That’s a Wrap

We’re down to our final week in Jakarta, which means I probably won’t be writing anymore blogs from Indonesia after this one. It’s so hard to believe that we are at this point. I vividly remember the night we arrived and those first few weeks of trying to figure out life here. It was a whirlwind of meeting people, trying to learn to grocery shop, finding doctors and setting up OB appointments, and getting lost in taxis! What a crazy time. And you know, it never got easier after that. It just morphed into different kinds of chaos. But that’s ok. We do hard things because God helps us do them. And in this case every bit of it was worth it.

As I work on packing and saying goodbye, many have asked how it’s going. I’m not sure what to say. If you consider emotional eating and listening to insane amounts of DC Talk on youtube normal then it’s going fine. (Btw…I recently discovered that TobyMac is 51 years old now! Seriously, that makes me feel ancient). I truly am so excited for the next chapter in our lives, but this is a hard one to close.

Before we moved here I was the most settled I’ve ever been. I loved our house, my job, our friends, our church, etc. I felt purposeful and content. When Jared told me about the opportunity to come to Indonesia my heart was conflicted. I didn’t want to leave my life behind, but at the same time I knew we absolutely had to do it. How could we not? The answer was a definite yes, and I’ve never regretted it. Not for one second.

Some final pictures from this side of the world.

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Mother’s Day. I was gifted with a homemade card that Halle made herself, some chocolate, and a lovely french toast breakfast.

Umi also invited us over to her house for lunch. She made semur, which is an Indonesian beef stew. The meat was so tender and delicious. It made me tear up thinking about Umi’s thoughtfulness. She is a single mom with a lot to deal with, and yet she chose to use her resources to make us a meal with beef, which is not exactly cheap. Part of me felt guilty, but that is just the kind of person Umi is.

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Best meal I’ve had in Indonesia. She even made extra for us to take home. I don’t deserve to have Umi in my life!

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We also attended our last bible study. These ladies were Lacey’s teachers. They loved and cared for her so well. They’ve been a part of her life for nine months and have seen her grow from an infant into a toddler.

Speaking of how much Lacey’s grown…I was 14 weeks pregnant when we moved here and now she is 16 months!

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Halle has a few more days of school left, but we’ve already had some last playdates with friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better social experience for Halle than what she’s had here. I’ve loved watching her interact with kids from all over the world. To her that is normal and it’s a beautiful thing. That will be one of the hardest things to leave behind–the expat life offers such a rich diversity of relationships, and while I know we’ll aim for multicultural friends in Raleigh it won’t quite be the same.

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It’s been a hard and wonderful two years. And I’m glad to have it recorded on this little blog. My girls may not remember much, but at least we have the memories kept in this space. I don’t believe that living abroad is for everyone, but we all have different opportunities to take risks and leave what is comfortable for the sake of growth. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. And I hope I’ll continue to embrace the uncomfortable things that come our way and resist the temptation to pursue easy over what is better. Jakarta was the “better” for us during this season. We aren’t the same people we were when we left. We needed the lessons that could only be learned here.

So thank you Indonesia! Thank you for making it possible for us to meet so many amazing people. Thank you for the traffic and medical conundrums and language barriers and monsoons and protest rallies that taught us humility and patience. Thank you for mangosteens and komodo dragons and batik and year round swimming weather. Thank you for Bali. Thank you for making us go to Singapore numerous times for immigration stuff. Thank you for rendang and nasi goreng and semur and soto ayam. Thank you for introducing us to new holidays like Chinese New Year. Thank you for awesome Santa Claus pictures with my kids. Thank you for Pak Agus and Umi. Thank you for our apartment staff who greet us with smiles every morning. Thank you for being the first place my older daughter went to school. Thank you for being the place my second daughter was born. Thank you for loving kids and not caring if they make messes and noise. Thank you for having awesome movie theaters and restaurants and malls. Thank you for being home.

And THANK YOU to everyone who read this blog and thought about us and prayed for us and kept in touch. I’ve appreciated your interest and care for our lives here more than I can say. It’s been so fun sharing this experience. I’m not planning to blog over the summer and don’t know if I will continue to do so in the future. I’m still thinking about it, but if I do it will likely be a private blog (which I’m happy to let anyone I know in real life read). But we’ll see :).

Again, thank you for following our journey. It’s been a wild ride. See you soon!

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Sentosa Island

We spent our next full day in Singapore visiting Sentosa Island. Sentosa is a resort island on the tip of Singapore. You can reach it by bus, taxi, car, or even walking. But the most popular way is to take the cable car. While certainly not the cheapest option, it is a fun experience worth doing at least once. We really enjoyed it!

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There are SO many great family-friendly things to do at Sentosa. There is a Universal Studios, a waterpark, butterfly and insect gardens, beaches, etc. But we knew we’d probably only be able to do one thing and chose the S.E.A Aquarium, which claims to be the largest in the world. I love aquariums and find marine life really fascinating. Also, it was an indoor activity so that made it kind of a no-brainer.

Once the cable car arrives on the island you have the option of buying a ticket to ride a separate cable line around the island. However, we decided to save a buck and walk. It was hot, but thankfully, not a really long walk and we got to see more of the island.

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Our first stop was to take pictures with the fake tigers. Exciting stuff.

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There were TONS of restaurants and a plaza type area. They even had a Chili’s.

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Obligatory family picture. Sentosa has it’s own merlion statue and the thing is huge.

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Entrance to the aquarium!

