Navigating life’s griefs and it’s gifts

The past two months have been really difficult for our family — the very short story is that my Dad went into the hospital at the end of June for a routine, in-patient procedure of his heart condition and after two rehospitalizations, he passed away at home last week.

It has been and continues to be an emotional rollercoaster ride — with crushing grief right up alongside joy-filled moments of togetherness.

The precious gift of a good Dad for my 47 years of my life makes his loss incredibly difficult. I know how blessed I am to have something worth grieving, but boy is it awful. I am thankful for the many, many memories that my Dad was intentional about making with us and I’m extra thankful for these past two seasons where we were able to live closer. It still seems impossible that I will not see him in this life again.

In the midst of this journey with my Dad and family, regular life stuff just continued on, even though it felt weird at times. We wanted to continue to celebrate life together in the midst of hardship and anytime we could, we brought the celebration to wherever my Dad was in that moment.

Part of this summer’s education was introducing our kids to the mid-state fair — they had a blast, but couldn’t believe that one corn dog could cost $17!!!

Jason took Mabel on their annual overnight backpacking trip, into the Jennie Lakes Wilderness this year.

Jason & I each marked another year onto our lives —

Our family had the incredible opportunity to attend family camp at Mount Hermon this summer. I had not visited this place for 15 years, but grew up attending most summers. It was such fun to introduce the kids to this wonderful experience.

We also got to go visit some neighbors from our compound in Guatemala at their forested, off-the-grid home in Northern California. It was so special to get to see them again and to see their California home/life.

Mabel got to celebrate her birthday a few days early together with her cousins and my Dad, then she proudly made her own cake on her real birthday.

We started our new school year – with big 5th and 3rd graders!

Interspersed with all these moments was so much time with family, what a beautiful thing.

I haven’t been able to get this picture of my Dad holding Mabel in his amazing, workworn hands out of my mind…

And I am having a hard time getting my brain to understand that the kid’s grandpa who: read them stories, took them on tractor and go-kart rides, wore silly unicorn masks for birthdays, drove them around in his classic car, made special “papa tom style” cereal for them to eat and dressed up as Tigger for Halloween, is no longer here … but I am so thankful that he was all those things for the time they had together.

Trying to beat the heat

Summer is in full force in the California Valley and our home in the foothills seems to act like a convection oven. Yikes, it’s warm!

We’re thankful to be able to drive an hour or so up to cooler mountain lakes or to make the three hour drive over to my family and the coast during long weekends.

A day at the lake with cousins is pretty dang sweet!

One of our escapes last month was meeting up with Jason’s parents in Klamath Falls, Oregon. We had a great weekend together! It was hard to believe how much snow was still at Crater Lake, which of course the kids loved!

This year was the first time we got to attend any of the school graduations for our nephews and nieces. It was really special and especially great that my siblings and I all got to be in the same place, at the same time with my parents.

Last month we had the idea that the covered porch at our house might be able to be screened in somewhat easily. And … armed with screening and a staple gun, we did it! We now can eat and mingle outside virtually bug-free!

We even got some visits in with extended family last month – in Oregon and then a beautiful day at the zoo with a cousin’s family visiting all the way from Scotland! I am so thankful for family who have known me since I was young and who continue to pursue our relationships.

We continue to be grateful for the many chances to make memories with family – this 4th of July was no different. My sister hosted a wonderful day for all the kids (& grown-ups) to remember.

Our kids even had a chance to handle some non-venomous snakes at the library. Quite a nice change, especially after we’ve had several more rattlesnake encounters —

We had two sets of visitors literally visit over the course of the same weekend this month. We love having visitors and had such a a blast – just wish we could have spread out the fun a bit!

One of the absolute best ways to beat the heat??!!? A trip to SomiSomi for soft serve in fish shaped waffles! So much fun!

Finding snow … and looking out for snakes!

We have been back in California for over a month already and it has most definitely been a blur of activity and movement. There have been many wonders, and of course challenges too.

One of the things Luke misses the most about our lifestyle is the lack of SNOW. So one of the first things we did after moving into our summer home was to head up the hill to find some. We were all surprised at just how much was still left from California’s big winter.

