from me in this internal dialogue that I’m throwing out here in my little sliver of the internet. First off – I am not saying here that abortion should be made legal. I am challenging us all to look deeper in this issue. To look for solutions that do not depend on political candidates.

Let’s dream a little here. Let’s picture a world where we all unanimously agree that it’s never ok for anyone at all to make degrading remarks about women -at all. Where remarks alluding to assault on anyone at all would never be attempted to be justified. Where celebrities or politicians would never make these remarks because, rather than feeding their ego, would be so socially unacceptable that they would lose public and/or personal legitimacy.

Could it be said that the candidate who made/makes these remarks clearly thinks and speaks about women in a manner that perpetuates a cultural environment in which women are pressured to act and look and dress and “perform” in such a way that leads to unwanted pregnancies?

Let’s imagine world in which abortions became very uncommon, not because of politics and issues of legality or illegality, but because women were not pressured into unwanted physical situations, or because they had easy access to reproductive and family planning options, or felt confidant that they would have the resources to raise their baby well, such as paid leave and affordable childcare. Where young women in poverty don’t feel like they have to be in relationships that lead to pregnancies for economic support just to survive, where vulnerable women in poverty -affected communities are empowered to pursue a future where they are able to simultaneously build a successful career and family, if they so desire.

I think that most people would agree that, while potentially unrealistic, this would be great. But if it’s what we want to see, isn’t that what we should be working towards? More than policy, however, it would require a degree of cultural change. And cultural change is much more difficult than shifts in political policy… but legality and illegality in a myriad of issues will never solve the problem unless you look for the cause of the problem and ask how it can be resolved.

So, I’m not trying to change anyone’s political opinions, I know that internet rants are a really terrible and ineffective way to try to do that.

I have a lot of thoughts on a lot of other issues as well, I just needed to get this out of my head and into words.

Please remember your right to vote third party or to write in your vote. This election will be one in which third party votes hold a lot of power. Don’t vote for Trump just because you hate Clinton. Likewise, don’t vote for Clinton just because you hate Trump. (Note that I am not saying who I will vote for; I feel like that would be divisive). Let’s go about politics with intelligence and solidarity.

Four Ways We Need to Shift our Perspectives on Missions Trips and Global Volunteering

I work for an organization that is actively preventing poverty-related vulnerabilities through holistic local partnerships and empowerment. We’re preventing kids from being orphaned. We’re preventing people from becoming homeless. We’re preventing women from being pulled down paths towards human trafficking and exploitation, and it’s working. It’s small and tiny but it is working.

Questions I battle every day: Do I post more or less photos of myself with those I work with in other countries? Do I run out of the room every time I feel like I’m being credited for work that certainly doesn’t involve just me? Do I share tough but valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years?

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to write out some perspectives I’ve developed about non-profit work, missions, service, and the role of Americans in global development. Years ago, I began with perspectives on these things that were defined by a massive American social media revolution that enabled us to witness hardships around the world straight from our screens, paired with the message that we could make a difference. I was enlightened. I was empowered. I dove straight in, and have emerged years later with perspectives that have been re-shaped by genuine, trusting relationships with some of those whose lives we were promised to have impacted by buying a cool t-shirt, or whatever. American culture promised me I could be a hero, and that was totally inspiring. It was also a lie that is hurtful to the heroic people in other countries with whom I work, and I was thankfully quick to run far, far away from it.

My message here is to those whose hearts are coming alive upon learning about the realities of the world. Those young people who want to say no to selfishness and the status quo; who want to follow a calling, and are trying to figure out what that looks like. There are a lot of options that will compete for your attention, time, and money, and I want to help you navigate that by sharing some lessons I’ve learned. After all, what good are lessons if I don’t share them?

Know, even as I post this, that I actively encourage people to come to East Africa with me. All the time. At the end of my post, you’ll find out why.