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Jake and the Neverland Pirates is one of Halle’s favorite shows so she wanted to take a picture with this ship (because I guess it reminded her of Jake’s ship). It’s funny because she’s learned to make the peace sign for photos now. That is a really popular thing to do in Asia.

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The first things we saw was the massive shark tank!

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Just like at the zoo, I wasn’t able to devote much time to reading the signs thanks to corralling my children. So I really have no idea how many sharks they had in the tank or what kinds there were. BUT, this one is obviously a hammerhead shark. So cool!

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I think this one might be a nurse shark, but not sure. Halle’s face cracks me up though. Even though it’s a bit dark, I love this picture.

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Lacey was fascinated!

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Tropical fish tank.

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I do remember the fish above are lionfish. They are native to the South Pacific-Indo waters, but there are variations of the species in the Caribbean and Atlantic too. They have venomous fins!

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This isn’t a great picture, but that’s an octopus in the corner! Have you ever considered what a unique creature an octopus is? Sometimes I think of a lot of marine life in cartoon ways because of the shows I watch with my kids. So it’s really crazy to see the real deal. Can you see the starfish as well?

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Giant crab!

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My personal favorite, the dolphins.

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And eels. Fantastic and bit creepy watching them slither around.

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You can’t really see, but Halle got to touch a starfish. Her comment. It doesn’t have eyes or ears, Mommy. I googled it later and apparently they sort of do have eyes, one on the end of each arm. Who knew?

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Halle loved the “jellies.”

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The stingray tank. Another favorite of mine!

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This bad boy is a manta ray. Manta rays are huge, they can weigh over 2,000 lbs! Not many aquariums are big enough to keep them (though I think the Georgia aquarium may have one). They are highly endangered and tend to mostly be in tropical waters. However, I saw on wikipedia that they sometimes venture out from the tropics and that the farthest one has been detected from the equator was actually in North Carolina of all places! So for all you fellow Raleigh-ites heading the shore this summer–be on the lookout!

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It was a fun visit. They didn’t seem to mind if kids touched the glass either so my kids enjoyed getting up close and personal with the tanks. We all had a great time!

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Afterwards, we rode the cable car back to the mainland and took the MRT back to our hotel. We went out for hamburgers and called it a day!

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The next day we actually returned to Jakarta, but our flight wasn’t until 5 PM so we had some time during the day. We decided to go to the giant waterpark at Gardens by the Bay (we went there during our previous trip to Singapore). It’s fun, and best of all, it’s free!

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We had to ride a tram (for a small fee) to get the area of the gardens we wanted to go to.

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There was a small playground the girls played on while Jared went and got our lunch. Can’t you tell that Lacey is having the best time.

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Halle, of course, loved it. Jared decided to take Lacey to walk through the Flower Dome. My mom and I went there last time when she came with us. It is basically a conservatory with the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. I asked Jared to take pictures and this is what I got.

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Lacey was disgusted by the tulip display. She really does look miserable in all these pictures, but I think she did have fun. We asked her the next morning at breakfast if she liked Singapore and she smiled and shook her head no. Ha!

Our kids did great on the flight home. We arrived in Jakarta a little after dark where Pak Agus was waiting to pick us up. I got a little emotional thinking this will be my last time flying into Indonesia. There were people everywhere, the call to prayer loudly playing over speakers, lots of chaos in the parking lot. Singapore is flashy and nice and fun and clean, but I’ll take Jakarta any day.

I hope everyone had a nice Mother’s Day weekend. I know I did. Hopefully, I’ll get a few more blog posts up before we leave.

Singapore Zoo

My family treated me to a little getaway for my birthday/Mother’s Day. We spent three days in Singapore enjoying some sites that we had yet to visit. It was hot, tiring, and so much fun.

To be honest, my kids are not at a great age for traveling. I probably wouldn’t do it so much if we weren’t living in Indonesia and close to places that we may never see again. So don’t be fooled by all these happy photos (though you will see that Lacey doesn’t look happy in any of them…haha), it wasn’t leisurely and all sunshine and rainbows. We got snippy. We got whiny. We prayed for forgiveness. And we made some sweet and special memories in the midst of it. No pain, no gain they say.

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Halle’s actually a pretty great traveler most of the time. Girl knows what she’s doing in an airport and she loves pulling her Doc McStuffins suitcase around. Until she doesn’t. Then I end up pulling it along with the 45 bags I’m already carrying.

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I love this picture because it looks so nice and sweet. But it doesn’t tell the whole truth. Lacey enjoys her books, but she will only sit still for so long! Most of the time one of us had to chase her around the gate and keep her from trying to run into the duty free shop.

We got into Singapore Tuesday evening. Instead of a regular hotel we rented an apartment off of Airbnb. It was comparable in price to a hotel room and gave us extra space and a kitchen. Plus, it was super close to an MRT station.

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AND…our apartment was in Little India! I made macaroni and cheese for the girls that first night and Jared went and bought Indian food for us. It ended up being our dinner for two nights in a row because there was no much. No complaints here!

Our first full day was spent at the Singapore Zoo. Everyone I know here sings praises about the zoo. It’s actually ranked in the top ten for zoos in the world. I was impressed, but I didn’t find it to be any better than the safaris we’ve been to in Indonesia. Still, it was fun! The zoo is designed to have open air, natural habitats that get you up close and personal with the animals. The main issue is that it is hotter than you know what. The sun in Singapore is brutal. We did our best to stay in the shade and re-applied sunscreen multiple times. I also wore my stupid hat as much as I could, but I took it off when my head started to itch. Lacey refused to wear her hat so we lathered her scalp with sunscreen and kept her in the shade as much as possible.

