Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saturday Morning Soapbox

Yes, I said I was done posting on this blog.  And I really thought I was!  I've been maintaining my Thinking Positive blog, but there's something that's on my mind and heart that I just can't be quiet about.  And this Caribbean Daydreaming blog is the only appropriate place to write about it.  If for no other reason than the fact that it's a lesson I began learning in the Caribbean and continue to learn FROM some of my fellow Caribbean spouses...

If you know me at all, you know I am a Christian.  I love God, I love serving His people, I love living my life following His plan (or at least trying desperately to).  But people, sadly I frequently find myself shaking my head and having to pick my jaw up off the floor because of the things that my fellow Christians do and say.  Y' the last 2 years I have been both wholly blessed by and also sickeningly slandered by...yes you guess it...CHRISTIANS!  I don't want what I'm about to write to offend any of my brothers and sisters who have been so very supportive and prayerful for me and Jonathan lately and always.  We love you...the way you exhibit God's love is how it should be done!  And we feel His warmth and His comfort each time we remember you!  So please don't read this and think that I in any way resent your love and friendship.  On the contrary, it's refreshing to interact with Christians like you.  Restores my hope that there might still be some hope for the Christian community to flippin' snap out of it...

In the interest of keeping myself from getting on my soap box and ranting for pages and pages, let me break this down into a few key points.  I have to keep this thing organized otherwise it will turn into a novel (which honestly, maybe it should be...).  Since there was a particular event that specifically set me off yesterday (I went to bed mad about it and woke up madder about it this morning), let me first start with:

As Christians, we grow up in the church being taught about serving "the least of these".  About being the "hands and feet of Jesus".  We read about the ministry of Jesus.  We point out that Jesus sat with the lepers, had conversations with prostitutes, loved thieves, etc.  We go on mission trips, run food drives, etc.  And yet...and yet when the rubber meets the road, I find Christians almost always unwilling to step out of their comfort zone and really SERVE.  Y''s not enough to get in the comfy church van, drive to a mission site, do a little mild work, eat a fabulous home cooked meal, say some prayers, and walk away.  IT'S NOT ENOUGH.  When God called Jonathan and I to Dominica, He did so to literally RIP us out of our comfort zones.  I wasn't happy about it at first.  But I decided there had to be a reason that I was being plucked from my perfect little suburban America life and placed in a 3rd world country.  There was a reason why God had me encountering 20+ people in need and in poverty on my way to and from my apartment each day.  And it wasn't just to "stretch" ME, guys.  It was because those people...are HIS PEOPLE.  I certainly don't serve His people perfectly.  I mess up and I choose comfort over serving way more than I should.  But it bugs the HECK out of me that Christians love sitting in their silly little circles and TALKING about Jesus and His ministry...but they rarely if EVER put themselves out there the way He did. How often do we go down to the city mission, scoop up a homeless child who is filthy, put them in our laps and tell them they are loved?  How often do we roll down the window for those panhandlers and offer to buy them dinner?  How often do we step outside of the walls of our beloved churches and actually live out what we talk about??  Gosh, y'all.  We are MISSING IT!!!  We are reaping only the fringe benefits of our Christianity.  Of our faith.  Because God dwells IN His world.  He is among those impoverished, those imprisoned, those in abusive relationships.  And I'll tell you, those people wading through those life situations don't give two craps about your Women's Bible Study group.  They don't care about your prayers either, frankly.  What they are thinking is, "If you're a Christian and you love God, where the heck are you???".  And seriously...WHERE THE HECK ARE WE???  If I'm telling the truth, we are in one of our 3 weekly Bible studies or being a pew jockey on Sundays...while the people of God suffer right outside our doors!  And we pray for them...and that's about it...


