February 28, 2014

An Everyday View from Belize

There are a multitude of perks that come with life in Belize. 

Instant access to the ocean. 
Instant access to organic and farm fresh food. 
Instant access to an abundance of time starring at a “page loading” Internet screen.

When the Internet runs slowly…you begin to re-prioritize your life. You ask questions like, “Do I really care about this music video?” or “Is it worth it to look up what I missed on XYZ TV show last night?” Or, to be a little more honest, “Do I really need to be online shopping when I know I won’t buy these clothes?”

That’s what I am doing right now, for your information. H&M has my favorite basic t-shirts for such great prices…I can’t help but get a little click happy with the “add to cart” button. Yet…the World Wide Web seems convinced that I don’t need any more basic t-shirts…and I am forced to wait long periods of time between clicks.

As I sit here, drinking a cup of iced coffee, which is mostly milk and Bailey’s creamer, I am reevaluating the time I spend looking over useless things on the Internet. Since we’ve moved to Belize, I have spent much more time then usual planning what clothes to buy and sifting through online stores. This is partially out of preparation for our more permanent move to Belize, because in the almost seven weeks we have lived here I have realized that I need a few more choice items. However, I think that main reason why I have been trolling the Internet is for some sort of connection to “home”. As if, by seeing pictures of daily items from the States, I am somehow a part of their production. I don’t miss the traffic and the daily grind of consumerism…but I do miss the convenience and instant access to whatever your little heart may desire.

In Belize, the wants and the needs have been clarified just a little…to the point that even the needs have begun to seem less necessary.  I want what I don’t have, and I recognize this. I want to go buy a new pair of shorts, and it would be very easy to say that I “need” them in Belize, but really, I just want them. I want some hiking boots, but really, I know that my running shoes will work just fine. I have no opportunity to act on these wants and needs without serious deliberation and planning… which means that suddenly, I see myself for what I am: a habitual consumer.

This blog post isn’t here to trash consumerism or supermarkets or anything like that. It’s simply an insight into my own habits. Life in recent days has peeled back any sort of veil that I have used to trick myself into thinking that I am in “need” of anything. Rather, simplicity has become normal and it is beautiful.

I am learning just how easily I fall into the trap of the latest and brightest toys. And by toys, I mean shoes. Yet, that’s not the lifestyle I want to live. I want to shun the materialistic attitude and become accustomed to a lifestyle that doesn’t feel the need to measure up to anybody else. No one in Belize cares if you wear designer clothes. No one here looks at your hair and thinks you’re a little bit of a mess today…because we’re all a little bit of a mess everyday. It’s humid outside and you never know when you'll hop in the ocean for an afternoon swim.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that the “page loading” screen provided by the slow Internet of Belize has given me time to really sit down with myself and evaluate what I’m doing. So right now, I’m turning the computer off and going to the beach. Re-prioritizing never felt so sunny.

From cup of (milky) coffee to yours,


February 13, 2014

5 Things Marriage is Teaching Me

There are absolutely no heart shaped cut outs to be found within a 25 mile radius of me right now (commercialism has yet to overcome Belize), and I'm not bundled up in red and pink, drinking hot coco and writing love notes. Rather, our priorities are in order and the Winter Olympics are definitely getting more airtime then any chick flick will ever have the chance to get on our TV. I'm actually not 100% convinced that Blake knows tomorrow is Valentine's Day tomorrow. 

We've been married for 9 months now and I have learned so much even in such a short frame of time. Hindsight offers so much perspective, highlighting the things you know you got wrong and offering hope that you still have lots of wiggle room to grow. Here is my humble two cents about the lessons I have learned and I am learning as a newlywed. 

5 Things Marriage is Teaching Me

#1 - Love looks a lot like dirty dishes

I hate doing the dishes with a lifelong passion. Ironically, so does Blake. In our nine months of marriage, there have been quite a few times when the source of frustration was a dirty kitchen that neither one of use wanted to clean. Love often becomes tangible when our hands get soapy and we decide to work together to get the job done. Love looks even sparklier when I come home to a clean kitchen. Mother Teresa said, "Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do...but how much love we put in that action." That'll preach.

#2 - Love doesn't need emotions to display itself. 

