Some Reflections...

I'm sitting here at my table in our apartment, praising God for a fast internet connection, earl grey vanilla tea, and safe travels home to Canada.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a difficult time reflecting on a whole year.  My memories don't go much further than the past 3 months, for being in Brazil was a huge part of 2012 for this Rivers fam.  If I were to look at pictures I know I'd remember birthday celebrations, weddings, traveling to BC, canoeing on the Grand, teaching ESL, going to graduations. 

Right now it all feels so serious and weighty.  We're on the cusp of the new year, Jake and I have returned home, and everyone has thoughts, ideas, and resolutions for how to make 2013 the best year ever.

I, for one, have a few resolutions of my own to make.  But I was reminded in church yesterday that if they're not made with dependency in God, and if, rather than life changing, they're merely words uttered in the wind, I might as well not make them.

Being in Brazil was absolutely life changing for us.  It put so many things into perspective, and I don't want to lose sight of that.  So here are a few of my reflections on 2012 and advice for a new year:

1. Don't move if you don't need to
Living in a one room apartment that was half the size of my Canadian living room really helped me to see that we don't need more space.  Before we left for Brazil, Jake and I had been contemplating moving into a two-bedroom apartment on our return.  My goodness, when I walked into our one-bedroom apartment after arriving in Cambridge last night, I was blown away at the sheer grandness of it.  Jake just keeps calling it lavish, which is truly a word I would use.  We were led to the realization that we don't need more space than this.
One room!

Another view

2. Spend more time building and investing in relationships
One thing we missed while being away was not having the space to have people over.  "Have a seat on the bed, or that tiny space in the corner" is not really something a guest ever wants to hear.  We are so elated to begin hosting again, and I was even inspired to start keeping a guestbook, not only to remember who we fellowship with, but to challenge ourselves in not letting too much time pass between guests.  We came to appreciate our Canadian friends and family even more, while making new and equally special Brazilian friendships.

3. Get rid of the 'stuff'
Some people erroneously lump Brazil into the category of other central or south american countries that might be considered more 'third world'.  I have had some people come up to me and say, "Has it been hard being back?" and before I have a chance to answer, "Yes, the snow has been so cold and horrible!" they continue with, "It's so tough to see people here with so much, and to remember how happy those poor people are with nothing!" First of all, can I have my input now? Thanks.  Secondly, yes, there is huge disparity between the poor and the rich in this lavish country.  Brazilians like to look good, though, especially when it comes to clothing and beauty.  Brazilian homes, on the other hand, are generally very simple.  Sure, I missed my nice, sharp Pampered Chef knives.  But do I really need two loaf pans, or that massive bread maker that I've only used three times?  Jake and I have a plan to go through everything-including those piles of paper which are the bane of my existence-and re-evaluate the necessity.

4. Love recklessly like Nina
I often wish that we could have spent a longer time in Brazil, something like 6 months.  Being there for only 3 months, I sometimes couldn't see the benefit in making deep relationships.  I am generally a very open person, and it was strange to feel myself guarding my heart.  Eventually God broke through my wall, and in the last month we were there I was able to give more of myself to the friendships we were making (which was sad, because we had to leave!).  There was one little pup, however, who broke through to me right away.  The little mutt we looked after, Nina, was just so loveable.  I couldn't help but lavish affection on her, and she with me.  She didn't know when we were leaving, nor did she know why she wanted to spend time playing and walking with us, but she loved us anyways.  Animals are like this, no?  She taught me about what it means to love without trying to protect myself.

5. Love your enemies like Jesus
Jesus gave me an even greater piece about love, in particular about loving my enemies.     I generally approach difficult relationships two-fold:  

a. I don't want to work at them
b. I want to work at them in my own strength

I was struggling with this while in Brazil, and it got to me, fraying my ends.  I was doubting my character and maturity in Christ.  
One morning, Jake and I were doing a devotional on loving one another (our brothers and sisters in Christ), and God spoke to me.  He taught me that I can't love people on my own.  I am, by nature, a selfish person.  On my own, I don't even want to love people in general, so how can I expect to learn how to love my enemies without depending on Christ, who is the lover of my soul?  Christ is the standard in loving His enemies- He has it down!  I need to depend on God and ask Him to give me the love that I lack for my enemies.
I was thankful for this insight and tangible advice in such a difficult area.  


Jake and I have been thinking about these things for a couple of months, and I hope they will stay with me for a long time.  They seem like such simple things, don't they? 

And yet, sometimes it's the simple things that make the most impact in the course of life.

Let me tell you, we learned so much more in Brazil, and both Jake and I are looking forward to sharing stories, thoughts feelings about the three months we spent there.  I am also looking forward to many more blogs to come regarding our last couple of weeks there, our goodbyes, and our travels back home.  

Our trip to Union Station in Chicago, with snow behind us and brave smiles on our faces.  I was grateful for the winter coat the TEAM staff provided for me! 
For now, I want to wish everyone wonderful New Year's Eve celebrations with whomever you will be with.  Jake and I will be spending it with his immediate fam, since it's also his mom's birthday!