I could get on my high horse for HOURS about this one.  Especially today since what has set me off deals partly with serving but mostly with giving.  We have sermons about "tithing".  How it is our responsibility to give our 10% to the church or to "God's work".  It's our responsibility...really...our obligation.  We tithe...because we have to.  So we can check that box on the "How to Be a Good Christian" checklist.  We give our money only after we "know" that it's going to a "worthy cause".  As if our freaking money is ANYTHING!  As if that money is not given by God anyway.  And somehow we have this death grip on it like our "discernment" in how to "give" it means anything at all.  Y'all...God calls us to GIVE.  Not to nit pick the giving and decide whether it's a worthy cause.  You give...let Him do the discerning.  When He says, "Daughter, hand that $20 out the window", just flippin' do it!  Who cares if they turn around and buy a carton of cigarettes?  God didn't say "serve the least of these as long as they don't buy booze".  Jesus didn't withhold His healing of prostitutes and lepers contingent upon...well really anything.  He just did it because He loves them.  And so should we.  Have you ever wondered what the beggar thinks when you smile at them, hand them money or food or things, and tell them "God Bless You"?  Or even just "Hope you have a good day!"?   Even if they turn around and spend it on something you don't think they should buy, even if they turn around and throw that sack of burgers in the garbage,  it was the intention that mattered.  It was the LOVE that you gave that mattered.  And your freaking money is nothing.  Really.  Likewise, if your heart is not in the right place when you give whatever it is that you're giving, you might as well not give it at all.  Don't give it.  Seriously.  They don't need your stuff or your money if you give it with a twisted heart or mindset.  You might as well be handing them out a handful of sawdust.  You don't get a flippin' "high five" from God because you "gave" if you gave without a giving heart.  He shakes His head and scoffs at your giving when you decide you need to put the endeavor under the microscope and micromanage your "gift".  It's like giving a kid a Barbie doll but making sure they never make her wear red.  At that point, the giving is about you.  And it's selfish.  And it's lukewarm.  And we know what God does with lukewarm faith...


I end here.  Because THIS, my friends, makes my stomach turn.  It lights my fire so intensely that I can't possibly be quiet about it any longer.  Do you know that some of the nastiest people I've ever known in my life are Christians?  In my life, the people who have hurt me the most deeply were...yes...Christians!  And many times they've done it under the auspice of "spurring on their fellow Christians".  Or even worse, they've abandoned completely what God says about community and love, and they've attacked me as if I'm the enemy.  Discouraged me.  Despised me.  Judged me.  "Rachel, you are going to hell"...from a Christian.  "You should have offered me a refund on my donation to that cause because you spent the money on school uniforms and food for that family instead of what I thought it should be spent on"...from a Christian.  "How can you in good conscious support that family's adoption?"...from a Christian.  "You shouldn't be with Jonathan...he's an instrument of the devil"...FROM A CHRISTIAN!!!!  I've watched Christians attack each other with so much "conviction" over these past few years that it literally makes me sick.  I have friends who are atheists who were raised in a faith community and walked away from it completely because of who they believe Christians (and then subsequently Christ) to be.  For them, it's easier to believe that God doesn't even exist at all than to believe He does and watch Christians live their lives the way they do "in God's name". It sickens them...and it sickens me.  And it doesn't matter what kind of "good witnesses" they see in Christians...because the minute they see the majority of us being hateful, judgmental, exclusive, stingy, or just plain ugly they say, "See.  And THAT'S why I can't stand Christians."    So many Christians have abandoned Christ's message.  LOVE your neighbor.  LOVE never fails.  LOVE, y'all.  Unadulterated love without question, without stipulation, with abandon.  And we should love EACH OTHER.  Love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we can't love each other...if we slander each other, throw our brethren under the bus every chance we get, question their integrity publicly, murder their in the WORLD do we think we can love the least of these??  Loving each other is easy.  It's SO easy.  It's safe to love another Christian...or at least it should be.  Funny I should say that after some of the Christians I've encountered who have been some of the most unsafe people in the world for me to put my trust in.  It's been unsafe for me to be vulnerable around some of these people because they've turned right around and burned me worse than anyone ever has.  To heck with all your talk of loving orphans and feeding the hungry and supporting those in heck with all that...while you talk about your brothers and sisters like they're garbage.  Again with that lukewarmness.  Your "giving", your "serving"'s sawdust...if you don't first LOVE.  And love well.  When it's easy and when it isn't.  God doesn't want your stupid checklists.  He doesn't want to see you shut yourself up in the church in your Bible study groups while His world is dying, hurting, needing...and you do nothing.  And He hates it even more when someone who proclaims His name...speaks about His goodness...doesn't display that in their own lives.  It's not a wonder atheism and agnostics are on the rise in the US.  It's become easier to claim God doesn't exist than it is to trust Christians.  Ew.  Makes my heart hurt, y'all...

In my pulse and my blood pressure are elevated ;)...let me say this.  God calls us to radical faith that tests us.  He calls us to SACRIFICIAL giving that challenges us.  He calls us to serve His people untiringly...most ESPECIALLY when it's uncomfortable.  He's dwelling right outside our comfort zones...and we are MISSING it.  While we are so intrinsically motivated that we can't even SEE where He really is.  If we don't first love, it's all in vain.  Give, serve, love.  Not micromanage, judge, manipulate.  And until we snap out of this as Christians, I'm afraid we're missing God's purpose entirely...