There's this misconception in our society that you know it's love when you get butterflies in your stomach, you can't sleep at night, and you can't help but listen to Taylor Swift's "Begin Again" over and over again. I think that's just silly. Love has been more magnified in our relationship when it's been hard, when we've dealt with situations that don't make sense, and when we've had to vocalize what we wanted and how that should look...that's when it's gotten really good. The fluffy stuff is fun and wonderful, but it's emotive. The real things, the beautiful parts of our relationship, have come from choosing to love instead of relying on emotions. 

#3 - Your strengths and weaknesses can compliment each other instead of causing tension.

I like to think that I remember every single detail of every day we've been together. When I have told Blake important details like, "Today is the first day we ever ate tacos together!" and he didn't remember these details, I would get upset. Obviously, the poor guy had no idea what he was getting into when he married me. My point is, I have a mind for little details and I place a lot of significance in them...but that doesn't mean I love Blake more then he loves me. I've often found myself letting my pride get in this way of my graciousness, pretending that somehow I must love Blake more if I can remember the details better (or do whatever). Absolutely rubbish. We both have strengths and weaknesses, and with humility, they will compliment each other.

#4 - Healthy people attract healthy people. 

I've grown up with this phrase getting tossed around all of the time, and I am finding that it has transferred over to marriage very nicely. Before we were husband and wife, we were just Blake and Mandy. Some people forget this, but it's important. Because behind our new labels, there are two individuals working on a relationship. We have to be individually healthy before we can lift each other up. For me, this comes in the form of alone time, quiet devotions, and running to have time to talk to God...things like that. For Blake, it looks differently. But at the end of the day, if we are healthy (spiritually, mentally, emotionally), we are so much better together. 

#5 - Love is more then saying the words.

(Surprise! Guest contributor Blake pitched in for this one.) As cliche as it may sound, we are learning and re-learning what it means to believe that love is a verb. Love is so much more then just saying, "I love you." It is selfless, patient, kind. Love is being generous with time, availability, and resources. Love is striving to become the best possible person you can be in order to love as purely as possible. Love is a all a part of being holy. 

"...let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."
1 John 3:18 

February 8, 2014

Isaiah 6 - Here I Am, Lord

Looks a little bit like Oklahoma, doesn't it? 

"Here I am Lord, send me."


I have prayed that prayer many times in my life, but there are two specific moments when my world quieted and I felt the clear, quiet, voice of God overcome any of my thoughts and leave words within my head as an answer to my cry.

This prayer has not been said lightly. I have pleaded with God, begging Him to "send me". I have listened to my missionary family and longed for the call to enter into the mission field. I have reasoned with God, telling him the many reasons why I am so willing to go.

And He has told me to wait.

The first time that I remember praying that prayer was in high school. I remember being very surprised and surprisingly frustrated to hear "wait" as a response...because it seemed to me that a willing and ready body would be in high demand.

In that period of waiting, I didn't just sit around. I did things. Big things. Challenging things. Life altering things. If I had to wait, I was going to wait while being productive. I chose International Business as a major because I decided that if being a "missions major" was not the direction I should take, I would choose the one other major that focused on a global perspective, if only from a different sort of starting point. And that's where I've spent my time over the last 2.5 years...skipping between the Business building and the Poli-Sci department...learning cultures, history, languages, and applying business to the world.

A few months ago, I found myself praying that familiar prayer again. "Here am I Lord, send me." And surprisingly, another answer appeared. "I know."

I have wanted a giant voice to come from the sky and tell me "GO" and I have never had that giant voice come. Yet the still and calm reminder that God has heard my prayers and He knows my heart has filled my soul with peace.

In hindsight, my path over the past few years has God's fingerprints all over it. My passions have been molded into something more beautiful and my desires to serve God have been magnified by my experiences in ways that I could never have imagined. He has taken me places that I would have never gone on my own so that I can serve Him in ways that I would have never imagined if left to my own devices. Yesterday, as I talked to a local pastor, he found out that I come from a family of "designated missionaries" (I say missionary in the formal sense, because I am a firm believer that we are all missionaries, even if our "occupation" says differently.) He asked how many generations of missionaries are in my family...and I counted backwards...my great great grandparents, my great grandparents, my grandparents, and my uncle & aunt are now in the mission field. So he turned to me and said, "So you're a 5th generation missionary!"