It was such a treat to get to see the big Sequoias in the snow –

We were blessed to have about 10 days with my parents before we moved. We love being with family and squeezed in a lot of great cousin time —

My sister, Bonnie and I even got to go on an short but amazing trip to Kauai to celebrate her 50th birthday!!! We had an incredible few days together exploring this beautiful place.

Bonnie and I also got to go on our first road trip together with our Mom in probably over 30 years. Unfortunately, it was for a really difficult occasion, the funeral of our cousin. I am thankful that all of my siblings were there with my mom and glad for the opportunity to get to see so many family members, but it was a stark reminder of how precious and fleeting life is.

We moved into our summer home four weeks ago and have been busy getting settled in while exploring the beautiful property around it. We are very thankful to have a place to live! Housing in the U.S. has been very difficult for us to find. Even while we are grateful, it has also been a pretty rough four weeks settling in for our small family and I have been doubly thankful for God’s gift of the abundant beauty surrounding our home.

Jason and I got to celebrate our 16 year anniversary together with our kids at Hume Lake. It was a beautiful day and we are thankful for our continued marriage. We’ve have enough hard days-weeks-months together to know that each good day is a precious gift.

Jason continues to really enjoy his work as a Forester and brings home photos of the spectacular places he works in each day —

During our Memorial Day weekend visit to Atascadero we made it over to Morro Bay for some beach time — it felt pretty chilly to us, but the kids (as usual) did not mind!

Lastly … every single person we have encountered in the community around our home has reminded us to “look out for snakes” pretty much every.single.time we see them. Rattlesnakes are common here in the foothills and we are learning very quickly to watch where we put our feet and hands – every time! Jason got to help kill his first one at our church of all places! Once it was dead and beheaded it was a great learning opportunity for all of us to see, touch and hear up close what one is like.

Finishing our goodbyes

We departed Guatemala Wednesday morning and can’t help wondering, “where did the months go??!!” We are super excited for our next six months in California, but the days leading up to our departure were very daunting–both on the packing-up front and on the heart front. We know that this difficulty serves as proof to us of how abundantly we’ve blessed by the people and beauty surrounding us.

Usually during our last weeks bwfore a move, we start squeezing in all the “last things” we want to do, but in looking at this past month I see more a lot more “first things.”

Jason took a few driving lessons from friends last month and quickly became a confident driver on Guatemalan roads. His new skill allows him to help out on airport runs for visiting ministry teams.

Jason coordinated (& drove) some donated bunkbeds for Casa Ixoqi, the women’s rehab center. Afterwards, the kids got to help assemble new bunkbeds at a ministry here in Pana.

The kids got to go to their first-ever water park last month. They had a BLAST at Xocomil (show-ko-meal) and I have to say it was by far the prettiest water park I’ve ever been to. Built in a location with a lot of rainfall, it has lush gardens in and around it. We were so blessed by our neighbors who invited us to join with their family to travel there and stay with them.

Luke turned 10 this month and we had a wonderful weekend celebrating him. He is blessed with a great group of friends here and we are so glad to have this awesome kid in our family.

Jason got to join our friend, Daniel, in another bike race. This time in Chiquimula, near the Honduran border. A much, much hotter and dryer climate than here. He had a great time and (thankfully) only took one serious spill!

We celebrated Easter in many meaningful ways — Easter Sunday began with a sunrise service and breakfast at our neighbors’ house and ended with a meal and time of worship with the Deeds. A perfect way to celebrate the resurrection. During the days previous, some of our neighbors graciously let the kids help create some of the beautiful, sawdust alfombras (carpets) in the streets and later the kids got to introduce some Guatemalan friends to their very first Easter egg hunt.

After more than 10 attempts, we even got a decent Easter Sunday selfie —

The kids both started playing soccer last month and are loving the opportunity to learn how to play. We even got invited to boat across the lake to a join in an opening-day training at a newly built field. I love getting to watch them learn!

Jason & Will got to cash in on gifts they had both received to go paragliding — and they had a blast!

We got to join the Deeds in a dinner at their new halfway house for men living in recovery from alcoholism and addiction – Casa de Ánimo. It was such a privilege to be there celebrating these men and their hard work of sober living.