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me." -Matthew 25:45

"Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." -Ephesians 5:1-2

"Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another." -Ephesians 5:21

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Highlight Reel

We leave TODAY!  This will be the last post on this blog ever.  It's a little surreal to say that!  I've been in the process of turning this blog into a coffee table book (that's actually on my 30 Before 30 list).  That book is going to be gargantuan!  So many great stories, so many memories...this is the stuff we will tell our grandchildren about.  So to sign off in style, I thought I would leave you guys with a "highlight reel".  These are the things that I will remember forever about our Caribbean Med School experience.  If I wrote a blog about the experience (which in most cases I did) there is a link to it in the description if you want to hop over to the post and read it.  So grab a cup of coffee or a pina colada, kick back, and jog down Caribbean memory lane with me.  Hope you guys enjoy!

"The Reveal"
Probably one of the most profound moments in this journey was when Jonathan revealed his MERP acceptance.  He had had an interview with Ross but hadn't heard anything yet.  It was Memorial Day weekend and his parents were visiting us in Houston.  The 4 of us had gone to see a movie and then we came home and chatted in the living room for a while.  *Side note: Jonathan had made a deal with his dad that if he got accepted, Charlie would shave his mustache off.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  He'd had a mustache FOREVER...even Bernice had never seen him without one!*  We were wrapping up our conversation and getting ready to go to bed and Jonathan says "Um...before we do that.  Dads...I have something for you."  And he places a single blade razor on the coffee table.  We all stared at it confused, then the realization happened, and then I flung myself at him screaming!!  He got accepted!!!  And Charlie marched right back to the bathroom and shaved the 'stache right off.  He looked so weird!  But he's kept it shaved ever since.  Such a cool reminder of how awesome that moment was...

Trying to move 5 years of stuff out of a 3 year old house and either into storage, sold in a garage sale, donated, into the trash, or into suitcases was QUITE the task.  It's a miracle we got that done in less than 8 weeks!  I will never forget the day our movers were coming.  We had stayed up until 3:00 AM the night before trying desperately to clearly separate the stuff that was going and what was staying.  We just began throwing crap on the floor of our giant master bathroom so we could shut the door and tell them that everything in the bathroom was staying.  After a long morning of moving, we literally took a nap in the pile of crap on our bathroom floor because we had no furniture left!  Our water had been accidentally cut off, the city had temporarily cut off the power to do maintenance, and a crazy woman showed up to buy our patio furniture.  Circus afro time!!

"The Trek West, Some Family Beach Time, and Some Bad News"
There's quite a bit I could write here, so I'm just going to keep it short and sweet and let you navigate to the full story if you want more details.  We went on two back to back family vacations.  First with my family in Gulf Shores Alabama for some nice relaxing beach time, then a road trip west with the Womacks for some mountain air.  Both were JUST what we all needed!  Unfortunately once it was all over we got the terrifying news that Bernice had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor that needed immediate surgery.  She went into an 8 hour surgery to remove 8 of her organs that had been compromised by the tumor and Jonathan and I had to say goodbye to her while she was still in the hospital to catch our plane to The Bahamas for MERP.  It was difficult to say the least.  She underwent chemotherapy and and a long a trying recovery and we couldn't be there.  At times that was excruciating   But we are SO thankful that today she is happy and healthy and cancer free!  

"Treasure Hunting"
One of the highlights of living in The Bahamas was the beaches.  Spectacular!  I don't miss much about living in Freeport, but I *do* miss the beaches.  Jonathan and his buddy Matt would go literally every Saturday to snorkel as a study break.  They would bring up starfish, conch, sea biscuits, sand dollars, etc.  It was their stress relief!  Matt's wife Michelle and I would sun bathe on beach loungers and chat.  Sometimes she and I would walk up the beach to the most perfect spot to find beach glass.  She and I both went home with bags and bags of awesome sea glass.  On weekends after the minis we rented a car just the 4 of us and trekked all over the island   We saw just about everything there was to see and enjoyed the freedom of our own transportation.  The simplicity of those weekends and that easy friendship with them is something I will always cherish...