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This picture cracks me up. Halle looks so grown up reading the map (upside down) under the sign with monkeys just hanging out on top. I feel like this could be and advertisement for the zoo!

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Halle took pleasure in being our “guide.”

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Look closely and you’ll see crocodiles. Look even closer and you may see something odd about these “crocodiles,” namely the long noses. These are, in fact, gharials. Gharials fish-eating crocodiles native to India. They are critically endangered, almost extinct. There could be as few as 200 left. We were watching them for awhile with a group of people around us when Halle loudly exclaimed, “Look everyone! It’s dead!” We had to explain to her throughout the trip that just because an animal wasn’t moving didn’t mean it was dead. Anyway, I’ve loved visiting the zoos here because I see animals I’d never see in the US–like gharials and komodo dragons (or at least not at the NC zoo).

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We enjoyed looking at the white tigers. I’ve shared this before but tigers are white due to recessive genetics.

And, of course, the giraffes, elephants, and zebras!

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No one wanted to take this picture besides me.

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Or this one.

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The lioness.

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Can you see the baby rhino?

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We went inside the frozen tundra a couple of times to cool off. There was a polar bear in there, but he was swimming around and I couldn’t get a good picture of him. Halle enjoyed the igloo though!

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The turtle and fish tanks were fun!

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I’m not sure what the name of this fish is! I made a mental note (it was too difficult to stop and read all the signs with the kids), but when I tried to look it up later I couldn’t find any information so my memory must be faulty. As you can see, it’s a big freshwater fish!

Edit: After some googling it looks a lot like an alligator gar fish found in the US of all places. You can trust me on this as much as you trust google, which probably shouldn’t be very much.

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Lacey was not all that enthusiastic about any of the animals.

The zoo has a really nice kids play area with a waterpark. We went there after lunch and both girls loved it. It was nice for us too!

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Halle befriended this little boy from Australia. They probably went down the slides together 20 times!

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After playing for awhile, we made our way slowly back to the front of the zoo. We walked under some very active orangutans.

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Jared and Halle hopped on the tram and rode it around while Lacey and I chose to walk to the exit. We stopped along the way and took a selfie. It’s not a great picture but it’s the only one I got of Lacey smiling on the entire trip!

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Before leaving the zoo, we indulged in some ice cream. The nice thing about walking a zillion miles and pushing strollers in ridiculous heat…you can treat yo’self and not feel guilty!

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We caught a taxi back to our place and showers were had by all. Then I gave the girls milk and let them watch a little Magic School Bus action.

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Jared took Halle to the Marina Bay light show that evening (they have a free light show every night). I stayed behind, put Lacey to bed, and read a book while eating chocolate. Not a bad way to end an exhausting and sweaty day!

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Halle at Marina Bay. She is such a cosmopolitan little girl.

I’m thankful we had a nice time at the zoo despite the heat. It’s always a gamble to travel with a one year old, but sometimes (often times) it really is worth it! Early next week I’ll post the second installment of our trip. Thanks for reading and Happy Mother’s Day to all (especially my mom!)

Catching Up–and One Month to Go!

Time is slipping away from me these days. We have less than a month to go, but given my recent skin cancer scare and a virus that has been going through our home, I’ve not had much focus or energy to write on here. We seem to be on the tail end of the sickness, and by we, I mean ME. I got it worse than anyone! So it’s the perfect time to share pictures that have been taking space on my phone for too long.

Thank you by the way for all the nice words regarding my previous post. I got a lot of messages and emails during the whole thing. Basal cell carcinoma is not the worst thing one could be facing, but I’m so thankful to not be dealing with it my final month in Indonesia. It was also one of my most read posts so I’m hopeful it will encourage others to see a doctor and use good judgment for sun exposure!

Now let’s get to the important stuff. I sort of got Lacey’s hair into a ponytail. Look closely or you might miss it.

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We also dropped by the hospital where Lacey was born to pick up a document. It was kind of emotional being there and realizing I may never be there again! And it’s such an important place for us. I tried to get a picture of us with the logo in the background but Lacey was not interested.

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Rumah Sakit is the Indonesian for hospital. It literally means “sick house.”

One slightly frustrating aspect of life here is that getting certain vaccines can be a challenge. The clinics we go to use imported vaccines rather than locally made ones, and that is what we prefer given the difference in standards and regulations. Unfortunately, that means there is the occasional shortage. I wanted to get Lacey her MMR at 12 months, but we weren’t able to get it until this month. Girl didn’t cry one bit!

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And she was not impressed with toys at the doctor’s office. Haha.

We celebrated our 8 year anniversary! It’s so hard to believe that we’re only two years out from a decade of life together. This year has been kind of crazy, but good in its own way. I know 8 years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, but it makes me feel like we’re at a point where we’ve truly weathered some stuff and can reaffirm that we’re in this until the end! It’s a good place to be. And our building management sent us flowers 🙂

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Halle got to attend some fun birthday parties recently. One was at a water park and the other one at our favorite outdoor playground. There isn’t much Halle loves more than a birthday party. She’s already making a verbal list of things she wants for her birthday. It’s gotten exponentially long and includes things like butterfly wings, a pogo stick, and a bowtique (like in Minnie’s Bowtique). If you don’t know what I’m talking about then consider yourself lucky.

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I got a new hat and just as I feared I look like a doofus. Halle looks cute though.

We also have a couple of weekly standing playdates that we’re trying to soak up and enjoy before we say goodbye.

