Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Simple Living

Last night Kris took me to the Keith and Kristyn Getty concert in Greenville.  The Gettys are probably my favorite singer/songerwriters and have written some of the best modern hymns of our time.  Many of the songs they sang touched me, but the words of one song really caught my attention.  This time of year it is very easy to get caught up with all the sales and commercials.  Even though we have limited our purchases this year, I still find myself looking at ads saying, "Wow, that is such a good deal." or "Maybe they just need one more present."  I've decided to print out the words to this song and make this my prayer.  The chorus goes like this:

Oh teach me Lord to walk this road,
The road of simple living;
To be content with what I own
And generous in giving.

And when I cling to what I have
Please wrest it quickly from my grasp
I'd rather lose all the things of earth
To gain the things of heaven.
For some reason, this burro we met on the side of the road in Mexico seems like a good image for simple living!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Have you ever noticed a how many Christmas songs talk about home?  I don't think I'd realized it until this year.  "There's no place like home for the holidays", "I'll be home for Christmas"...it really is everywhere.  One of my favorite parts of Christmas as an adult has always been decorating my home for the holidays.  I would climb up in the attic, pull down the rubber maid containers and watch them explode all over the house!  I don't know why, but the house always seemed more "homey" during the holiday season.  And the smell...this was the time to break out the apple cinnamon and pine scented candles!  You might even catch me making a batch of sugar cookies! 

At "home" making Christmas cookies
As I write this tonight, I'm feeling a little homesick.  However, this is a different kind of homesickness than I've experienced before because "home" has become a new concept for us.  We've been living out of suitcases since the end of October when we left for Mexico and will continue to live out of those suitcases until January.  We're trying to help our kids understand that "home" is more than a building and will probably be changing a lot for us over the next few years.  Thankfully, during our trip to Mexico, both of our kids adapted well to our change of homes.  One day when we came back to our one-room accommodation, Kieran said, "Ahhh....home sweet home!"  Another day after some sightseeing, Elyse said, "I want to go home!"  I wasn't sure what she was talking about so I asked her more about this "home" she wanted and she described the place we were staying in Mexico.

Making yummy memories with great friends!
Even though I am feeling homesick, I am also feeling very blessed that we have so many friends and family members who have opened up their homes to us as we travel around.  Some even let us stay with a sick child (thanks McClures)!  We really did have more offers for homes than we have nights to stay.  I was thinking this week about the Christmas story and realized that even that precious baby we celebrate this time of year was born into a nomadic life.  Mary and Joseph traveled many miles before he was born.  "Away in a manger no crib for His bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head."  Our Lord and Savior wasn't at home the night of his birth.  I don't know how long they stayed in Bethlehem, but I doubt Mary loaded up on the donkey the day after giving birth...in a barn!  We do know that eight days after his birth they traveled to Jerusalem where he was blessed by Simeon.  Matthew 2:13-15 tells us that sometime probably before he was 2, the family had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's jealousy.  Sounds like a family who knows what it is like to live out of a suitcase.

So, tonight, I'll say an extra prayer of thanks for the warm bed, soft pillow, loving friends and a baby born in a manger.  After all, home is where the heart is.

Monday, November 21, 2011

And on His Farm He had a Chicken...E, I, E, I, O

Yes, I know.  My dad is a retired agriculture teacher.  I grew up around chickens, pigs, cows, and other various farm animals.  I’ve never had to wonder where chicken nuggets come from.  Today’s activity should not have been that big of a stretch for me.  However, the idea of catching, killing, plucking, and butchering a chicken is not my idea of a fun afternoon!  I consider myself to be a pretty adventurous person, but...
Thankfully, there were only three chickens that needed to be prepared for our lunch.  We had a big comida (lunch) to thank our host families, and what better way to say thanks than freshly butchered chickens?!  I decided to let some of the more eager participants do the actual killing.  Kris volunteered to do one.  By the way, the expression, “he’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is very true.  The first bird tried to fly away after losing her head! 
Chicken heads roasting on an open fire
Cutting up the chicken
I could go on to describe the details of plucking and cleaning the chickens, but I won’t.  Some things are better left to the imagination.  Let’s just say I will never take boneless skinless chicken breast for granted. 
Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

If a Picture Speaks a Thousand Words...

then this is the longest blog post I've ever written!
First taste of the famous chapulinas (aka fried grasshoppers)

