Monday, December 31, 2012

2012...A Year in Review

Ellie and her cousin Charis
Only a few more hours of 2012...a good time to reflect on where God has brought us in the last 365 days.

Last year at this time, we were patiently waiting on the luggage embargo to be lifted on travel to Mexico so that we could bring our 17 checked items with us. We were blessed to be staying at the Mission House at Parson's Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. That allowed us to be close to my family and to enjoy spending time with my Mom and brother.

Levi, loving on Uncle Charles

Uncle Charles playing with Matthew

Enjoying the snow...

On January 16 we loaded all of our stuff up and headed to the airport at 3am! The TSA agent had the nerve to ask me if I always travel with so many carry-ons. We had 10 for 6 people. Is that really too much? I kindly responded to him, "Only when I'm moving to another country."

We (and all 17 checked items) arrived in Puebla, Mexico around 9pm that night. We were all in fairly good moods too, considering the long day we had. The customs agents there were very happy we got the green light and not the red. (In Mexico, when you go through customs, you push a button and if the red light comes on, they check all of your luggage.)

Our front yard
We spent 2 weeks in Puebla before our move to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. There's nothing like transitional living to make you appreciate finding your own house! In San Cris, we were able to find a small 3 bedroom house with a yard. Beautiful!

A view of our house from the street

From January to about May is all really a blur. We were setting up our house, acquiring furniture, getting acquainted with our new city, etc. Clay went to language school for 3 months. Ryan and Ellie went to a local elementary school for 3 months. What was I doing?!? I still had 2 little ones at home, and we stayed busy!
Ryan and Ellie, at their school program

Easter at Arcotete

In June we went to Suriname, a small country in northern South America. We spent a month in the Interior, or the Amazon jungle. We lived in a cabin, swam in the piranha infested river, killed pink-footed tarantulas...oh, and participated in jungle training! The kids LOVED it because they got to swim almost every day and they were in kids' camp for 4 weeks with other missionary kids.

Ellie, playing tag in Suriname with a local girl
Ryan had a blast with the baby cayman...
and a variety of other creepy crawlies!
Matthew learned to walk in the jungle!

In August, my Mom came to visit for 2 weeks. We took vacation and travelled to the Pacific Coast to enjoy the beach. It was so good to show her where we live and also Pine Hill, where we are planning to eventually live.

Mom and I, at Huatulco

Ellie and Granny, on the Sumidero

Granny and Matthew

Starting in the fall, we have been visiting our People Group every other week. It's a 4 hour drive to the town of Pine Hill from where we live. We've been very blessed to meet people who have welcomed us into their homes. Our children are making friends, too! It's been a wonderful experience and we are excited to see what else the Lord has in store for this community.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How It All Began...

September 2011
How does a girl from Ohio meet the man of her dreams from Idaho, 2100 miles away? She goes to Mexico, of course! Well, at least that's our story...

It all began in the summer of 1998 when I went on a 2 month mission trip to Mexico City with the Spearhead program of the Latin America Mission. I loved the experience so much that I wanted to stay longer. At that point, I was only 4 months away from graduating from it really seemed silly not to finish. So after graduating, and teaching high school Spanish for a semester, I came back to Mexico City in the summer of 1999. After the initial 2 months, I decided to stay for the year.

In the summer of 2000, I was serving as a team leader for the summer program when I met this guy. He had just arrived to Mexico City from Idaho for 2 months...he made an amazing first impression. After knowing him for a day, I told him he was "latoso" which means "pesky" or "pain in the neck." And you guessed it, it was Clay!

Six months later, in January of 2001, Clay and I were headed to Chiapas for our winter assignment. At that point, we weren't allowed to date, so the idea never really crossed our minds. I just thought Clay was an amazing guy.  He loved God. He had a servant's heart. He was so amazing...he'd never be interested in a girl like me.