"Oh My God I Passed..."
So MERP was and probably still is, even after 4 semesters here in Dominica, the hardest thing Jonathan has ever had to accomplish.  MERP is, for all intents and purposes, a "weed out" course.  Kind of a "Can you hack it in med school?" kind of thing except the process of passing that program was WAY more difficult than what he has done since.  That's a good's meant that he has stayed at the top of his class here at Ross and felt confident the whole way through.  He was so drained after his final in MERP that he came home and took a nap.  When the grades finally posted, he made me check it for him.  He was terrified.  If you don't pass MERP, you don't go to med school and even one baad score on a test could do you in.  It was that life altering of a score.  So I pulled it up, checked his score, walked into the bedroom where he was laying face down on the mattress trying not to have a nervous breakdown, and I said " freakin' passed!"  The emotional charge in that room after that is like nothing I've ever experienced before.  It was the full spectrum of emotions from BOTH of us in a matter of a few minutes.  The rest of that night he kept saying "Oh my God...I passed..." in disbelief.  Followed shortly by "I'm officially a med student now!!".  

"Is That The Ocean *Right There*??"
Moving into our first apartment in Dominica (our second time to rent an apartment sight unseen) was a trip.  We arrived in Picard around 9:00 PM so it was pitch black on the island.  I did not have my bearings.  Our landlord took us up to our apartment when we got there and showed us around.  It was TINY!  But we stepped out on the back porch and I heard the waves rolling in.  I said "Is that the ocean *right there*??"  Clifford said yes.  We went to bed fairly quickly after stopping by Matt and Michelle's place (which was two doors down) and putting some of our things away.  But we were too charged to sleep so we woke up at 4:30 and sat out on our back porch to watch the sunrise and see the Caribbean sea from our house.  The quietness of that first morning was so peaceful and serene.  The perfect way to start this crazy journey...

"The Most Perfect Dominican Apartment"
After a few months of living in our first apartment, we began feeling like the walls were closing in around us.  It was so small that I think if you eliminated the itty bitty kitchen, it was probably about the size of my college dorm room.  We decided to start the search for a different apartment and turned up with nothing.  Everything was either the same size, not as nice, or WAY more expensive than where we were.  Then a sweet friend said, "Hey, y'all should go see Lance and Crystine's place.  They're moving out soon and it's such a cool apartment!".  So we contacted Lance and he gave us a tour of the cutest little treehouse apartment there ever was.  A 2 bedroom, 1 office, HUGE kitchen and bathroom, quiet little cottage on Banana Trail that was CHEAPER than our current little 350 sq. ft. apartment.  What?!?  So we signed on the dotted line almost immediately and broke our lease at our first apartment and became the proud new tenants of The Treehouse in March 2013...

"My Favorite Hike"
I'm not much of an outdoorsy type person, but I have stepped out of my comfort zone a little here in Dominica.  Jenn Noorlander convinced me that the Aba Wavine hike was "totally doable" and so I took the bait and went.  It was one of the most physically challenging things I think I've ever done, but I did it and it was incredible!  Aba Wavine has been my favorite adventure on this island so far I think.  So gorgeous, untouched, and breathtaking...

"Weddings and Babies and Trunk Shows, Oh My!"
One of the coolest things that happened in this span of time is that I was asked to be a bridesmaid in my friend Marivy's wedding.  I was so honored!  But I had to decline because we just couldn't afford to get me back for the ceremony.  And then...her amazing now-husband offered to help pay my way home so I could be there.  Incredible!  And I was SO blessed to be able to share in their perfect day.  It was beautiful!  And on that same trip home I got to spend time with my "niece" Emma (she was getting so big already even though she was only 5 months old at the time!), I got to meet my friend Angie's little boy Cayden who was only a teeny tiny 6 week old, I got to squeal over the news that my friend Rachel was expecting and due in October, and on the day before I was leaving to go back to Dominica my sister gave birth to my niece Carolyn.  Sometime in that trip Bernice, Nicole, and I held an ADKOF Trunk Show which was the most successful one we've ever done.  The month of March last year was pretty amazing...

"Let the Grill Nights Commence"
One of our favorite things to do here in Dominica was to break out our big grill (built for us by a welder at a junkyard in Portsmouth out of rebar and a 55 gallon steel barrel) and have people over for Grill Nights.  They became quite popular and we would have upwards of 20-30 mouths to feed including kids.  The kids would play outside until the sun went down and then they would all pile on our big bed and play video games and watch movies and shows while the adults ate and talked.  Everyone brought their own stuff to grill and things to share.  We did this every Friday night for 5-6 months.  Then things got a little crazy and my work schedule had me exhausted and Jonathan's studying was super intense for 3rd semester and they fell by the wayside.  But Grill Nights will always be a highlight of our stay here in Dominica.  And they were the catalyst to a pretty sweet friendship with the Stricklands which we will ALWAYS hold near and dear to our hearts from now on!