Friday, November 4, 2011


Our new home for the next 2 weeks.
A theme for this week of classes has been transitions.  In reality, that has been our family theme for the year.  We learned yesterday that transition and change are two different things.  Change is something that happens physically, but transition is something that happens psychologically.  In order for change to be successful then transition must take place.  Last week, we stayed in an apartment here in Mitla which was pretty modern with three bedrooms and 2 baths.  It was probably a little larger than our place in Dallas.  There were some things we had to adapt to such as the lack of heat, concrete floors, and an active ant population!  However, Monday we made our first big transition since arriving in Mexico.  We moved in with our host family.  They are a very nice Chinatec family who also speaks Spanish (no English).  About 10 minutes after arriving Kieran was starting to melt down because there was “too much Spanish”.  We knew that this move was going to be more of a transition for the kids because the way of living is much different for this family.  We are staying in a one room addition to their family home with our own bathroom.  Now, when I say bathroom, I mean outhouse…complete with a tin roof and hole in the ground!  Yes, the kids are not the only ones who had to adjust to this one! 
Kieran enjoying the morning smell of our outhouse!
After getting settled into our new living situation, we enjoyed a delicious dinner with the family.  By the end of the evening, our family’s 10-year-old daughter had Kieran and Elyse playing and giggling in the living room.  It is amazing how long three kids can play together without speaking a word of the same language.  When it was time for us to turn in, neither of our kids wanted to leave. 
Step 1 to transition…here we come!  
Another aspect of transitions is going through a grieving process.  Even when someone is excited about the upcoming change, he or she will go through a period of grieving over things and people left behind.  We’ve all experienced this in one way or another since arriving in Mexico.  For the first couple of days after moving into our new room, I thought I was going to have to grieve over the idea of a hot shower, but, thankfully, Tuesday evening, our host “sister” showed us a HEATED shower in the main part of the house that we could use.  It really is the little things!  
Our sweet host sister.
We have already learned so much since arriving in Mexico…cooking techniques, water purification, electrical wiring, language acquisition and medical information.  These are all very practical lessons which will make change less difficult, but a notebook full of facts and data will not always make the transitions easier.  I have begun to realize how important it is to form relationships and to look at all the changes with a positive outlook.  At around 3:30 am Tuesday morning (after our first night in our new room), a rooster started crowing (obviously, Mexican roosters are quite advanced!).  Being the lightest sleeper in our family, I heard it crow off and on until 6:30 am when my ipod alarm went off (I’m not sure why I thought I’d need technology).  Needless to say, I was ready to have chicken for breakfast (bring on the butchering class)!  However, a little after 6, Kieran woke up to the sound of the rooster.  He looked over at me, smiled and said, “Mommy, isn’t it cool to be woken up by a rooster?”
Step 2 to transition…we're on our way!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Unwelcomed Day Off

Matthew 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (33-34) "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  (ESV)

Have you ever had one of those days when things just don't go as planned?  Today was suppose to be our first chance to venture out, find a church, and learn about worship in a different culture.  Instead, I woke up feeling worse than I had when I went to bed.  By early afternoon, I was running a fever.  This was most definitely not on my to-do list!  Even when things don't go as we planned, God has a way of teaching us a lesson.  We decided that Kris would go check out a small Spanish Baptist church and I would stay home with the kids.  Elyse kept asking why were weren't going to church, so we decided it would be fun to have church at the house.  
Toler Praise and Worship Team
Kieran and Elyse quickly volunteered to lead the singing.  We are borrowing a keyboard so I can help lead worship in a couple of weeks, so Kieran decided to play keyboard and Elyse lead the singing.  We sang "Jesus Loves Me", "Jesus Love the Little Children", "My God is so Big", and "Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus."  I decided I would teach on one of the parables found in Matthew but instead I opened right up to the verses on worrying.  My Bible probably falls open to that verse naturally since I've read it so many times.  Kieran inherited my gift of worrying so I though this would be a good set of verses to discuss. 
Some flowers outside our place in Mitla

A beautiful poinsettia not worrying at all!
After church, Kieran and Elyse drew pictures of birds and flower.  "Do not worry" is such a simple lesson yet so hard to live on a day to day basis.  When I woke up from my nap this afternoon running a fever, I immediately started worrying about missing class tomorrow and not being able to move in with our host family.  I quickly stopped myself and meditated on these verses.  Nothing surprises Him and nothing is outside His control (not even a nasty bug or virus). 

Now it is time to take my medicine, say a prayer, go to bed and trust that God will take care of the details.  "Our God is so BIG, so STRONG, and so MIGHTY, there's nothing my God cannot do (for you)!"  Buenos Noches! 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Market Day!

After a great week of classes, it was very nice to sleep in this morning and relax a little.  I still wasn’t feeling very well, so Kris let me sleep a little longer.  After breakfast and a video chat with our family in Idaho (technology is wonderful), we decided to head to the market downtown.   