And, one last new thing — we have photos of the home we get to live in for our six months in the US. It’s thrilling to have a place lined up before we arrive back in the US! We are super thankful for our church community in Miramonte who helped so much in lining this up for us.

Exploring Guatemala’s Coast & More

Last month we enjoyed a fantastic trip to Guatemala’s Pacific Coast compliments of Jason’s parents who had given us a few nights away as a Christmas present. We had never been to this area and it was amazing to drive through the sugar cane fields and rubber trees on our way. I love being able to show our kids how things we use everyday are grown. The coast was balmy and very peaceful. The kids will most remember the fantastic swimming pool facilities where we stayed.

We also enjoyed some special events these past few weeks — the kids finished up a month of swimming lessons, we celebrated sweet Simeon’s birthday, received a visit from friends, made Valentine’s Day pancakes and Mabel got a tooth extracted!

Jason and Will hosted a boys youth group campout on our neighbors’ compound last month. 16 boys showed up, which was awesome! They had a meaningful evening of fellowship, singing, games and food; followed by a mostly sleepless night and a hot breakfast together the next morning.

We also got to join in a special Guatemalan Day celebration at our friend Danielito’s school in which all the students dressed in traditional outfits from different areas of Guatemala and performed dances. It was really wonderful to see all the traditional outfits in one place and so fun to watch Danielito.

Several of the board members of La Casa de la Paz visited last month to discuss the continued care for the women of La Casa and also to determine if now is a good time for expanding the ministry to try to assist some of the men in our community who struggle with addiction. We enjoyed meeting these board members that we have only ever seen in on-line meetings before.

We are excited to share that the La Casa ministry will be expanding to include men. Many of you are familiar with Victor’s story and it is incredible to watch how God is growing his story. Last month these three men below (to the left of Victor) named Julian, Eduardo & Carlos asked if they could please be taken to a rehab center. The Deeds immediately sponsored them and you can see the difference in them in the second picture.

Photos courtesy W. Deeds

Victor and the Deeds know that rehab is only the first step in their recovery journey. Due to their addiction, these men have no family support, no homes and no jobs. They need additional assistance and, most importantly, community who will walk with them. In seeing this need, the Deeds have organized a home to serve as a type of half-way house (something that does not exist here) and are serving these men in hopes of restoring dignity and helping find God’s purpose for their lives.

We are thrilled to share that Jason has been hired in a seasonal position again in the Sequoia National Forest beginning in May and that we will get to spend another six months among the big trees … but as seems to often be our predicament, we are still searching for a place to live. We are looking forward to seeing how God will work this out for us this time around.

Celebrating … life with others

Happy New Year! I’ve been slow to post an update this month because it has been difficult to summarize well all that we have been up to. I started and stopped a number of times and could not find the right words until I realized that the overarching theme for our month was celebration. We spent the last five weeks celebrating life in so many different ways. Here are a few snapshots —

Jason and Luke were able to help install a new patio roof at this home (above and below) which opens it’s space each week for the local La Casa de la Paz group of women to meet together.

We joined a short-term missions team from Indiana and went across the lake to visit two alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers. Our time with both the men and the women was really meaningful. I was inspired by their bravery in choosing to get help for their addictions. The women celebrated us by giving every person in our group a handmade hat.

Mabel celebrated losing her first tooth (finally!). Sadly, she swallowed it while eating, but luckily the tooth fairy has certificates for swallowed teeth.

Jason and Mabel spent time with the English students in Tierra Linda celebrating Christmas with a special program of songs and games. Mabel was a little overwhelmed by having her blonde hair petted by so many kids at once.

Before we knew it, Christmas arrived. And with the special day came many, many delicious tamales and A LOT of fireworks! We had a beautiful time celebrating Christ’s birth and the many blessings that have been poured out over us.

The year would not be complete without trying more new fruits – Cushin or the “ice cream bean” was first. We were told to eat only the white fluffy stuff off the seeds, and it was surprisingly tasty. The other fruits are Chico fruits. They smelled like potatoes and (to us) tasted like very overripe pears. I love that our kids are always willing to try these things no matter how strange the seem.

Our year ended with a short boat ride across the lake and a beautiful hike between villages with a wonderful family that God has blessed us with here. It was a perfect year-end celebration.