"The Henry's"
The Henry's are a sweet family in Portsmouth that I had the honor to develop a relationship with.  They became kind of my "pet project" and Elise and I have spent many an hour doing our part to help their sweet family out.  Junie, the mom of the bunch, asked Elise and I to attend her mother's memorial service several months ago which was such an intense honor and an experience I will never forget.  One of the things that has made a mark on me about them is the fact that they have taken the charity that we gave them and MADE something for themselves.  They used our help as a stepping stone to not only bring themselves out of hopeless poverty, but to begin helping others in their community.  For a while I worried that we had helped them to the point of dependence...and then when Elise and I left, then what?  But my heart soars to know that they are no longer down and out.  And they will be JUST fine when I leave.  That family taught me about humility, gracious giving, and perseverance.  Getting to take part in their family has been something that has changed me forever.  Sharing in honoring of Junie's mother at her passing was probably one of the most memorable things I did here.  But I sure will miss Junie's sweet shy smile, Shernia's willingness to help and getting to see her grow into such a beautiful young lady.  I will miss Johnson and Joelle being such gentlemen, I will miss Calvin's silliness and his feigned attempts to avoid getting scooped up by me into bear hugs, and I will miss Stacy's precious little kisses and her sassiness.  Man that family has made a lasting mark on me and they are already sorely missed...

This ministry has blessed me beyond words.  I am SO excited about the future of this organization.  It started strong and has continued to hang on over the years, but I'm encouraged by what's happening with it this coming semester.  God has richly blessed this ministry and He has big big plans for it.  I've already seen Him work miracles through the work being done there!  The link to the post I wrote about a year ago concerning this ministry explains in detail what blesses my heart about it.  Suffice to say, for now, that I am a changed woman because of my involvement with these kids and this ministry.  Love and Light!

"Friends That Are Now Our Family"
One of the many perks of this journey has been the friends we have made.  Being thrown into the situation we've all been thrown into together means that friendships are also put in a pressure cooker.  Sometimes that means figuring out really quickly that you want nothing to do with someone.  But more times than not, it means you connect with people who change your life and will be a part of it for many years to come.  Our friends that have become family are my favorite souvenir that we're bringing back from Dominica!

In the interest of time and the fact that I'm literally about to finish packing my bags and catch my taxi to the airport for the last time in Dominica, I'll leave it there.  Words can't express how grateful I am for this experience, how proud I am of Jonathan and what he's accomplished, and how anxious I am about starting this new chapter in our lives.  Don't forget to go follow us on Thinking Positive so you can keep tabs on our IVF attempt and all things Womack for the next few years before residency and maybe beyond.  We are leaving this island better than when we came.  Though it was a tough decision to make to do this, we wouldn't change it for the world.  Cheers to the next chapter y'all!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

5 Things You THOUGHT You Knew About Living in Dominica

Sooo...I am still working on my countdown blog.  So sorry!  This week has so far been INSANE and I'm still working on the finishing touches with the final post.  So to tide you over (until maybe Sunday), I thought I'd write this post that's been floating around in my head for a while.  Hope you enjoy!

1) Dominicans are sneaky and they are thieves.  You will get solicited for marijuana, mugged, and/or burgled at least once while you live there.

First of all, lumping ALL Dominicans into this category is like saying that everyone in Texas is a cowboy.  Since I'm a Texan and FAR from a get the picture... ;)  But seriously, Dominicans are some of the sweetest people I've ever met.  They are generous and kind and they never forget a face or a name.  Yes, there are those select few delinquents that cause trouble.  But honestly, I've been amazed at how these Dominicans really look out for us here at Ross.  Not just the security guards!  I've had a Dominican woman buy me a whole weeks worth of groceries and show me how to cook all of them, another Dominican woman give me one of her prized coconut tarts just so I could try a bite, another Dominican man took it upon himself to search out our long lost vehicle (which one of those above mentioned delinquents *did* jack) and wouldn't rest until he'd located it.  The list could go on and on.  So no, Dominicans are not sneaky thieves.  They will teach you more about selfless giving and generosity than you could learn in a whole lifetime of living in the states...

2) I bet you go lay out on the beach all day every day, don't you?