1. Don’t confuse social media with real impact
Social media is a gift and a curse; I think most of us know that by now. We’ve heard of the psychological damage we’ve inflicted upon ourselves by staring at all the insta-stuff and comparing our ho-hum with someone else’s highlight reel. It happens to the best of us. Social media enables us to communicate in some really good ways; social media does not always reflect reality. Volunteerism and service reflected in social media posts also presents a complex reality; I won’t go too deep here except to say that a photo of something that looks impactful may or may not have had an impact in reality. 
(I work in communities who feel very exploited by Americans with cameras; they tell me that they have seen volunteer groups come in with cameras, play with their kids, say that they’re going to use the photos to raise money, and they never see them again. It’s damaged the trust of those I work with. Keep that in the back of your mind when you see photos of good-hearted people on missions trips on your Instagram feed.)
2. Don’t confuse adventure with sacrificial mission
You want, need, crave adventure. You see the social media posts of friends who have been able to explore parts of the world, volunteering as they went, and you can’t miss the chance of doing something like that with your life. Sleeping in sleeping bags, riding across beautiful scenery on a bus, carrying all your belongings on your back – wow. That’s an adventure you just can’t pass up.
I want to first tell you that the fact that you even have the opportunity to sleep on the ground and eat rice for three meals a day in lands far away from your home is a sign of a remarkable amount of privilege, and not necessarily a sacrifice. IF you’re feeling drawn to global volunteer work or missions trips only because of the draw of adventure, just go take a trip to a National Park or sign up for a rainforest trek or safari that will help build the local economy of another country. (Side note – I have a HUGE love of National Parks, and have hiked about 20 of them across the continental United States so far. Seriously, they’re some of the best adventures).
Why am I saying this? Because of point number 2:
3. Don’t confuse adventure with sacrificial mission because real sacrifice is HARD!
Like, real tears, real sleepless nights for years, real empty bank account, real being-told-no-by-potential-supporters-every-day hard.
Yeah, there might be a handful of glorious, fulfilling moments scattered around in there, but the vast majority of your work involves fighting a really tiring uphill battle. When I tell people I spent like two years without really sleeping on an actual bed, it sounds inspiring, but it was actually really annoying. And that was really the least frustrating thing. See, when we’re working for the Kingdom, it’s something that runs contrary to every single system of this world, and you start feeling like you’re running a never-ending race. That’s what it is. But it’s worth it. And Jesus never said it would be easy, so there’s that. 
I’ve seen an interesting phenomenon unfolding in the lives some American young people in the last few years. They take a year off school, raise a LOT of money, and spend a year hopping to different volunteer projects around the world. I think this is interesting. It can’t be easy. It shows a willingness to make big sacrifices, at least for a year. Young Americans: Keep doing this – I think you’re learning some important things. But as you do, think about whether it’s something you’re willing to do for the rest of your life. If it’s not, maybe you should reconsider. Think about whether you will be able to maintain the relationships with the people you meet around the world for the long-term, and what kind of real impact your big investment is making. If you can’t come up with strong answers, maybe you should reconsider.
Because if it’s not just for the adventure, and you are willing to learn, and your desire is to make the biggest impact possible, I want to dare you to do this a different way.
4. Look for long-term opportunities
You want to learn about the world and serve so badly. You don’t think you can commit to living in another country for the rest of your life. Is going somewhere short-term a bad thing?
Sometimes, but not always.
I want to dare you to do this, but do it differently from how most sending agencies out there are asking you to. Instead of visiting a bunch of different countries, visit one. Instead of meeting so many faces along the way that you lose track, just find one. One country, one face, long-term. It could be Florence in Uganda, it could be Neema in Kenya. Walk alongside her for the rest of your life. Come alongside a single mom at risk of giving up her children to an orphanage due to extreme poverty. Help tell her story. Enable her to be enrolled in a program that empowers her economically, preventing her from becoming a victim to poverty-related vulnerabilities. Visit her. Watch her children grow. Learn from her. Go to church with her. Hear her heart. Make her a part of your family. Let her make you a part of her family.
Don’t do it for a week or a year; do it with your life.
Do it with your life.
Under the Same Tree is a non-profit organization that exists to partner with local initiatives in communities faced with the effects of extreme poverty around the world, working to equip these communities to prevent key poverty related vulnerabilities through economic empowerment. 

What does this mean? We’re preventing kids from being orphaned, and keeping families together, thriving. We’re preventing vulnerable youth from becoming homeless. We’re preventing women from being pulled down paths of human trafficking and exploitation. It’s working, and you can enable this to happen in the life of one more person.
Do it with your life.

You’re not broken: thoughts on introvertedness

It’s blog catch-up time! I have all kinds of life-lessons spinning through my head, and this is the place to share them. I have about six posts coming up all falling under the theme of “Things Learned in my Early 20s.” – 1. You’re not broken 2. If you want to impact the world, then…. 3. Relationships 4. My 20s and the Great American Roadtrip 5. Hope and Fear.

What a time to be alive.

Here’s the first one: You’re not broken.

I am somewhere in between an introvert and an extrovert. I’ve spent all my life wearing the label “introvert” like a punishment. I once took a stupid buzzfeed quiz titled “Are You More Extrovert or Introvert?” and it told me my personality falls right in the middle. Tears came to my eyes and I took it like a crown. So, ever since then I have said that I’m somewhere in between (thanks, Buzzfeed). I like to call myself a listener. I really like conversations, but I’d rather listen more than talk. And I honestly think that the world actually needs more listeners. Listeners are highly underrated. Introverts are highly underrated.

All this to say.. I’ve been learning lately about the value that having this type of personality brings to the world, and I think it’s worth sharing. I think it’s worth writing about because our society is so fickle. It ascribes all kinds of value to certain types of people, and says those kinds of people are the ones who should be listened to, seen, heard, all of the above. In our society, extroversion is valued above introversion. So, if you’re an introvert and you want to be heard, if you are trying to draw attention to a cause or idea, you have to work a lot harder and do things that terrify you. Like picking up a phone. Like trying to network in noisy rooms where people have to bend over to hear you (because of course you’re not only introverted, you’re under 5 feet tall. Whyyyyyy..).

