Friday, May 8, 2015

Its Complicated

Hello to you from El Salvador! I didn't realize when we moved, that I would write less.... I guess what I didn't factor in was going from being a stay at home mom/wife, to being a part time employee and full time teacher (homeschool), in addition to still being a wife and mom.

I've had a lot of people ask me recently how we are doing. How are the kids doing? How is it living in another country for almost 18 months now? Are you coming back? Are you staying? Do you miss the United States? 

I don't know that I can ever fully answer these questions. It is nearly impossible to help you understand all the feelings involved in all those questions. 

If I say I miss the United States, that implies that we don't also love it here. 

If I say that it is difficult to live here, that implies that it is easy in the United States. 

If I say the kids are very happy, that doesn't explain just how very complicated it is for their little hearts. 

We were recently having a family meeting to discuss how everyone is doing. And my little Addison put into words what no one else could. It was incredible to me that she could analyze her feelings so succinctly. 

"No matter where we live now, I'm going to be sad. If I live in the U.S. I'm going to be sad for missing our friends here. If we live here, I'm going to miss my friends and family in the U.S." 

We are of course going to try and help her see that it is a win/win, not a lose/lose. For to be loved in multiple countries is a great thing, and not a sad thing. But how do we do that, when we often feel the same way as her???

Here is truth. This isn't an exotic vacation. Its the tropics, and its beautiful, but its hard. Glennon of Momastery uses the word "brutiful." That's what this is. Beautiful and brutal. 

We live every day with the hearts, histories, tragedies and triumphs of people in our hearts and minds. Some things are hard to let go of. So we try to let God be the God of those hard things. Because who can live with all of that in our heads all the time? And at the same time, we desire to have them let us into their hearts and minds, to be able to bear part of their burden for them. To know that someone cares. 

Some days it is as simple as wishing I could just go into Target and find what I need at a reasonable price. Or waking up and thinking, wouldn't some nice, cool, Ohio, Autumn weather be nice right now???? Or wouldn't it be nice not to sweat today?? Or, how amazing would it be to hug my nieces and nephews and have coffee with my grandma today?  I cannot even speak of being in the same room with my siblings and my parents without tears. Or holy Moses what is with these enormous beetles all over our door???!!!! Tarantulas.... there are no words. Don't even get me started on bike rides and libraries with millions of books!! And pretty puhleeeeezzzeee stop posting pictures of your Disney World trip on Facebook! (just kidding we are happy for you and not the least bit jealous... a little). Oh Bath and Body Works how I miss you and your coupons, (I never had a shoe or purse vice, I had B&BW).  And then there is imagining watching Donovan in Little League, or Addison in dance recitals.

As you see, its complicated. Feeling many things, at the same time.  Ha! That all just spilled out suddenly :)   The thing is we live here. This is life right now. So to answer your questions:

The answer, as much as we can figure, is to find the joy. If this is a short season, or a long season of living here then we find the joy. The joy in today. 

*I can think of our friends.  I visited one of my closest friends last night. Just for a bit. She is a gift to me, and her husband is a gift to Alex. Two people that in 13 years of our marriage, we feel closer to, than almost any other people. I love her baby, and she loves my kids, without reservation. I said three times that we had to go home to bed, and she told me 3 times not to say that again and stay.  So to have that in our lives..... 

*The puppy that has been a healing balm for my little girl who struggled with this more than the rest. 

*The daily sunshine. 

*The little boy I gave birth to who is the most hysterical person I've ever met. His facial expressions, booty dances, taunting sisters with nakedness, laughter, schemes, hummed theme songs, teasing his dad, the way he says so many words fantastically wrong... the list goes on and on. Joy.


*Last night it was in the car, "Mom, I have a lot of 'uhspicion' that Layla is going to try and scare me while I'm sleeping tonight."

*When I miss church due to a migraine and I receive 10 texts from people wondering where I was. 

*Pupusas

*Avocados 6 for a dollar. Helloooo guacamole every day. And on a sandwich, and with rice, and with eggs... just yum. 

*Fresh Papaya. 

*Worshiping in Spanish, which always makes me think  of Heaven where we will all worship in different languages.

*The adorable little boy Christopher, who just giggled uncontrollably in my arms as I picked him up and swung him around. 

*Friends on missions team coming to serve and visit. And insist on me giving them a wish list for my family.

*The girl in our sewing program who used to be angry all the time, but now she is smiling all the time. She is incredibly proud of her sewing accomplishments, and I am even more proud of her. 

*All of the beds going out to families who may be sleeping on the ground. 

*Tiny little people who right this very minute are eating a plate full of healthy, delicious food!