Ha!  This one makes me laugh.  I mean, I won't lie.  I have done my fair share of laying out on the beach or by the pool.  But I stay busier than a one armed paper hanger here in Dominica, and I'm pretty sure most if not all of the other spouses would say the same thing.  Living here presents challenges that at first seem insurmountable.  But in the long run those things become part of daily life and you just roll with it.  MacGuyver'd dinners, walks to and from the grocery store in the blazing heat and 100% humidity, living without real cow's milk for months, hand washing your clothes and hoping they don't blow off your porch while drying, etc. etc.  This is our life here and it's become the norm.  So much so that the idea of living in the states and having everything pretty much handed to us on a silver platter (living here will make air conditioned cars and hot showers look like things of luxury) is a little daunting.  I'm determined to maintain at least some of the simplicity of living we've found here in Dominica...

3) All the students and families must just function like one big happy family right?

Well folks, this isn't true either.  As is true in ALL social situations, you won't get along with everyone.  And if you try, you will make yourself crazy!  You will connect with people you never thought you would.  You will form friendships that will most certainly last a lifetime.  But you will most certainly NOT love every person you encounter.  It's a family, yes.  Albeit a VERY dysfunctional one.  You will have your nerds, your sorority chicks, your annoying meat heads, your basket cases, your crazy folk, the best people you'll ever meet, and also the worst (catch that Mean Girls reference??  That wasn't by accident...).  My best advice there is to cling SUPER tight to the people who make you happy.  The ones who will say "Yeah girl, slipping down the hill in the mud in your cute sundress sucks.  Sometimes it's hard living here.  Let's get a glass of wine and forget about it...".  The ones who you can call in the middle of the night when your cat gets poisoned and you have no idea what to do about it.  The ones who will laugh like crazy at your story about your resident roof rat and STILL want to come over for dinner.  Living here is hard.  All.  The.  Time.  Don't let anyone fool you into thinking it's rainbows and daisies.  Don't get it twisted.  It's TOUGH.  But the hard edges of life in Dominica are softened by familiar faces who become like family to you over time.  You just gotta know how to pick 'em...

4) Gosh living on an island must mean you eat TONS of seafood!

Booooooo!!!  This was a misconception I had that was a REAL bummer to find out was not true.  Now, you CAN always get fresh tuna or marlin or these little teeny needle fish looking things that I can never remember the name of.  That stuff is always around.  We can hear them blowing the conch shell saying it's ready for butchering all the way up here in Picard.  But the way *I* like seafood, how *I* like it cooked, and the kinds of "sea things" *I* like to eat are not really present here in Dominica.  The shrimp here are nothing compared to a big fat Gulf shrimp, there is no such thing as real salmon, and finding good shellfish is like hitting the lottery.  The lobster here is cheeper and arguably better than what you might find in the states, but I can't (or maybe shouldn't) really weigh in there.  Since me and lobster have a love/hate relationship.  As in *I* LOVE lobster and it HATES me.  I am looking forward to better and more available seafood when we get back to the states.  NEVER thought I'd be saying THAT after moving back from the Caribbean...

5) You'll get so much more studying done because there are less distractions.

Now in some ways this is true.  But there are distractions here in Dominica that are things you would never see coming.  Your own bowels to name one.  Listen y'all...the Shack Attacks are a real thing.  And they can put you in a bad way REAL quick.  Also, just life in general is not as easy going.  It's hot, you have to walk...A LOT, you can and will likely get sicker here than you've ever been (chikungunya, E.Coli, various and sundry digestive issues, heat exhaustion, etc.).  The difference is that you have to CHOOSE to make your studying a priority.  And it's not only a choice but a constant battle as there are ALWAYS things vying for your time, attention, and energy here.  Usually totally left field things too.  The wheat is definitely separated from the chaff down here in the tropics.  The strong survive...and they also stumble.  But I am a firm believer that when we have come out on the other side of this trial by island fire, we will be better for it.  Jonathan's GPA and his eventual USMLE score will be the testaments to that!

There ya have it!  If you're a newbie...get ready for the ride of your life.  A former Ross spouse put it this way and I couldn't agree more:

 This island has been my home for the past 18 months. I have never been more homesick, or seen more beauty. I have never had more relaxation or more trials. I have never been so healthy, or been more sick. I am so greatful for the friends, the 
experience, the memories...and I have never been more excited to go home!!! 

I don't like to say I'm saying hello. Hello to understanding the impact a person can have in a second, a minute, a day.