May God bless you with relfections/advice for your new year, for 2013.



Enjoy Your Flight...

I was watching some birds soaring in the air today, and mused aloud, Do you think they enjoy flying?  It's hard to imagine being able to fly and not taking enjoyment in it.

I have been thinking about our flight to Chicago next Thursday.  I still remember the first time I flew in an airplane, the rush as we gained speed and made our ascent, the tears of happiness that slid down my face as I watched the airport become smaller and smaller.

Whenever people ask me what superpower I would love to have, I always say flying.  I mean, the thrill of cliff-jumping is enough to make you wish you could just spread out your wings and glide over the lake.

I have to admit, I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

But, I digress.  I wanted to apologize for the lack of blogging lately.  It's been harder than I ever thought to share a laptop with Jake.

He's been writing a lot lately, eager to get his book off the ground.  I'm very happy to see him so inspired!  Sometimes it feels like I'm just waiting for him to finish so I can use the internet, or spend time with him, or whatever it is that needs to be done.

Then, when I'm internet-ing, I feel like he's in the exact same position as I.  Back home in Canada, Jake has a desktop.  I find that it's much easier to say, ok, let's both go online for an hour, then we'll go for a walk.  

Whatever was life like before the internet?  If I don't have a good book to read, I can only think of looking on pinterest for inspiration!

Well, let me tell you, inspiration comes in many forms.  I was inspired to share about a Christmas cantata Jake and I attended on Sunday night.  And this was the backdrop:

A garden is a far cry from North America's snowy, Christmas tree-laden, hot chocolate, mitten-using pageants and dramas.

The premise of the cantata was to share the real meaning for Christmas, and the main character was a grasshopper, and a chorus of children dressed as various common Brazilian garden insects accompanied him in his search for the real Christmas.  It was cute, and not at all what I had been expecting!

It just goes to show you that it's not only culture that influences our dramas and re-telling of Christmas, but also the weather and season changes.

This week-end Jake and I are going to a popular tourist spot with some friends of ours.  Caldas Novas is a city with natural hot springs, and there are many water-parks and places to see.  We're looking forward to this last bit of excitement before we start packing for our journey home.



A Word About Journalling...

I wonder what would happen if I started journalling at night before bed, instead of writing about thoughts and events from the previous day in the morning? 

I love writing.  I love waking up early and coming out in the morning light to spend time with God.  I generally remember enough of my thoughts and feelings from the day before.  I often feel like I have no patience to journal at night.  Running a hot bubble bath and settling in with a good book is more my speed in the evening.

So why not keep journalling in the morning? 

How about you? When is your favourite time to journal?



Tell Me a Story...

I don't know how ya'll [give me a break, we work with American missionaries!] feel when people post more than one blog per day.  Personally, I love reading blogs.

I have Google Reader, meaning that I subscribe to as many blogs as I want which then appear in one feed, allowing me to read them all in one place rather than skipping over to multiple websites every day.  Jake and I both follow blogs, and lately it seems that hardly anyone is writing [including myself!].

I guess the closer we get to various holidays, the less time people have to sit down and blog.  In my case, there just hasn't been anything interesting to write about, or so it seems.

I've been looking through some of my pictures, and realized that there are stories in each and every one of them.  I'll let the pictures inspire me to do a little bit of writing.  Some of these pictures have been on Facebook, so you may have seen them already.

This is Nicky, the Evans' boxer.  He's a BIG boy!  Just now I got scared because his head popped from below the table where I'm writing, his brown, globe-like eyes imploring me to scratch him behind the ears.  He is a big snuggler, and tells you in no subtle terms that he wants love.  One time I was stretching on the porch, and he decided that would be a good time to plop right down on top of my legs and get some attention.  Let me tell you, he's not light!  He and Nina had to get used to each other when the Evans returned from the States [some friends were taking care of Nicky], and they still have some work to do.  Nina considers Jake and I to be her humans, so she takes it very personally, not to mention indignantly, when Nicky decides he needs to be pet.  She barks all around him, and gets herself right in there, making sure our hands are nowhere near his head.  We've got a long way to go yet.

Our friends Marilane and Rodrigo took us to Goiania a couple of weekends ago.  It's the capital of Goias, as well as the city to where we flew in.  Goiania is only 45 minutes away, but it is much more commercialized than Anapolis, with big sky-scrapers and many little restaurants, called barzinhos.  Jake took this picture at one of the massive malls, where our friends bought us some espresso and hot chocolate to pass the time before we headed out to a fish buffet.  Sound appetizing?  Well, I had been looking forward to it as soon as they mentioned that was where we would be eating.  Waiters brought around platters of seafood, all kinds, including shark and shrimp.  I was disappointed that most of the fish was battered, but that saved Jake's life [since he's still learning how to enjoy fish!].  I enjoyed the melted battered cheese balls [think New Year's appetizers-mozza sticks], and salmon, including the rice salmon pilaf.  We enjoyed our time with Marilane and Rodrigo, and were grateful to be able to get to know them a little better.