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Lacey gets to play with her buddy, Conrad, and I get to visit with my friend, Sherri. Though usually we are chasing our kids around. And I often end up reading aloud to the little ones, which is always great fun.

Halle still goes to the playground with some of her classmates every Friday after school.

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I have to explain the socks. I forgot to bring socks and had to buy some. Halle loves them and I may have let her wear them home with her sandals. You only have the innocence of childhood once, right?

Afternoons have been tough lately. Lacey doesn’t nap well most days and she makes it hard for her sister to do things. They do play together, but sometimes Halle wants to do stuff that Lacey is too young for. And Lacey doesn’t like that and does her best to make her displeasure known through loud crying and vandalism. Jared calls her the destroyer of worlds. And, yes, I do try and help Halle out and correct Lacey, but she’s 15 months, we’re in a cramped space and I’ve been sick for nearly two weeks. So there’ve been some ugly moments. All that to say, we were blessed last week with an epic three hour nap from our dear Lacey. Halle and I had so much fun together. We painted, watched ballet dances from The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty on youtube (Halle’s really into ballerinas), read books, and did dinner prep together.

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Watching the dance of the sugar plum fairy.

Then Lacey woke up and we were happy to see her. She and Halle “read” together.

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Destroyer or not, we love this face.

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I only have a few weeks of my bible study left. It’s been such a blessing to me to spend Thursday mornings with these ladies.

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I’m the only white girl in the group, but I think I still fit nicely, huh?

And we went out for burgers recently to celebrate my negative biopsy. Halle did not at all want to take a picture, but it was a fun time nonetheless.

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Slowly but surely, I’m going through things and selling and giving stuff away. In fact, I’ve been at home this morning delivering items that sold through Jakarta’s version of Craig’s List for expats. It feels so surreal, but there is a lot to do and not much time to dwell on it. It doesn’t help that this sickness has put me behind schedule! I will share more of our plans for our move home soon (because some have asked). I’m already scheduling appointments and whatnot for the summer, which is so hard to believe!

We do have one more mini trip coming up. There are some public holidays in early May so we decided to go to Singapore for a few days for my birthday. I know, we just can’t stay away. It’s not the most practical thing we could be doing, but I’m excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything for my birthday besides go out to eat–plus, I REALLY wanted to see the zoo and Sentosa Island before we left. Jared found a great deal for us on Airbnb and we got cheap tickets on our usual discount airline. I’m going to take my nice camera and we’re just going to have fun together before we launch into the next phase of life.

What a wonderful home Jakarta has been to us! With all the challenges we’ve faced, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else these past two years. My heart is filled with gratitude for our time here. But it’s time to go home. And where words fail, poets supply.

Happy the man, whose wish and care
   A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
                            In his own ground.
–from Alexander Pope’s “Ode on Solitude”
I read this verse in a novel I’m currently enjoying and found it beautiful. Leaving is hard, but going home is sweet.

A PSA: Why I Went to Singapore by Myself

I had a teeny tiny scare a couple of weeks ago–one which warranted an overnight solo trip to Singapore to see a dermatologist. I’ve had a small, flesh-colored mole by my nose for awhile now. Honestly, I have no idea how long it’s been there! It’s never grown or seemed suspicious so I never worried about it. BUT it recently started bleeding after I washed my face at night. At first I thought I just scratched myself, but then I noticed it seemed scabby and kept bleeding when irritated. I knew that wasn’t normal and began to feel a bit anxious.

Some google searching made me realize my “mole” shared many characteristics of a basal cell carcinoma, which is a common form of skin cancer. BCC usually appears on the face and while it rarely metastasizes, it can spread beneath your skin and cause some serious damage. Until that moment, it NEVER occurred to me that my mole might be cancer. In my mind, cancer would be more obvious with irregular borders and dark colors. This is true of melanoma, but BCC’s can look a lot of different ways…including just like a flesh-colored bump that bleeds when irritated. Like what was on my face!

Thankfully, Jared was supportive and encouraged me to get it checked out in Singapore. That might sound extreme, but my experience with doctors here has been hit or miss. I really wanted to see someone who would be thorough and have experience with Caucasian skin. Since I’d had the mole for awhile I wasn’t comfortable delaying getting it checked either (hence why I didn’t wait until we move back next month). So I made arrangements and hopped on a plane all by my lonesome.

I arrived in Singapore at about 4 PM and took a taxi to my hotel. My driver was really talkative and funny. He was shocked when I told him I had two kids because in his words when a woman has a baby she “blows up in size.” Weight is not a taboo subject in this part of the world and people often comment on things like this openly. He told me he’s had several friends who had kids and he would ask them, “What happened? You have blown up in size.” Cultural or not, I’m sure they appreciated that! I tried to explain that my secret was simply that Indonesian food portions are much smaller than the US. He said, “Yes, when I go to the States my pants no longer fit when I leave.” Haha. Seriously though, my poor driver needed a science lesson on the pregnant body and postpartum hormones, but I wasn’t in the mood to give him one!

Anyway, I checked into my room which boasted this lovely view.

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The walls were a cheery orange.

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I walked out to get some dinner and passed this Burmese temple along the way.

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I found a noodle and dumpling place and ordered some pork dumplings and Chinese tea. It’s not easy to find good pork dumplings in Jakarta so I was excited.