*Hugs from  tiny people who yell "Mari!!!!" when I come into the nutrition center.

So I don't have the answers. Not short ones anyway. I don't know when we are coming back. I don't even know how I feel from 1 minute to the next. But I do know about joy. 


Saturday, February 28, 2015

To Offer Hope

I've been a little quiet on here as of late, but for good reason! A friend asked me yesterday if being a missionary was everything I had hoped it would be. Many things are. Many things are not. And I'm still working through all of the rest! How is that for vague? You just can't imagine unless you've lived it.

What I do know is the God of the Bible who promises hope and a future, will fulfill his promises. It doesn't always look like what we thought it would, our future, but there is hope. 

And with that in mind, I want to share with you something so, completely, out of this world exciting. Someone once said "Fight the evil in the world, by putting more good back in."  We want to help put more hope in. 

Let me tell you a little bit about La Libertad, El Salvador. We serve a community of beautiful, hard working people who are trapped in a cycle of destitution. People who are generation after generation being held down economically by the gangs who control everything. 

To make money, many of the people do what their parents did, what their grandparents did, and so on. Which usually means, fishing, making tortillas, cleaning fish, selling coconuts, and walking the streets selling bags of sliced mango and papaya. This is all they know to do. It is a very, very hard life. To know that no matter how many hours you work, you will never stop the hunger in your children.

So the children and the families do not place a high value on education. Many do not complete high school, and instead drop out to help work for their families. 

But we have this group of children. We LOVE them. We are trying in every way we know how to keep them out of the gang's reach. The main ways we can do that are through their relationship with God. And by being God's hands, in providing that hope and a future, through their education.  I'm talking about a demographic in La Libertad who will never, ever have the opportunity to go to the University. Never, ever have an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. But what if there was a way?

It started with a little dream. And then a bunch of people dreamed it together. And then the Holy Spirit kept whispering "YES!" And then the hearts and generosity of people started moving. Then the light of hope started shining in "my" girls' eyes. 

We thought, if we can sew some simple, but beautiful items, like so many organizations that have come before us, we can sell them, put the money in a trust, and our girls can go to the university...... they can go! Drawing on inspiration from Noonday Collection, Ordinary Hero, Project Tesfa, Amani and Amazima, we have begun a Girls Center at Iglesia Gran Comision!!!!!!! 

Here is the plan and the goals:
*Our girls from the nutrition and development program, take a sewing class each week.
*Gradually as they learn and become more skilled, they will sew items, available for sale in El Salvador and through direct sales in the United States. 
*While we are all very sweaty here, it is not in any danger of being a sweatshop. For our girls will receive ALL profits into a trust fund for their education. (profits as defined after material and energy costs). And it is completely voluntary!
*For their efforts, they will be offered a small payment from each item, to have or contribute to their families. In this way, we hope to help the families, as well as teach about saving. Think, keep 10% save 90%.  
*Our girls range in age right now from 10-15 in this particular class, so they have a solid 5-10 years to save for their educations. 
*Working in conjunction with the Bed-Carpentry project, they can earn money by sewing the sheets for the donated beds.
*Our long-term goal is to also invite the mothers of the children in our nutrition program. To help empower them, offer them hope, and minister to them in addition to their children. 
*Ultimately, to impact as much as the women and girls as we can. Studies have shown that when a girl or a woman is educated, she will change her whole community. 

I can't even begin to tell you the stories I know of abuse, and trauma and poverty.Desperation leaves the people susceptible to the gangs. So what if we can take the desperation out of the equation?!

A month ago, we quietly discussed the dream with some friends. Within 2 weeks we had 5 sewing machines donated from home churches and from friends stationed here in the U.S. Navy. 

Three weeks ago, we began the sewing lessons. It is no coincidence, that already on our nutrition center staff, is a woman who studied fashion at the university. Beatriz is incredibly skilled, very loving, and has the patience of a saint as she teaches. She is generous with her time and ready to volunteer extra weekend hours to the girls and moms. God knew. 


There is nothing I can say to make you care about these very real faces. If only each and everyone of you could have seen their eyes, when I explained what was going to be possible. That when I read to them from the Bible, and showed them that when Jesus said that with him all things are possible, they could actually believe it.  That was a moment in time that I will never, as long as I live, forget. 