Saturday is market day for the town of Mitla where we are staying.  The main square downtown was transformed into hundreds of little stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to fresh meat and dried fish.   This weekend starts the celebrations for Day of the Dead and many of the stalls were selling products related to that celebration such as pan de muerto, oranges, apples, flowers, and sweets.  The women were dressed in colorful dresses and men carried huge baskets on their backs.  We ended up buying some sausage for a cookout tonight and some ice cream.  For lunch we had fried cheese and chicken empanadas that were very delicious.   We saw the famous fried grasshoppers but decided to wait on that delicacy! 

Showing off their market finds!
  Kieran thought that everyone in Mexico seemed very busy and decided they should spend more time just relaxing and playing! The kids were quite excited to see cotton candy which included vampire teeth and Dora/Diego play pesos!  Elyse was a popular sight for everyone at the market.  The ladies commented on how beautiful she was, and we noticed a lot of pointing and smiling from people walking past! 

Guarding the grill
The evening ended with a nice cookout with our fellow new arrivals here on campus with all our tasty treasures found at the market.  We had cheese quesadillas made with Oaxaca string cheese, stuffed peppers, chorizo (sausage), chicken, salsa, chips, guacamole, and flan.  Then, of course, we had a few American staples like hot dogs, mac and cheese, and French fries – a true blending of culinary cultures! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vamos a Comer! (Let's Eat)

"He gives food to every creature.  His love endures forever.  
Give thanks to the God of the heavens.  His love endures forever." Psalm 136:25-26

Dinner at Taco Brown
 Today in our workshop, we talked about the importance of understanding the culture of eating wherever we go.  As Americans, we have a very specific view on what time we eat, where we eat, what we eat, and with whom we eat.  When we move into a new culture, those eating norms for us will most likely change.  I remember noticing this difference when I visited Italy while in college.  Dinner in this culture is a time investment!  I doubt the expression “eat and run” even exists in that language.  Dinner consisted of several courses with long periods of discussion in between the courses.  A dinner (not even a special occasion) could take several hours.  In some of the indigenous villages here in Mexico, the guest is often given a seat of honor, usually separated from the rest of the group.  One of our colleagues talked about being invited to someone’s house for dinner, her family was given a table outside under a nice shade tree.  The Zapotec wife served them dinner and then went in the house.  The family waited for the host’s family to join them, but they never did.  They ended up eating outside alone.  To the Zapotecs, this was a way of honoring their guest.  The culture of eating not only involves place and time of eating, but also the foods they eat.  Food that people consider common in one culture can seem strange and bizarre in another.  In some cultures, however, polite refusal of strange food is not an option.
Enjoying his quesedilla!
I mentioned yesterday that Kieran is our reluctant eater when it comes to trying new things.  He is starting to venture out a little.  Today, he ate cactus fruit at school and admitted to liking it!  He really enjoyed his quesadilla at dinner and before bedtime he told me that his new favorite food was Mexican yogurt!  Actually he said, “Mexican yogurt is the best thing in the world!” 

Elyse, on the other hand, is our adventurous eater!  She rarely turns her nose up at anything.  Every day, during our training, we have been provided with a delicious Mexican lunch consisting of some sort of meat in a sauce with vegetables or black beans and rice.  Of course, fresh tortillas are always included.  While Kieran is eating his jelly sandwich and banana, Elyse is building her own taco! She loves filling the tortilla with a little of everything on her plate, rolling it up and eating it!  Tonight we went to a local taco restaurant called Taco Brown.  A nice couple from the center treated us and it was wonderful.  Riding by on the street, you probably wouldn't even notice it.  It only had 6 tables!  

 However, the lack of space was soon forgotten when they brought out the plate of pork that had been cooked on a spit beside an open fire.  The pork was then cooked with tomatoes, onions, peppers and the most amazing cheese I’ve ever tasted.  It was served with a plate full of small tortillas.  Elyse took a few bites of her cheese quesadilla that we ordered for her, but she soon took over my plate of food.  At the end of the evening, we think she ate somewhere between 6-8 tacos!  

Our lesson in eating cross culturally has just begun, but as long as Mexico keeps making yogurt and tacos, I think we'll do just fine!  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Same Differences

"One culture only reflects part of the image of God." -Day1 Multicultural Training
One of my favorite things about traveling to a new country is learning about all the new things related to culture- food, dress, music, architecture, language, etc.  I love learning about new places and people.  Since arriving in Mexico, I have been struck by the beauty of this place.  The bright colors of dresses hanging in the stores; the smell of sweet bread drifting from the panaderia and the sounds of fire crackers going off all throughout the city.  These unfamiliar sights, smells and sounds are exciting to me.  However, the differences that I enjoy are the same differences that make this transition difficult for our 6 year old who truly longs for things to be the same.  As soon as we landed in Mexico City, Kieran started to become uncomfortable with everyone speaking Spanish all the time.  He asked me if we could have a “No-Spanish” day soon.  Sunday, we went to a Spanish church service, and once again he was not impressed with their lack of English skills.  He enjoyed the fresh tortillas we had for lunch, but he really wanted to melt cheese inside so they would be like the quesadillas he was use to eating. 