Baby #3, Levi Benjamin
January 2010
In May of 2001 I headed back to Mexico City to work in our mission's office while Clay finished up his winter term in Chiapas. At that time I was trying to determine what the next year of my life would look like. Should I stay in Mexico another year? (Like I really wanted) Or should I return to the States and look for a job? If I went back to the States, could I find a teaching job? If I wanted a teaching job, I couldn't wait until August. So I went back to the States in May and began sending out my resume. To my surprise, a school in Iowa called me 5 days later and offered me a job...a little crazy. No interview. No face-to-face talk. Just a phone call. But I knew it was a God-ordained call, so I accepted the job.

Disney World with Matthew
September 2011
I went back to Mexico to continue working in our mission's office for the summer. And on June 4, 2001 I went to lunch at the market with Clay. It was his birthday, and we had planned a friendly lunch together. I have to admit, I had been praying about this guy since I left Chiapas because I just couldn't stop thinking about him. I had so many feelings for him, but I really didn't want to ruin a good friendship by dating. I prayed so specifically that if God intended something more for us, Clay would initiate the conversation and it would lead to marriage.

That day, as we walked to the market, Clay opened his heart and told me how much he cared for me...and had cared for me since he met me. Here was this guy who I respected so much...and I really was in love with him...and he was declaring his love for me. Just like I had asked God. I was speechless! It was only FOUR days later that we talked about marriage...again, just like I had asked God. It was an amazing moment to see God put together details, and to know beyond a doubt that this was right. And those around us agreed it was right.

January 2012
One of many reasons that I love him
...he makes me laugh!
See how pesky he is!
In August I left Mexico and headed to my new career in Iowa as a high school Spanish teacher. And in September Clay headed to New Zealand for 2 months to hike with his buddy, Trevor. There were many late night (2am) phone calls from NZ, and flowers delivered to my home or classroom.

In December, Clay was back in Idaho. We were planning to get married in June, one year after "the talk" at the market. But one evening we were talking on the phone and Clay's Mom asked why we were waiting until June to get married. Clay was going to move to Iowa in February and we wouldn't have any accountability. We were about to set ourselves up for a potentially difficult situation in the area of purity.

So we began talking about moving the wedding up. Maybe February? March? Why not Christmas?

What?!? That was only 2 weeks away! I already had my dress...the spaghetti strap dress for the June wedding on the shores of Lake Erie...

August 2012
As we talked it over, we got more and more excited about the idea. It really made much more sense. I was already planning on flying to Idaho for Christmas to meet his family. Why not? The deciding factor was if my parents could fly out to Idaho too. I remember getting the call from my mom during school...yes, they would be there. I have to admit, I was a bit absent-minded at that point. Semester exams? Who cares! (I'm sure my students didn't mind too much that I was so flaky!) I'm getting married!

I flew to Idaho as soon as Christmas vacation began. I had a week to get to know Clay's family! On Christmas Eve, Clay took me to Locomotive Park and proposed to me...officially. He had designed my wedding ring and used the diamonds from his mom's engagement ring. And his step-dad had made the ring. Nothing could be more special! (And that's the reason why we officially got engaged 5 days before our wedding.)

On December 29, 2001 I walked down the aisle, surrounded by a crowd of people that I hardly knew...or didn't even know! But they all loved me because of their love for Clay.

Eleven years...the adventures, the babies, the vacations, the friends, the countries, the laughter and the tears...and today I can say that I love Clay William Richardson more than I ever thought possible. That pesky guy...he's still a little pesky. And his kids are even more pesky! And I am thankful for each day that I have Clay by my side.

My Best Friend...My Love...and a Wonderful Daddy for our Four Babies!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Traditions