Early in the New Year, I got to join Leigh in a kid-free day to participate in the three year anniversary of the women’s alcohol and drug rehabilitation center – Casa Ixoqi (ee-show-key). Shockingly, we have been told that this is the ONLY women’s-only rehab center in all of Guatemala. I am thankful to Dirty Feet Misisons for seeing this gap in care and helping start the women’s center three years ago. It was a huge privilege to join these women in their celebration.

We even got to join together with our neighbors and celebrate the birthday of our compound’s caretaker together with his family. Esquipulas has been kind, helpful and patient with us since day one. It was an honor to get to celebrate him.

We continue to celebrate this spectacular location that we get to live – even when we lose our electricity for nearly four days and I need to use my headlamp to see for cooking. We are filled with gratitude for the people God places in our path.

Jumping from Fall to Summer

We arrived safely back to our Panajachel home last month and exchanged cold weather for very predictable 75 degree days and 50 degree nights. This area of Guatemala has two seasons, rainy/winter and dry/summer. Even though Guatemala is north of the equator, we are currently in what locals call “summer.” Woo-hoo!

On our final USA day, we had a wonderful goodbye with family, followed by a sunset walk at Santa Monica beach and dinner with our friend, Christy … then the kids had their first red-eye flight! They quickly realized spending the night on an airplace was not nearly as fun as they thought it would be!

We are settled back into the same home we rented last year. Being able to rent the same space again has been a beautiful blessing. Both the Deeds family and also our neighbors welcomed us back with gusto — stocking our fridge, creating welcome back signs and moving our stored items back for us. Our landlord had also swapped out old/non-working furnishings and done some other upgrades too. We feel incredibly blessed and humbled by all these good gifts.

The kids both caught a strong stomach bug our first week back. They recovered quickly and still enjoyed Thanksgiving even if their appetites weren’t back in full force. Our compound shared a feast together, which was delicious, and the setting was pretty amazing too!

We have again been looking for and trying produce that we aren’t familiar with — starting with these nisperos or loquats and curuba or banana passionfruit. The nisperos were delicious with apple/citrus/peach taste and crisply juicy. The curuba has a wonderful flavor, but the seeds are very crunchy and bitter, so eating it was not great.

Our calendar has quickly filled up with the normal life things of Spanish school, homeschool, basketball and dance. We returned just in time for Mabel to participate in her Christmas dance recital which was so much fun to watch!

Last weekend, Jason joined Will and Daniel (and 1,100 other cyclists) to complete a 45-mile annual race around Lake Atitlán.

We continue to be alert for opportunities to help where we can. This coming week, we get to assist with the children’s program for the year-end celebration for La Casa de la Paz. About 180 women from ten different communities will come together for a day of celebration and fellowship. Meanwhile, Jason has returned to assisting with the boys youth group that started last year.

We are continually thankful for the Deeds family who have welcomed us to join them in this life together and also for the many new friends who God has placed in our path — some simply friends we made on the street and others who are here serving with different ministries.

I find myself shocked anew everyday by the beauty of this place and it’s people —

Keeping cozy and packing up

Our mountain temperatures have been dropping and I’ll admit, I’m feeling ready for our warmer, Guatemalan, home! Our rental cabin is not insulated. In the summer, that meant that on 100 degree days it was 90-95 inside. Now with 30-40 degree days, we wake up to 46 degree inside temperatures. However, in spite of the cold we were all THRILLED to find some snow last week and we’ve been extremely thankful for our fireplace!

Before the cold arrived, we had a spectacularly beautiful month — starting with celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday with the entire family.

We were fortunate to spend a weekend camping down at the base of Kings Canyon National Park — we’ve loved living less than 10 miles from the entrance to this spectacular park.

The kids and I then got to go on a fantastic adventure to Sacramento and meet up with special South Dakota friends — the Haan gals! These amazing folks were our next door neighbors when we first arrived in Rapid City. Mary effortlessly included us in the life of her family. We were so blessed by them then and it was really special to reconnect.

Before we left Sacramento, the kids and I did a homeschool fieldtrip day – visiting the Capitol, the State Railroad Museum and sharing a Boba tea at Happy Lemon.