Three days after arriving, Kieran is still apprehensive about all the Spanish being spoken, but now he follows his complaint with “Mommy, how do you say _______ in Spanish?”  We’ve been praying that Kieran would have a good experience during this orientation in Mexico, and we’ve been trying to focus on the similarities between his culture and this new culture he is experiencing.  He still isn’t quite ready to dive into some new things like the food (he had mac and cheese for dinner and a jelly sandwich for lunch), but we’re already starting to see that he is opening up. This evening, we walked down to the town center to check it out, and we stopped to get drinks from a little shop.  Kieran was trying to decide between Sprite, Fanta Orange and a Mexican Grapefruit drink.  Finally he said, “I want to try a flavor that I’ve never tried before.” So, he chose the grapefruit flavor and loved it.  It also helped that we found a painting of Spiderman and Princess Aurora on one of the store fronts.  As we were walking back he said, “Mexico is interesting.”  I have a feeling it won’t be too long before he starts to enjoy the same differences that I do. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

School is in Session!

Ready for our First Day of Kindergarten
Homeschool was never in my plans when we decided to have kids.  Nope, it really wasn't even a passing thought.  As a matter of fact, I quickly told  people "NO" when asked if I was planning to homeschool my kids.  Don't get me wrong, I had nothing against homeschooling.  I knew about the benefits. However, Kris and I both survived at least some public school, and we both turned out okay!  I felt like God had gifted me in teaching ESL, and it would probably be best for all of us if the kids went to school.
Well, as it goes with parenting, plans are best made to be changed!  Soon after starting our application for Wycliffe, I realized that homeschool was going to be a big possibility for us.  That possibility turned into reality last week when Kieran and I started Kindergarten...at home.  We considered putting him in public school here in Dallas, but after weighing all the pros and cons and then realizing that we would have to pull him out for a month when we go to Mexico for orientation, we decided that homeschool was our best option.
In spite of all the prayers and good feelings about our decision, I still had some hesitations.  Last week, when I read all the facebook comments about Kieran's friends getting excited about meeting their teachers and heading off to Kindergarten, I was a little sad that Kieran wasn't going to be able to experience this excitement.  That sadness quickly lifted when I saw my eager pupil talking non-stop on Monday about starting school.  He was so excited that he pretty much talked continuously during all our lessons!  He even started rearranging the schedule and giving suggestions for lesson plans!  In just a few days, I can already tell that Kieran is going to do well in homeschool.  I'm sure we'll have slow days, but, for now, I'm going to take advantage of his excitement.
While Kris and I are in classes in the morning, Kieran and Elyse attend the childcare center on campus.  In a way, Kieran has the best of both worlds, school with peers in the morning and school with mommy in the afternoon.  Thank you, God, for changing our plans and for giving Kieran a heart for learning.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  Proverbs 22:6

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reflections - Empty Rooms; Full Hearts

417 Cranewater Court
For the past couple of days, Kieran has been talking a lot about our "old" house.  Usually it is triggered by a picture that pops up on our digital picture frame (the only picture frame I brought with us).  He will say, "Mommy, don't  you miss our old house?"  Or, "Mommy, do you remember ________ about our old house?"

Sometimes, we talk about the memory and move on, but sometimes we shed a few tears.  The morning we left our first family home, I walked through each room thinking of the wonderful memories made in that house.  Kris and I sat on the balcony and had one last swing on the porch swing that he built for me on my 2nd or 3rd Mother's Day.  I may have shed a tear or two. 
The Master Bedroom
 It was very strange to see that house with empty rooms...it seemed much bigger all of a sudden.  Funny how that happens when you take out all the stuff!   Thankfully, a heart full of memories is easy to pack up, and it travels well.  This morning, I heard Elyse and Kieran giggling in his room together.  Suddenly, I realized that we were filling our new rooms with memories.  When we leave here, we will pack up some more great memories and take them with us. 
Our Empty Living Room
When we were deciding what to call our family newsletter, we chose "Toler's Treasure" based on the verse from Matthew 6:19-21 which says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  

Thank you, God, for teaching us the importance of putting heavenly treasures ahead of earthly treasure and thank you for hearts full of the memories made along the way.  Amen.