Take it all in and learn a few things while you're here.  This experience will change your get to pick how!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Final Countdown-2 Weeks to Go!

All our bags are packed!  Yep...*that* was a task, but it's done!  Our barrels are slated to ship soon and what we have left in this house (other than food) is what will fit in our 2 suitcases and 4 carry-ons.  The Kindergarten classroom is no longer here in the Treehouse.  Our hotel in Puerto Rico is booked and our U-Haul in Houston is booked.  Gettin' real y'all!  We have had our final grill night at the Treehouse and Big Blue (our giant grill) has gone to her new home with a great Ross family here in Picard.  I'm making one more trip to Roseau on Saturday and I finally got around to visiting the Kalinago Territory where I snagged a few amazing handmade baskets that I'll be shipping home.  Now all that's left is our "last hurrah" evening here in a few days and then we're off!  Are there really only 14 days left on this crazy ride??

Jonathan has done some MAD studying for this USMLE test, but he's decided to take a breather for a minute.  He literally ROCKED the COMP and set himself (and our future) up pretty royally.  So at this point he's kind of competing with himself to see how high a score he can get.  We're actually starting to get excited about him taking it because we know the outcome is going to be great.  And for all of those reasons, he has decided to give himself a more substantial break in studying.  We feel like his mental health is way more important than rushing to take this very important test.  We've got plenty of time!  So now it looks like he's going to push his test date back to mid July and just take his time studying.  I'm grateful for that!

 I'm getting anxious about leaving now.  I knew the day would come.  I'm beginning to feel sad fairly frequently thinking about the prospect of leaving this place.  Leaving my babies (i.e.-my Kindergarteners and my Strickland babies) and of course I'm NOT at all looking forward to saying bye to Jon and Elise.  They have become such an institution for us now.  Such an integral part of our lives in general.  It will be hard to leave them here...but I can look forward to the amazingly exciting things in store for all of us in the future.  We want to take a trip to Disney with both our families, I want my dad to take my Lincoln up in his airplane.  SUCH cool things coming.

So that inspired my #2's today...

The #2 Thing That I Will Miss About Dominica

My Little Red Head, Solveig, Elise, and Jon Strickland.  So this is the one I've been avoiding writing.  It's bittersweet this leaving.  Sweet because we get to go home and spend time with family.  We've got LOTS to look forward to in the coming months.  But oh so bitter when it comes to leaving behind the people and the community we've come to know and love.  One integral part of our experience here in Dominica has been our relationship with the Stricklands.  They have become like family for us.  Their kids have become like our own.  And it's a little difficult to imagine living our lives without seeing them every day or at least being close enough to them that we can call them and have them over for dinner any random night of the week.  I think that's why I got so emotional about that stinkin' grill was the thing that first brought our families together!

Elise has been such an encouraging force in my life.  She and I have had many a conversation about my baby woes and about our decision to undergo IVF.  One of the things she is so good about is speaking about the success of our IVF as if it's a given.  Saying things like "WHEN you're pregnant this Fall," or "WHEN you bring a new baby home."  Sometimes...let's face it MOST of the time...I really need to hear that.  She is so wonderful about encouraging me in ALL things.  I mean, just look at the Mother's Day "gift" I got from her on Sunday:

Happy Mother's Day to a beautiful mother! This is for you, who have spoiled my babies because they need someone in their lives to fill in for all the aunties and grandmas who can't be here in Dominica. You, who have left a lasting impression on them that makes me smile whenever Solveig shrugs and says "dang" or Lincoln turns a random object into a guitar. You, who have come alongside me as a fellow momma in the midst of the mommy-muck to handle throw up, tantrums and potty accidents like a seasoned pro. You, who have been a second mother to my babies and have played an important part in the growth of so many other little humans. So this is for you, because even though next year may be your first Mother's Day as a *biological* mother, you have been a true mother for much much longer!! Love you friend!!

That is quintessential Elise.  And I've been so blessed to have her in my life!  

And the kids? say that I love them like they were my own is the understatement of the century.  I find myself thinking often that if mine and Jonathan's babies are anything like the two of them, we will be blessed parents indeed.  Solveig is such a sweet and innocent soul.  I just love her sweet smile!  She's incredibly smart and sensitive and I love that about her.  I love her silly side and her intense side.  I love her drive and her enthusiasm.  I love her independence and her wit.  There are more "Solveig quotes" than I can even count.  Her little fairy hands and her tiny little girl voice and her impossibly long hair that makes her look like a Bratz doll (the giant blue eyes definitely contribute to that image) are things about her that will probably fade with age.  But for me, that will always be the image I have of her in my mind.  Sweet beautiful Solveig with a heart of gold!