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It was a long night and I didn’t sleep well. At least my appointment was at 9 AM so I didn’t have to wait around in the morning. Dr. Audrey was great. She was wonderful answering my questions and explaining things, but unfortunately, she couldn’t give me a good idea of my diagnosis on observation alone. I was hoping she’d be able to tell just by looking at it so I wouldn’t have to wait another week for a biopsy. But she said it looked like it could be a BCC or it might just be a benign growth. It seemed like 50/50. She did a biopsy and gave me some treatments for another issue I was having. Those hurt SO bad! The treatments–not the biopsy. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but when I left the office I was in tears. I called both Jared and my parents hysterically crying, partially because of pain and partially because I had a chunk removed from my face and no idea if it was cancer. I was stressed! And I think I freaked everyone out.

But I calmed down, checked myself out, and headed into the city. My flight wasn’t until 7:30 that night and I knew it would be a long day if I didn’t pull myself together. I did some good old fashioned deep breathing and went to the one place I knew would cheer me up.

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An odd choice for some, but Indian food is comfort food to me! I went to a North Indian restaurant with AC and ordered way too much food (and ate most of it too).

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After lunch my pain was doing much better and so was my mood.

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I went to a bangle shop and bought some bangles for Halle.

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Then I just walked around for a bit before hopping on the MRT and going down to Marina Bay. It’s amazing how fast you can get around without kids!

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At the top of this resort is an observation deck called the Sky Park. It’s 56 floors up and you can see amazing views of Singapore. I bought a ticket.

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Excuse the gauze.

I walked around the resort for a bit (there is a big mall inside), sat down and read for awhile, and then went outside and walked along the promenade.

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I bought a Gong Cha drink, which is a specialty kind of tea (there are many different kinds) with cream and a topping of your choice. I had mango and passion fruit.

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Then I walked across this cool foot bridge before catching a taxi back to the airport and heading home.

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It was an exhausting day that started out rough, but ended up being ok. I had one moment where I freaked out and bought a really expensive face sunscreen from the mall, but other than that I held it together! Jared was too wise and too kind to comment on the price of my sunscreen.

My biopsy results took a week to come back. While I was glad to not be dealing with a more dangerous cancer like melanoma, I was still pretty nervous. My doctor told me if it was cancer I would need to come back to Singapore and have it surgically removed. There was no way to know how big it would be until the surgery. I felt really stupid for overlooking that mole for so long, but apparently it is easy to do. And I made the mistake of researching the surgery on the internet and saw some pretty horrifying pictures and stories of people needing skin grafts. The internet is a rabbit hole of despair, folks. My doctor assured me it would be ok,  but in my mind I was thinking it would be something like this.

A little dramatic, perhaps, but I was scared. I don’t scar very well and the thought of having a huge scar on my face was daunting. Not to mention that basal cell carcinomas put you at a higher risk for more skin cancer later in life. And dealing with facial surgery just one month out from moving back to the US was overwhelming. The positive side was that I felt so supported and loved by family and friends who were praying hard and coming up with ways to help us if I needed to go back for surgery. One dear friend here even offered to go with me so I wouldn’t have to go alone!

I’m happy to say…I got my pathology report exactly one week later and it showed a fibrous papule with no indication of cancer. I was relieved! But this experience has definitely made me re-evaluate some things and I thought it was worth sharing for that reason.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer, especially in Caucasians. It is estimated that 3 out of 10 Caucasians will get it in their lifetime. It’s highly treatable when caught early, but it can have damaging effects if it grows over a period of time (which is what I was worried about). It used to be seen primarily in older people, but now is being seen more in young people due to excessive sun exposure. I’ve noticed that Asians are very smart and careful in the sun. Everyone here wears rash guards or full body swimsuits. No one lays out–they are all under umbrellas and wearing hats! I think we are getting smarter in the West, but we have a way to go. Laying out in the sun and getting a tan is still considered a fairly normal activity in the States, but it really is such a bad idea (even when you wear sunscreen). I hope by the time my kids are older tanning will be a thing of the past! We should accept that God knew what He was doing when He gave us each our skin color.

And I don’t mean to be preachy. I’ve been diligent about sun protection for awhile now (and it helps that I’m married to a man who HATES to be out in the sun), but I definitely wasn’t as careful as I should’ve been in my teens and early twenties. I had a few blistering sunburns (and even have some scars from those burns) and went to a tanning bed like so many of my friends before prom–shame, shame! But I’m glad we have the knowledge we do, and I plan to be even more careful moving forward.

Here are some things I plan to do:

  • Wear a rash guard at the pool and the beach: I put them on my kids most of the time, but I really need to wear one myself and keep my shoulders and back covered. I’m 32 and no longer care about looking cute at the pool.
  • Wear a hat when spending significant time outdoors: I’ve never been a hat person because my head is small and they look weird. But safety before beauty! I also need to be more forceful about making my kids wear hats. Lacey especially hates them.
  • Put a high SPF sunscreen on my face daily: I relied on makeup or moisturizer with SPF 15 most of the time. My current fancy sunscreen is SPF 45.
  • See a dermatologist annually: My insurance covers this but I honestly never gave skin cancer screening much thought until now. But I plan to add the dermatologist to my list of doctors I see for preventative care.

So those are my goals. I hope my little story can serve as a reminder to take sun protection seriously and maybe get some of you to finally get those weird spots checked out :). And if anyone has any other great tips, sunscreen recommendations, or ideas for getting kids to wear hats please share!

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After I got the good news from my doctor, I went to have my sutures from the biopsy removed. Then I picked Halle up from school and we went to the playground to celebrate.