And then it was time for Halloween – a favorite holiday of the kids. Getting to spend it with family was a huge highlight!

This week has been a difficult week of saying goodbyes to all the people and places that made our summer wonderful. We are excited to return to Guatemala, but that doesn’t make the goodbyes any easier…and then there is all the packing to be done! We are so thankful to have my parents barn apartment as a refuge while we transition once again.

We would really appreciate your prayers as we return to Guatemala (on November 15th!) – for smooth transitions and mostly that we will have eyes to see who God places in our path. If you are interested in partnering with us financially, please visit our donation page – and thank you so much!

Stretching out the fun

Visiting the nearby Boole Tree with Jason’s parents.

This month has felt like a beautiful whirlwind of fun which we feel incredibly blessed to be part of. We’ve had visitors to the cabin (not just bears!), we’ve gone on trips, celebrated a 7th birthday and purchased our return tickets to Guatemala – departing November 15th!!

We also had a bat visit us in our bedroom in the middle of the night. That was not part of the “fun whirlwind.” Ha!

Early in the month Jason traveled to Spokane to spend a few days with his parents and sister, then returned in time to enjoy a visit from our special friends – the Botts family! We met Randy & Sarah in a young-marrieds bible study group over 15 years ago. We have loved being able to stay connected with them and now it’s a blast to watch our kids together too.

We celebrated Mabel’s 7th birthday with family. She’d requested a donut cake and a piñata for her celebration. Several cousins were sick and couldn’t come which was pretty sad, but we all still had a fun time celebrating. So glad God has gifted us with this funny, sweet girl.

Mabel even got to have a ‘ketchup party’ with her oldest cousin, Elijah, who shares her affinity for eating A LOT of ketchup.

My Aunt Lori and Uncle Steve were our next visitors. My aunt brought crafts to do with the kids and her favorite caramel recipe to teach them the art of making perfect caramels. YUM! And of course, we went to see some ridiculously large trees too.

The kids and I took a quick trip to the L.A. area last week to catch up with some special friends. I am so thankful for these strong, beautiful women in my life — Julie, Pam, Marti, Christy and Sydney – who make time in their schedules to see and host us. We also took a field trip to the awesome La Brea Tar Pits!

Jason & Luke made their annual overnight backpacking trip – into the Jennie Lakes Wilderness.

And lastly, Jason’s parents spent this past weekend visiting and boy did we stretch ourselves to do all the exploring that we could with them! We feel incredibly blessed to be living less than 10 miles from Kings Canyon National Park and only a bit farther from Sequoia National Park.

Finding Community (& eating a lot of blackberries)

We had a surprise visit from this family a few weeks ago which was quite a thrill! We were drying out our camping gear and they decided it needed to be checked out. Although these are “only” black bears (and about as dangerous as oversized racoons), we were still glad to enjoy them from inside our house.

We are enjoying getting to know some of Jason’s co-workers this summer, who I refer to as “tree-people.” In addition to getting to know these cool people, I have also thoroughly enjoyed the variety of tattoos the “tree-people” are sporting — from a redwood tree branch, to the cross-cut of a largest felled tree, to a “butt-mark,” which is a unique marking each forester places at the base of every tree they mark. It’s been educational to say the least!

We have all been feeling very thankful for our tiny community and the warm reception we have received here. Mountain people definitely have their own way of life and we’ve been loving the chance to get a glimpse of it. We’ve been fellowshipping on Sundays at the local Hilltop Chapel, and can’t remember ever attending a more friendly church. It turns out a number of our new church friends live on our road and now we see someone we know nearly every time we go on our daily walk. That makes me so happy.

Another component to our community this summer has been our monthly visits to my parents. We are loving getting a chance to know our extended family better; with trips to the beach, walks to the donut shop, impromptu meet-ups with Nana and getting to hold the newest cousin.

We started our new homeschool year this week and continue to be thankful for the flexibility it gives our family during this season of moving from place to place and exploring this world together as a family.

Last thing that we are loving – chowing on blackberries! Of course, we know they are invasive and a nuisance, but they are delicious! And we have so many growing along our driveway and along the road. YUM!

We love living in daily awe of the wonder of God’s creation all around us.