Now this, this is my happy compromise.  When I want something sweet, but not completely devoid of nutrition, I get this, a bowl full of fruit covered in chocolate.  It's like a fondue, but better.  This bowl was drenched in chocolate, and contained three amazing fruits: strawberries, bananas, and grapes [although the grapes they use here are the big ones that contain seeds--crunchy when you want soft and squishy]. 

Sandals are acceptable here, even the thong-type [flip-flops in the vernacular] sandals that you wear to the beach.  I've seen shoes of all types being worn.  And yet, I'm learning that there are rules.  You can't wear flip-flops to church, but you can wear sky-high stilettos.  I've learned that, for women, the acceptable and most common type of shoe used in the evening when going to class or shopping is the closed-toe flat shoe, like the shoes in the picture [those are mine, by the way!].  Shoes are a big deal, and for someone who doesn't enjoy shoe shopping, it feels like an even bigger ordeal.    I've been intimated to buy some ever since we arrived, but I passed by a shop window yesterday and noticed how cheap they were [think Payless affordable] and had a blast trying them on.  I've never felt so excited to buy shoes before, and I think it may have been becayse I was on a mission.  I was in the shop for a total of 45 minutes [I decided on these in an impressive 15 minutes, and then chatted with the store clerk for the rest of the time].  Needless to say, I'm happy with my purchase, and can't wait to wear them to class tonight!

Anyone who knows Jake knows that he is a human magnet for all things animal and small.  I don't know if you can see well in the picture, but he coaxed a lizard on to his hand [it's in between the third and fourth finger].  That's the first time he's got to hold one since being here, but I can assure you that it hasn't been for lack of trying!  We were walking in the seminary last night and ran into a pregnant cat.  In no time, Jake had her purring around his ankles, and the cute little thing followed us home.  I was worried about the dogs getting her, but their barks were enough to keep her outside of our yard.

*Confession Time*

I like cats.

I know, I know, there are plenty of haters out there.  I was once a hater, too.  Not to mention that I get some sort of allergic reaction when I am within the vicinity of those furry felines. But you know what changed my mind for me?

These precious little ones
And they didn't give me too bad of an allergic reaction, either.  I'm really looking forward to the idea of getting a cat when we get home.  If you've seen our apartment, you'd understand why it's not a good idea to get a dog.  There's really no space for a larger animal to run around, so a cuddly, talkative, mellow cat would be the perfect addition!

Those are all the stories I have for now.  It's another rainy afternoon here, and I think I shall make myself some tea.

Enjoy your afternoon!


Perfect Wake-Up Smoothie...

I've been getting into papayas while being here.  They taste so perfect, succulent, and are great in smoothies.  I think even Jake is learning to like the taste.
Try this delicious smoothie for a great pick-me-up!


2 Bananas
2 cups of milk
1/4 papaya fruit
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 cup frozen mango
1 TBSP chia seeds
Honey, to taste

Post work-out, like they were made for each other...

Mix everything in a blender, pour into a glass, and enjoy!


A Place of Descanso...

You know that big long word that English profs love to use, onomatopoiea? (I probably didn't even spell it correctly!)  Dictionary.com describes it as "the formation of a word by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent."   For example, buzz. It sounds like, well, buzzing, when you say it.
There's one Portuguese word that I've enjoyed hearing and speaking, on occasion.
It means rest, and, I mean, the way it rolls off the lips gives you the impression that you just gave your tongue a day at the spa.
You can feel the tranquility emmanating from the depths of this long, unused notion.
It's hard for some of us to rest.  I woke up this morning with laundry on the brain, and while I was rushing back and forth between the washing machine and my Bible, Jake was sitting exactly how this photo depicts, at our new-to-us picnic table, resting, the perfect picture of morning's first light bathed in peaceful rays of sunshine.
Exactly how I wished I could have been resting in God's Word: without worrying about getting that first load on the line.
Let's descanse, for a little while, and remember to thank Jesus for those precious moments of peace.



Power Goes Out...

I stepped into the shower, turned on the water, and waited.

And waited and waited and waited.

Finally, I had to accept the fact that the power was out, since the water never warmed up.  Sure enough, the light was off in the fridge, too.

We were kind of in a rush for church, having decided during snooze button fest that sleep was more important.

So I decided to whip up my breakfast in the blender.

Which was out of commission due to the powe...yeah, yeah, I get it.

I grabbed a banana that wasn't covered in milk and chia seeds, and we headed off in the light rain to church.  Our pastor picked us up on the way, and that's when we realized that it wasn't just our place that had lost power.  It was a big section of town, noticeably defined by the policia militar that were directing traffic in place of the lights.

The church had no electricity either, and, since Jake uses the laptop for his lesson notes, he had to teach half by memory and half by the scattered notes he'd uploaded to his phone a couple days ago.

I think we've both learned our lesson about, well, lesson notes.  Personally, I enjoy having a hard copy in front of me, but found that it can be difficult to print it out if it's not actually on the USB stick you've brought to the printer 5 minutes before you have to catch your bus.

Technology being the beauty that it is, I think we'll both be uploading a back-up lesson to our phones from now on.

And I've also gained insight into why iPads and Tablets are so desirable...