Thank you for reading and THANK YOU for all of you who prayed for me during all this. Stay safe in the sun!

Easter Weekend/March Book Reviews

We had a really nice Easter weekend. While holidays are simpler here, they are fun. You can sort of do what you want without feeling pressure to match the level of festivities of those around you. I enjoy holidays but am definitely more simple in my approach to them. Less is more. With the exception of food. I’m always up for more food.

We teamed up with Halle’s classmates from Australia for an egg/candy hunt. I brought our real, dyed eggs along with lollipops, gummy bears and chocolate candy. The eggs got all slimy from moisture on the ground and ended up in the trash can at the mall afterwards instead of my planned egg salad. Oh well. Our friends have a playground on the roof of their building so we hid the goods all around that area. They also got to wear “treasure finders” beforehand.

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As you can probably imagine, Lacey cared not one bit about any of it. I tried to get her to pick up some eggs, but all she wanted to do was pour water from a giant bottle into cups and make a huge mess. She kept throwing her basket down and running after the water :).

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This was the best I could get on Sunday morning pictures!

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Obligatory pic with mom.

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Our family picture! I already posted this on Facebook but it’s worth sharing again because we’re all looking at the camera!

After church we had lunch with some of our other friends. They made delicious taco salad. Honey-baked hams aren’t exactly rolling in abundance here so we felt taco salad was a nice substitute for the traditional fare.

In the midst of all the candy and fun I tried numerous times to talk about the Easter story with Halle. She’s really into Jonah and the big fish at the moment so it was hard to get away from that, but she did seem to get the gist of it. Kids are so funny with what they are fixated on. I have to hand it to her, she is nothing if not honest when it comes to all matters spiritual. She says what she thinks and doesn’t aim to please, and that will only serve her well as she grows older and seeks understanding of the deep and hard things of life. Last night I was tucking her in bed and started singing “Praise Him, Praise Him,” and she held up her hand and said,  “Stop, Mommy. Go praise God in your room. I want to sleep.”

Now here is where a more theologically savvy parent would say, “Now, Halle, if we don’t praise Him then the rocks will cry out.” But I was slightly shocked (and amused) and just did what she said–left and finished the song in my own room! This one is going to be the kid who is asking questions about whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons :).

As for other things, Halle had her final swim lesson. We are sad to see them come to an end. She actually almost went all the way underwater, which is a huge deal for her. And the kids had a special popcorn snack afterwards!

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Since March is coming to a close, here are my March reads! There might be something for the book nerd out there so here are my thoughts along with some of my favorite quotes.

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History was my favorite subject in school and still a huge interest of mine. I read several history books a year, and Jared likes to joke that I belong in a book club with men in their sixties. It might be true–sometimes I do pass along recommendations to my friends’ dads and even my own father-in-law. But you need not be a man nearing retirement to appreciate history. If anything reading about the past can provide a healthy dose of perspective and make you realize that worse things have happened in the world than either the Don or the Hil becoming president (not that I’m commenting either way because I do NOT write about politics on here…haha).

Anyway, this book is the story of the American West conquest. It covers everything from the Mexican War to the clashes between American settlers and Native American tribes to major explorations to the Civil War. Quite a bit of stuff. At the center is the legendary mountain man, Kit Carson. His story is intertwined with all kinds of tales from other major players during that time period. The book frequently jumps from different perspectives: Carson, Fremont, Washington people, major generals, Navajo, etc. This is a sensitive time in history, but I found it to be a pretty objective telling of the period. The atrocities of all sides are shown, but as I’m not an expert I don’t know if they are shown fairly. The author does seem somewhat favorable to Carson, making him look better than he should have when it came to his role in certain conflicts with Native Americans (this is according to some reviews I read–I don’t know enough to make an informed opinion). This book is long and parts of it are action packed while other parts drag a bit. I liked it but didn’t love it. Still a great read if you are interested in this sad, troubling, yet formative part of U.S history. If nothing else, it is really fascinating to read about what it was like to be either a settler or an explorer during that time.

Washington’s first war of foreign intervention had cost the lives of more than 13,000 Americans–the highest death rate per fighting soldier in U.S. military history–with the Mexican toll soaring far higher, perhaps as high as 25,000 dead. The victory did not come without stout reservations and pangs of somber introspection among many American leaders who could not ignore the war’s darker imperial shadings. Ulysses S. Grant, to name on prominent doubter who actually fought in the conflict, would call the Mexican War “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” Even Sen. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who at first so staunchly supported the war (as a way to extend slavery), began to have his doubts. He told the Senate: “A deed has been done from which the country will not be able to recover for a long time, if ever; it has dropped a curtain between the present and the future, which to me is impenetrable.”

Barboncito then explained to Sherman his aversion to the prospect of moving to a new reservation in Oklahoma, an idea that the government authorities had lately been floating among the Navajos. “Our grandfathers had no idea of living in any other country except our own, and I do not think it is right for us to do so. Before I am sick or older I want to go and see the place where I was born. I hope to God you will not ask me to go to any other country except my own. This hope goes in at my feet and out at my mouth as I am speaking to you.”

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Jerry Bridges recently passed away. His books have been a great source of encouragement for numerous Christians, and this one is probably his most famous. This was actually a re-read for me, but the theme is relevant to some part of my life at the moment and I knew I would benefit from digging into it again. I was right. The book is basically the result of a long Bible study Bridges did on trusting God based off of three of His attributes: sovereignty, wisdom, and love. The doctrine of sovereignty is especially challenging, but I will say this is the one characteristic of God that always brings me the most peace. The book covers all kinds of situations from natural disasters to governments and politics to sickness and physical disability–showing from a biblical perspective how God can be trusted through all these things. It is a book every Christian should read. It would also help anyone who wants a better understanding of the age-old question, “How can a good God allow so much suffering?” (from a Christian perspective, of course, as other faiths have their own views on this topic).

Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelms us.

While it is certainly true that God’s love for us does not protect us from pain and sorrow, it is also true that all occasions of pain and sorrow are under the absolute control of God. If God controls the circumstances of the sparrow, how much more does He control the circumstances that affect us? God does not walk away and leave us to the mercy of uncontrolled random or chance events.

The eternal God who is infinite in His wisdom and perfect in His love personally made you and me. He gave you the body, the mental abilities, and the basic personality you have because that is the way He wanted you to be. And He wanted you to be just that way because He loves you and wants to glorify Himself through you.

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 I’ve been wanting to get into this series for awhile and I finally read the first book! Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series is said by some to be the greatest historical novels of all time, which is right up my alley. They tell the story of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, a member of the British Royal Navy and a doctor, who become friends and have many adventures during the early 19th century (the time of the Napoleonic Wars). The first book kicks off with the unlikely pair meeting during a concert. Later, Jack finds out he’s been given command of a brig and he invites Stephen to be the ship’s surgeon. The book starts a bit slow. The author writes in the style of the period despite the fact that this book was published in 1969, he’s just cool like that. The writing is really good, the characters memorable, and the book is actually quite funny, but it took me awhile to get into it. There is a lot of terminology I didn’t understand, but towards the end it sort of came together and I enjoyed the action scenes of the ship battles. While I’m still kind of in the dark about all the naval stuff, I was at least able to explain to Jared the difference between a commander and a lieutenant while we were watching a show with ships from this time period (unrelated to this particular story). I figure by the time I’m half way though the series I will be able to sail a 19th century British man-of-war by myself, which is a noble skill we should all aspire to. Ha! This was a fun read, but it takes some work and patience that will reward you if you stick with it. I can’t wait to read the next book!
“My dear creature, I have done with all debate. But you know as well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either MY COUNTRY, RIGHT OR WRONG, which is infamous, or MY COUNTRY IS ALWAYS RIGHT, which is imbecile.”
“The pleasant thing about fighting with the Spaniards, Mr Ellis,’ said Jack, smiling at his great round eyes and solemn face, ‘is not that they are shy, for they are not, but that they are never, never ready.”
Stephen could remember an evening when he had sat there in the warm, deepening twilight, watching the sea; it had barely a ruffle on its surface, and yet the Sophie picked up enough moving air with her topgallants to draw a long straight whispering furrow across the water, a line brilliant with unearthly phosphorescence , visible for a quarter of a mile behind her. Days and nights of unbelievable purity. Nights when the steady Ionian breeze rounded the square mainsail–not a brace to be touched, watch relieving watch–and he and Jack on deck, sawing away, sawing away, lost in their music, until the falling dew untuned their strings. And days when the perfection of dawn was so great, the emptiness so entire, that men were almost afraid to speak. 
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My final read of the month! I’m not a big fan of memoirs, but this was on sale for .99 so I snatched it up. It’s still on sale for kindle, fyi. This is the story of a Canadian intellectual and skeptic who discovered Christianity while doing her graduate work at Oxford. It appears to be lightly modeled after C.S. Lewis’ spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Despite this not being my favorite genre, I enjoyed this book a lot. The writing is brilliant in its description of Oxford and the author does a great job describing her inner wrestling with questions of life, faith, and doubt. Since she’s a literature student, she weaves lots of poetry and great literary quotes into her story, which is also a pleasure to read. My only complaint is that the actual dialogue and cast of supporting characters (mostly her friends and professors at Oxford) are a bit too good to be true. I have no doubts that Oxford folks are brilliant but sometimes reading about her exchanges with her peers felt like watching an episode of Dawson’s Creek. Everyone had the perfect, witty, equally deep yet equally vague and metaphorical response to everything she asked. It was a bit much, but that is forgivable because the rest of the writing is so good. I also appreciated how she described the painful cost of adopting the Christian faith, mainly how it alienated her from certain relationships and family members who did not understand what she was going through. This is a great read if you enjoy this kind of book! I especially recommend it if you’re an academic type as you will love the descriptions of life at Oxford, but you don’t have to be. I’m not and I like it!.
The morning after I heard the gospel, however, I woke up with what felt like a hangover. Little would I know it was of the spiritual kind that accompanies the inevitable dawn of realization that life is not perhaps, what we previously thought it was. And we cannot go back to pretending. What a headache to be caught in that liminal space! Literally.

We can lean into the human fear, acknowledge it, and move through it to the larger vision, or we can remain crumpled by it, crumble to it. I had been more sharp than rough, I would say, around the edges. And yet, through His grace, here I towered, all the height with none of the vertigo, a sparkling diamond in this everlasting crown placed so that I could appreciate other diamonds. Admiring the works of His hands.

So there you go, April is around the corner, time for spring! I feel it here as the rainy season is ending and so much change is coming. Hope everyone enjoys some fantastic spring reading, outdoor walks, and allergy relief!

Btw…sorry about the formatting issues with some of my quotes. I’ve tried to fix it but can’t get it to work. They are not one excerpt, but each paragraph is an individual quote.