And where do I even start with Lincoln??  That little red head has my whole heart.  His little freckled cheeks and those orange curls are just too much.  But the things I love about Lincoln go beyond just his adorably dashing good looks.  He is seriously one of the most intuitive 3 year olds I've ever known.  There have been mornings that I've come to campus after a long night of feeling blue about our infertility.  Without fail EVERY single one of those mornings he comes running up to me and hugs my neck and says things like "Oh Miss Racho you are beautiful!" or "I loooooove you!" or "Miss Racho I missed you!".  And it makes all the clouds go away.  He "took care of me" when I had E. Coli and a kidney stone.  He was so concerned about how I was feeling.  He insisted on sitting in bed with me and feeding me saltines and watching Cars with me (because that ALWAYS makes a sick person feel better right??).  He has taken to this sweet little cheek kissing bit and it will seriously melt your heart.  He'll say "Miss Racho can I kiss you?" and then he plants this sweet little kiss right on my cheek.  How can I not be in love??  He has fallen asleep in my arms more times than I even remember and the sweetness of his little baby breath and the way he snuggles up so perfectly in the crook of my shoulder make my heart full.  That little one has been the highlight of my time here in Dominica...

Jon and Elise and Solveig and Lincoln have been key players in this journey for us.  Key players that will continue to be an integral part of our lives and the lives of our own kids for many many years.  If we've learned anything in these past 2 years it's that friendships GROW when you are forced to be purposeful about them.  Even long distance ones!  So we are sad to say goodbye to them in 14 days, but we KNOW that this is not the end!!  We love you guys!!!

The #2 Thing That Will Be Awesome About Living in the States Again

Our IVF Journey Begins.  In 33 days we will be n the waiting room at OU Infertility waiting to be called in for our consultation with Dr. Hansen.  I am anxious and nervous and excited and scared and lots of other emotions all rolled into one.  That first week is probably going to be pretty eventful.  We will be undergoing lots of diagnostic testing.  And by we, I mean ME.  I will have my ultrasound, LOTS of blood work, my mock transfer, my hysteroscopy (and possibly a laproscopy if endometriosis is suspected), etc., etc.  All the stuff that makes me really nervous happens first.  It's the stuff that could halt us before we ever even get started.  But we are Thinking Positive here.  Taking steps to stay relaxed.  I'll be getting set up with an acupuncturist when we get back home and also getting going at a massage therapy place in Norman.  All just to manage the stress and anxiety that are sure to come along with the months of June, July, and August.  But we are both just SO ready for this to start.  We've been waiting so long for this chance and now we are so close.  We are so hoping that this is our year.  That this is our summer.  And it all starts happening in just over a month's time.  We are praying for great outcomes and peace and calm throughout the process.  If you think of us in the coming weeks, please pray for us and send good vibes our way.  We can't wait to share the news of our little miracle (or miracles!)...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Final Countdown-3 Weeks to Go!

Less than 3 weeks from now we will be shipping out!  Can't believe it.  Monday we started the Kindergarten back in full swing.  We will go with that until May 23rd.  Jonathan started his Step 1 studying last Friday and is in 100% beast mode as of right now.  These next 3 weeks are going to go at lightening speed.  Good thing all our bags and barrels are packed!  We have a trip to the Kalinago Territory planned with the Kindergarteners for this week.  And then Alexis Taxi will come get our barrels on Monday and take them to port to sail next Wednesday on their way back to OKC!

So I racked my brain for a while trying to come up with a #3 for today.  I have 2 more big ones in mind, but I wanted to save them for the last 2 weeks.  So today I decided to document some of our highlights in pictures instead of words...

So in no particular order...I hope you enjoy!

Jonathan's first day of MERP

Jonathan's first island haircut from his island housewife (I have NO idea what's going on with his lips...)

A Dean Weaver sandwich with Jonathan bread

Me in my blonde phase

Our first Dominican apartment...Comfort Zone

Our service pup Matilda on our way to the Bahamas

Our first barrel shipment to Dominica!

Our adorable house in Freeport

The sky right before hurricane Sandy hit in the Bahamas...

A text from favorite Bahamian

Jonathan's 30th birthday celebration

The great panty raid 2013

Since I'm posting this WAY marks the day that we are now under 20 days left on the rock!!  Wow...

A Different Kind of Flair