His words took me by surprise, because that is not how I have classified myself here in Belize. Yet, as I looked around at what we're doing, I understood the comparison. My name tag might not officially say "missionary" here...but God is sure using us and changing us and revealing Himself through our experiences in Belize. I would have never imagined Belize to be an answer to my prayer, "Here I am Lord, send me." Yet, as I sit here with a vibrant sunset off to my right and my handsome husband sitting on my left...I am finding my "mission field" to be here. I don't know where our futures will lead us, but I am fully expecting the hand of God to lead and guide us into deeper waters. If you had told me just two and half years ago that I would be sitting here with a boy named Blake, serving God through business training centers and by establishing relationships with the local Mayans, I might have laughed out loud. Thank goodness that I don't know what comes next.

The prayer will always remain the same. "Here I am Lord, send me." To Belize, to Africa, to Orlando...wherever I can serve, that's where I want to be. Right now, I am finding so much purpose in this little corner of the world. God knows and he has heard my heart, and quietly, gently, he has led me here.

February 5, 2014

Finding Jesus in an Unexpected Community

If there were ever such a reminder that we were not created for this world, it is the lonely chasm of death. A stark reminder in our daily lives that something is not how it should be. Today, Blake and I and our newfound Belizean community are supporting the H’s as we whisper, “Where oh death is your sting?”

Tom and Patricia have welcomed us with open arms as we have been living in their guest home for almost a month now. Words cannot describe the level of unexpected camaraderie and friendship we have experienced, as well as guidance and direction as we are beginning a new life in a new country. Dr. H’s brother has been fighting cancer for a long time, and while it was expected, it is painful to finally get the phone call that confirms the sad news.

I am writing this with two different emotions swimming in and out of my head. I am painfully aware of how helpless grief can be. It isolates you and touches your heart deeply. Yet, I am also acutely aware of the importance of community. The small little community of Sanctuary, Belize, has swallowed up the H’s in love. They know that it’s been a battle and they know that their job is to simply love on Tom and Patricia.

Today, I feel so close to the body of Christ. So close to his hands and his feet. Because this grief is not mine to bear, but I am so close to it and I so desire to be a helping hand, I have a different perspective. I am seeing how the friends of the H’s have stepped in and reached out with love.

Blake and I are reading through the Bible together this year, and Belize has allowed us precious, beautiful moments every morning to be together and to be quiet. Waking up with the sunrise has turned into one of the most incredible blessings in our lives because the world is still at that hour and our hearts are anxious to know Jesus. This week, during our quiet time, I have been very overcome by the power in Scripture. The fierceness with which Jesus loves his people. The sacrifice that it costs to follow Him. The community that He wants with us. This week, I have been questioning and longing to know what that community looks like for Blake and I in Belize.

I don’t think that it will look like a typical church building and a Sunday morning between the pews. Our Sunday mornings are spent skimming the ocean for two hours and spending the rest of the day an island. Worshiping God has become tangible and unexpected. It has become a moment by moment thing. A “wow God these waves are big” or “wow God the sky is beautiful today” thing. Jesus has somehow become more real when I talk to Victor about gardening or to Ernesto about the need for business training in the Mayan villages. Now that I am outside of the “church” building, the body of Christ is becoming everyday. I don’t know what everybody in this community believes. I know that there are Catholics, Nazarenes, potential atheists, and a few other interesting ideas thrown around…but seeing them all come together with a common purpose is beautiful.

I want heaven to look like this. I want the church to look this. A body of people who might not agree on everything, but they come together to serve other people and be Jesus to them.

Someday I want to stand together with these people, these interesting and compassionate friends, and sing in heaven’s courts, “Where oh death is your sting?!” I cannot wait for that day of no more pain and no more death. I cannot wait to be united with Christ completely. He has felt so new and so real to me over the past few weeks, as if all the layers of polish and been stripped off and the only thing left is Jesus. I don’t have chapel anymore. I don’t have Sunday school. I don’t even have K-Love. All I have is Jesus, and He is enough for me.

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

John 16:22

View off of the dock last night...I just can't get over the tropic skies out here.