Easter Meditation: The True Hero

I find it difficult to write about my faith on this blog. Most of my posts are silly and surface level type things. Whenever I mention anything to do with Christianity or God on here it often sounds a bit cliche and thrown in like an afterthought. At least to me!

But the truth is that my faith informs and transforms every aspect of my life. I’ve believed as long as I can remember, but my journey as a Christian is always changing. God doesn’t change. But I do. And I have. And just when I feel like I’m starting to figure things out, circumstances, life, doubt, and the Bible all come together… and all of a sudden it feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to know.

Easter is perhaps the most poignant time of year for the Christian. And believers approach this time of year differently. Some are much more liturgical and traditional. Some pour themselves into meaningful activities, projects, and conversations with family, friends, and children. Some read special books or devotions or attend special services. The means and methods vary, but the aim is the same. We want to feel a deep connection in our souls with the most significant events in our faith. The misery of Good Friday, the forsaken, crucified Christ, the lowly days of suffering when all seemed lost, and the glory of Sunday–when the resurrected Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to rescue and to save.

We hope and rejoice in this. We know our deepest need has been met. God has forgiven us. He has made us His. Christ took our failures upon Himself and did what we could not do. He was the acceptable sacrifice we could not be. We hope in this. But it is not always an easy hope. In fact, perseverance through struggles and adversity often precedes hope. As we walk through life we have to work to be hopeful. We have to fight for it. It can only come from God, but we have to use the means of faithful perseverance to experience it.

I’ve been witness to numerous Christians persevere through the hardest things imaginable. Loss, physical pain, emotional pain, disability, poverty, divorce, addiction, etc. I’ve been in parts of the world where it is dangerous to practice anything but the majority religion–and have known and talked to people who have lost everything for the sake of following Christ. Suffering is not unique to Christians, but our faith tells us not to run away, but to persevere and to hope and to believe  that God does beautiful things through pain. And at Easter we remember that Jesus knows pain. He suffered the greatest anguish of all, and because He did our sufferings not only have a purpose, but also an expiration date.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21: 3-4

And what about the littler things? Suffering comes in various degrees that wax and wane throughout our lives. But it’s always kind of there. Things are never perfect. Sometimes it’s more of a season full of smaller challenges that wear you down slowly, reminding you that even though nothing terrible is happening and so many others have it worse…you are still not quite whole.

The past two months have full of unique and trying situations for our family. Nothing catastrophic, but we’ve each endured struggles. Crazy, chaotic work issues. Teething issues. Behavior and discipline issues. Struggles with anxiety and fear. Struggles with annoying and difficult health problems. Struggles with patience. Struggles with sleeping. Struggles that seem to get better for awhile only to come back with more vengeance than before. These are the things of life and while I’m so thankful and aware of all the blessings we have, it can be hard to rise above the moments that feel so discouraging.

A couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast on how reading great literature can form and impact your life (I love to read!). One of the women talking mentioned how reading great books as a child taught her how to see herself as the heroine in the story of her own life. I got what she meant and didn’t entirely disagree–after all, I firmly believe that great stories can teach us invaluable things about character and how to live. But something about the idea of being a ‘heroine’ struck me as incredibly exhausting for this season of life. I know that heroes and heroines don’t have to be perfect and part of their triumph is in their struggle. But, truth be told, many days I am not the heroine of my story. Sometimes I’m the troll in the story. Or the wicked witch.

As I continued to listen I randomly and without thinking said out loud, “I don’t need to be the hero. God, YOU are the hero of my life.” It may seem cheesy, but this simple thought has brought me a lot of encouragement lately. I’ll never forget sitting in church years ago and hearing my pastor at the time preach on the story of David and Goliath. He said something along the lines of, “You may have always thought of David as being the hero of this story. But he isn’t. God is the hero.” And it made so much sense. Biblical heroes are not really heroes at all. They are often people who have done terrible things, who struggle continually with disobedience and failure, and yet by faith in God they have victory and redemption. God is the hero. In every Bible story, God is the hero. In every life that continues to persevere and believe despite weakness and hardship, God is the hero.

Am I excused from aiming to be heroic and overcome the the daily difficulties of life? Of course not. I want to do my best to reflect the character of God in every way. But I know that because of the heroism and love and perfection of Jesus at Easter, grace is my friend. His sufficiency covers my weakness and uses it for great and lasting things. And while we struggle and suffer for a little while, victory is God’s. God always wins. And by faith we win too. It doesn’t matter how we may feel in our momentary afflictions. We are securely upheld by the faithfulness of God.

I wanted to share this little reflection because I know every single person who will read it is suffering in some way, big or small (though it never feels small!). And I’m certainly no expert on the topic or even an eloquent person, but I seriously doubt that there isn’t a single soul in the world who doesn’t need to be reminded that not only does God understand our struggles, He conquered it and promises life simply through our faith, not our efforts. We have to endure for awhile, but He is with us and will see us to the end. He makes all things new.

I know not everyone who reads my blog shares my faith and that is ok. Hopefully, it will give you a glimpse of the meaning the cross of Christ and Easter has for Christians, and for me personally. If you are a Christian struggling with hope, don’t let this holy week pass you by without saturating yourself in the truth of God’s love for you! He is everything we could not and cannot be and offers us His perfection through Jesus. Hold on to that and don’t lose heart! And let perseverance lead you to lasting hope. God is a true hero and hope in Him will never disappoint.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

A joyful and contemplative holy week for all.

A few simple shots of egg dyeing with Halle. Jared took these. It’s rare for me not to be the one behind the camera, but I’m thankful for these little moments and glad to have them captured in photos.

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