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years challenging myself in areas where I know I need to grow, but also learning to recognize the value of the areas where I know I am strong. If you’re a listener, or you’re an extrovert who would like to learn more about us listeners, here’s a few notes from my brain:

1. If you’re a listener, you’re needed:
You’re likely making an incredible impact on your community and the lives of those you’re close to; you probably quietly practice your gifts and talents; you just don’t make social headlines too often. And you’re probably ok with that.

2. You can lead as a listener!:
That’s right – you can totally be a leader without having to pretend to be an extrovert (how exhausting does that sound?). If the picture of a big, charismatic personality as a leader makes you want to back into the shadows, that’s ok. I’ve actually become convinced that listeners can sometimes make the best leaders, and here’s why.

I’ve been able to lead a non-profit organization as a listener for the past three years. Now because of this, we seriously lack in marketing, publicity, and networking. BUT we’ve been able to build effective, sustainable, and locally led programs in East African communities that effectively prevent poverty related vulnerabilities through listening. My personality is such that I research, listen, learn, and fill my brain up a lot. As a result, my brain is stuffed with information about under-resourced communities, grassroots development, culture, and social issues. I haven’t been the one to build UTST’s programs though. When I begin building a relationship with a community, I spend a long time asking lots and lots of questions. I usually already have an idea of what the answers are, but I want to hear the people. I want the solutions that we work towards in their community to come from their own hearts and minds. Because they know what they want to see happen in their communities, but are rarely given the opportunity to be heard. Then, they lead out in planning and carrying out programs designed to empower. Now, we’re seeing that our partnerships are preventing children from being orphaned, preventing homelessness, preventing prostitution and exploitation, and preventing all of the trauma that goes along with these things. I’m overjoyed. I think that if I had not entered these communities as a listener, we’d not be seeing the type of true empowerment that is happening. Too many people enter communities and tell them what is going to happen, when the truth is that a leader cannot force grassroots community development and empowerment. That can only come from the people. Listeners give that power to the community.

Listeners are good leaders because it usually doesn’t come naturally for them. They have to choose it every day, and they have to practice. They are constantly evaluating themselves, and conscious of the effects they have on others, both positive and negative.

Lastly, as a listener who leads, you don’t have to force yourself to be everything and do everything. Like I said, my organization seriously lacks in publicity, marketing, and things like that because they are my weak areas. I have brilliant stories to share, stories of people who I am so very, very proud of, but I have no idea how to get our message out there. I’m scared of people making it all about me, when it isn’t, and so I hide a lot. That’s not fair to the people I work alongside. So, I’ve learned that I need to find people who excel at things like publicity, and let them do it for me.

3. Listeners have things to say!
Usually really well-thought out things to say. But maybe they won’t say them until they’re asked. If you’re a listener, you need to realize that you might never be asked to share your thoughts and/or opinions. If it matters enough to you, raise your hand and speak.

4. They have to work hard.
In a world that rewards extroverts and talkers, listeners have to work extra hard. Engaging in class discussions, making small talk at work, meeting new people, these are things that can be totally exhausting. (Or if you’re like me and fall somewhere in between, oddly mentally energizing and draining at the same time. Like running. Oh life.)

5. If you’re a listener, you’re not broken!
I cannot emphasize this enough. Society will make you feel like you’re not enough, like you cannot make as much of an impact as those outgoing people, that people don’t like you as much, the list goes on and on. Especially when you’re surrounded by outgoing people and feel like you have to sprint on your short legs to keep up. They’re all lies, friends. It’s simply not true. Do you have to work harder? Yes. Do you have to do things that terrify you every day? Yeah. Do them. Have patience with yourself. It’s ok.

6. If you’re a listener and ALSO are occasionally plagued by anxiety, give yourself grace:
It’s so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so hard. Give yourself grace. If it’s a day where everything makes you feel like you can’t breathe, give yourself grace. Focus on things you know you are good at. Find things that are healthy distractions and let yourself spend some time there. Sing! Singing fills your lungs and keeps you from breathing too fast. Sing really, really loudly.. it’s helpful for me. If you occasionally experience high-functioning anxiety, like me (in which your nervousness fills you with a terrible buzzing energy that you have to let out somehow), let yourself clean the whole house, let yourself run around the park. Go for it. The more you learn about how to help yourself, the better it will get.

7. If you’re a listener who hates being alone, find the people who love you.
It’s one of the symptoms of falling somewhere in between introversion and extroversion. I know introverts who could spend days completely alone and be happy about it. I panic about spending 30 minutes home alone. I like having down time with other people. Maybe it comes from growing up homeschooled and rarely being by myself, but also rarely actually being with other people (what a strange phenomenon). When David and I got married, we lived alone for like a year and I hated it. I never wanted to be home. Since then, we’ve been housemates with lots and lots of friends, over time, and I like it. Find your own balance.

8. Listeners enjoy extroverts (I think).
Extroverts – I love people like you. I love how you fill up conversations and blank spaces with words. I love how you give me something to listen to. I love being around extroverts – I really do! You’re not broken either, by the way.