Here is where you come in! Here is where the fighting evil with good happens. We need some start up funds. Our church works on a very limited bit of money. They do not have the money necessary to provide us with the initial costs of fabric, thread, and various sewing materials, shipping, etc. We have an opportunity to sell some of our Esperanza (hope) products in April at a women's conference, but we need to buy fabric to make this possible!! If you would like to be an initial donor to help get these girls off the ground, please follow this Go Fund Me link: http://www.gofundme.com/esperanzagirls



Monday, January 26, 2015

Just a Snap Shot and an Oldie But (humiliating) Goldie

I haven't written anything of significance in quite a while, and that might be reason for my current funk. Or it could be homeschooling four children, all of varying grades, or the fact that I willingly underwent surgery on my deviated septum in a foreign country. Or it could most definitely be linked to feeling all of the things, about the people, poverty, and country where I currently reside. I'm vowing to get back on the writing, little things, big things, funny things.

For instance, presently I feel like my 6 year old son should have a tape recorder (do those exist anymore???) in his pocket all day. Because he is the King of Random and hilarity. Like this gem, not 5 minutes ago. " Remember when Evelin was teaching us Spanish (a year ago), and said the word "Pepino?! That was sooooooo funny."

Retold as if it was the funniest moment in our family's history. He didn't appreciate the cricket chirps that followed. And whenever this happens, he does his very own
"Bu dum chhhhhhh.... Bwahahahahahahahah!" About 15 times a day.

Like he's Brian Regan deserving of a drum trill. Later I will tell you his thoughts on blacksmiths.

That's not the point of all this. I don't feel like writing because Sunday will be one year here, so to say that I have a lot of feelings and thoughts is an understatement.  While I figure out the state of my brain, I thought you might enjoy a repost of an old blog, to dip my toes back into writing.

It is in no way a literary masterpiece, for it was written while I was still ashamed to be amongst other talking, calm, collected, adults.  So read it for what it's worth. :-)

So click on over to the most embarrassing moment, when I went to Ree Drummond's book signing. When she was famous, but pre-television famous.

And for all my new friends in Columbus, please forgive the post-trauma disdain for Columbus. I didn't know there were such awesome people there. :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Then There Was Addison

I think that God knew the world would need an Addison Jane. 



I think He knew that such a spirit of love, joy, compassion, with such pureness of heart would be necessary in this crazy existence.


For to know her is to hold a gift so dear. 


To have her smile upon you is a treasure for always.


To experience her love is coveted by all. 

And she is mine.





And the truth is, we need her.


Because the world can be an ugly, dark place.


And she makes it all brighter. Every day.


This world better watch out, because one day this girl is going to take her precious love, and change every thing.


And we will all say, that we knew it was coming. We saw it in her eyes.





Because God knew the world would need Addison. Like He knew I needed her. 

Happy 8th Birthday my sweet angel.





Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Seasoned Mom Top Christmas Gifts Toddler- Young Kids

Hey Everyone! I'm am all about buying meaningful gifts for the special people in my life. I am also about simpifying, buying less, being thankful and not litterally buying into the American culture of excess. Living where I live, and knowing the people I know, it is impossible not to change my mindset about how I have thought and spent my money in the past at Christmastime.

For me, I had two choices to make. One, turn a blind eye and forget the abject poverty around me. Then continue to spend in the same way. Decorations, new outfits, food, snacks, clothes, lights... the list goes on and on. I am so ashamed. All the things I thought were necessary for a happy Christmas...  The second choice was to simplify, buy meaningful gifts, do less. And most importantly, give more. My family needs nothing materially. Nothing. 

I'm not saying at all, that we are throwing the giving of Christmas gifts to our kids out entirely. But we are doing less for sure. I love blessing my kids. But it is now primary to Alex and I to teach our kids that a material Christmas is entirely contrary to a Jesus filled Christmas. 

Friday I will share one of the ways that we taught our kids to make Christmas about other people this year.  It was indescribably awesome!!!!!!!! So come back Friday. 

But for today, let me share with a few gift ideas that my kids loved and didn't just toss aside. I was huge into getting hints from the more experienced moms before me, and I hope that I can be that for some of you. Part of having a more Jesus filled, simplified Christmas is not throwing valuable money down the toilet. And that means gifts that will get thrown into a corner creating a mess a week after Christmas.

So without further ado, here are my kids top favorite gifts that they loved/still love:


Toddler Years: Hands down this gift. It was my kids favorite, and every single kid who visited my house.



Preschool Years:

Shopping Cart. Hours upon hours of fun. They loved using the real (non persishable) food from the kitchen. Kids are all about imitation, and Melissa And Doug is such a quality made product.



And puzzles, lots and lots of puzzles.



Young Children:
Books, books and more books. I could have made this entire post about books. But I held back. Literacy is so important to little ones. Please read to your kids! Here are my very, very favorites:

Any book in the "Fancy Nancy" series, hard back, paper back, they are all fantastic... magnifique!



And for the little boy in your life...



And for family reading... Henry Huggins series and Ramona Quimby. This boxed set is an incredible value.




I'll be back with Older Kids another day soon!!!  I hope these ideas help.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christmas Help From a Seasoned Mom- Babies

Thanksgiving is in 4 days. But lets not pretend that you aren't already thinking ahead to Christmas. You are probably feeling the stress of shopping lists for your family and friends. If you are anything like me, you really want to buy someone a gift that they will actually love for more than 5 minutes. And that adds to the stress. Finding the perfect gift is so hard! Who wants to spend hard earned money and have it be wasted time, money, effort and thought? No one.

Yesterday, Alex was telling someone the ages of our kids and I about choked on the ginger ale I was sipping. Long flight, new pilot, different story... But it hit me rather suddenly, that I have been a a mom for 12 years. That's a really long time. Wow. And so, it occurred to me that possibly it is my turn to be the mentor, instead of the men-tee.

In one month my children will be 12, 10, 8 and 6. Holy Guacamole! How did I get here already! I have toddlers and preschoolers don't I??? Don't I?  Weeeeeellllllll. No. And in an effort to move on, I'm going to embrace my new title of "Seasoned Mom" and hopefully share a few helpful gift buying ideas with you. 

So over the next couple of days I'm going to share with you toys and games for different ages. Starting with babies, because they are my fave! And maybe I can save you from the heartbreak and cost of buying a gift that is not touched again after opening it. 

I can also save you from yourself. 
For example. Turn and walk quickly in the other direction from drums, tambourines and maracas. Just trust me on that one. Walk away. They will forever be known as migraine makers and weapons (if you have a boy). Inevitably they will be pulled out to play with when you are on the phone, when another child is having a nap, or during an important conversation. Let them discover that they want to be in a rock and roll band as teenagers, not toddlers. 

So without further ado.... My top, all time favorite baby items. Tested and true.

1. Books! Lots of board books. Read, hold, cuddle and repeat. Even if you don't make it through a whole book without little hands turning the pages or flipping to the end. These are the most precious memories and I can't even begin to share all the scientific data on bonding and brain development. My very favorites are by Sandra Boynton, "The Going to Bed Book" and "Snuggle Puppy." My kids and I also really love the classics like Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle. You cannot go wrong with these books.











Babies have 4 goals in their tiny lives.
1. Eat
2. Sleep (usually when its impossible to put them down to bed)
3.Chew on things.  EVERY thing will go in their mouth. And when teething comes along... every thing goes in, and obscene amounts of drool come out.
4. Dump things out.

So with that in mind, and from my years of baby handling, here are my top picks for those 4 very important baby activites.

1. Gerber Puffs. I will regret to the end of my life that I didn't buy stock in Gerber when these things were first released. They saved me from numerous shopping trip, middle of church, meeting, restaurant meltdowns.


2. This blanket. Like a cloud, Has a satiny edge that my babies loved to rub on their adorable little noses as they fell asleep.  Donovan is almost 6, and still falls asleep immediately with this blanket. His is navy blue and I'm not going to lie.... If D isn't around and his blanket is.... well I just may have a little nap on the couch with it too.



And for the car seat- I had a little mobile that wound up and played music, but these are super adorable little birds and would probably distract baby into sleep in the same way.


3. Chewing
These balls are awesome for little babies. My sister gets one for every baby shower she attends. They are soft, pliable, and the little bitty fingers can really hold on well. Its the super, most adorable thing in the world when a baby has their tiny fingers gripping it, and then they try and chew at the same time and then they get their bitty tongues sticking out too.. oh those baby days.... So cute.



This version is super fun too, the Oball shaker





4. Aside from just letting baby have a go at your pots and pans, or tupperware drawer. This toy was hours of fun for my kids. Cheap, simple, colorful, but very entertaining.



There you have it! These are my absolute favorite baby items. Throw in a pack of the world's best pacifier and you are good to go. If I had been paid on an hourly basis for all the time I spent searching for a pacifier I would be a very wealthy woman. And for my babies, there was no better pacifier than a classic Nuk. And by, "as for my babies" I do also mean, no better pacifier for me.
Happy baby, happy mom.




(I used affiliate links. This is not sponsored. All ideas and opinions are my own. I'm just trying to help you all out! And lets face it, if you like an item, want to buy, and it helps your friendly- international-missionary out at the same time, every one wins.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

This Christmas can mean so much more....





{excuse the poor lighting please... they have no lights or electricity}



Christmas can be so much more than giving more, and more and more, to ourselves, friends, relatives and our kids. It can be giving a gift that will never be repaid this side of Heaven.

Email me at marilee.marks@gmail.com if you would like information on how to provide a bed to a child this Christmas.


(Song Credit: Audrey Assad)