Definition of TRADITION


1. a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
b: a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
2.: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
As of last year, we began redefining our family Christmas traditions. Before that, we knew that Christmas Eve would be spent at Clay's Mom's house. We would open gifts from the grandparents, then we would go to church for the Christmas Eve service.
On Christmas morning, we would open gifts from us. Then we would head to Clay's Dad's house for brunch...and more gifts. In the afternoon, we would go back to Clay's Mom's for dinner with the whole family. It was two days filled with family, fun, and food.
Last year, we were in Ohio, staying at the Mission House in Columbus. It was still a time filled with food, family, and fun because we were near my mom and brother.
This year however, there was no extended family...but there were LOTS of friends, or we could call them brothers and sisters in Christ. And there was definitely lots of food and fun. We are very blessed to have a community of fellow missionaries with whom we could celebrate the birth of our Savior. (Actually, we'll take any excuse to get together for food and fellowship.)
Levi, sound asleep
by the tree
On Christmas Eve, our family has the tradition of sleeping on the floor in the living room. It's amazing how much our kids look forward to this simple tradition! And in all honesty, this was the first year that I participated. In years past I was either nursing or pregnant, and opted to sleep in my own bed. But this year, the kids said I could have the those kids! So, we all snuggled down in front of the fireplace and the kids were fast asleep. And so were Mommy and Daddy...until the fireworks began at midnight! Never in my life had I experienced fireworks to this degree. I've been told by missionary kids who grew up in Latin America that Christmas just isn't the same if it doesn't smell like gunpowder. Maybe someday I'll agree...for now, it was just stressful. (Add to that a little girl with an earache, a little boy who just didn't feel good, and a Mommy with a head cold.)
All in all, we know it doesn't matter where we are, as long as we are together with our children. And as long as we remember the reason for the celebration. The gifts, the food, the fellowship...all of that is fun. But without the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, it would all be meaningless.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in the Village?

A few days ago I explained the history behind the Virgin of Guadalupe because I wanted to share an interesting insight into the culture here in Southern Mexico. It was something that I really wasn't expecting.

We were in Pine Hill, visiting our people group when I asked about how they celebrate Christmas. My friend shared with me that they go to mass on Christmas Eve, and some people may go on Christmas Day too. That's it. No tree. No presents. No special meal.

It caught me off guard because I expected there to be some significance to them. And it saddened me that they place so much emphasis on the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the birth of Jesus is just another day.

Next question to ask, do they celebrate 3 Kings Day (epiphany)?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Virgin of Guadalupe

Every year, millions of pilgrims travel to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to pay their respects or to earn favor from the Virgin. Some spend days walking or even crawling on their knees in hopes of finding healing, peace, or a better life.

Our Lady of Guadalupe--according to Roman Catholic tradition, the Virgin of Guadalupe, or the Virgin Mary, made her appearance before Juan Diego in a vision in 1531.  The Virgin of Guadalupe holds a special place in the religious life of Mexico and is one of the most popular religious devotions. Her image has played an important role as a national symbol of Mexico.

Juan Diego was an Aztec who had converted to Catholocism, and tradition says that Mary appeared to Juan Diego on December 9, 1531 and again on December 12, 1531. She asked him to build a shrine on that very hill where she appeared to him. On her second appearance to him, she told him to collect the roses that were growing there on the hill and take them to the Bishop tas proof of her request. So, Juan Diego collected the roses in his cloak and took them to the Bishop. As he opened his cloak to present the roses, he discovered that the image of the virgin was miraculously imprinted on his cloak. (That cloak is on display today at the Basilica.)
Interestingly, there is no evidence documenting this appearance until 1648. The bishop who met Juan Diego never mentions the Virgin of Guadalupe or Juan Diego in any of his writings, something that should have been very important to report.

In 1737, the Virgin of Guadalupe was named as the patroness of  Mexico City and 9 years later she was accepted as the patron saint for all of New Spain (which included parts of California as well as Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador). In 1754, Pope Benedict XIV granted her a feast and mass for December 12.

In our area of Chiapas, it was interesting to observe how the December 12 holiday is celebrated. It began days earlier when we noticed fireworks. Lots and lots of loud fireworks. (Fireworks here are rarely pretty like in the U.S. Usually, just loud bangs.) Then we began to see pilgrimages to the Guadalupe Church. In one evening we watched 4 mini-parades of people walking, singing, and lighting fireworks. Then we realized that people were walking from as far away as Tuxtla, if not farther. We saw groups of 30 people walking over the mountain, carrying candles (because it was after dark), next to a very dangerous highway. There were masses held frequently at the Guadalupe Church. And of course, on the 12th, there were fireworks every hour of the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prayer Retreat

Recently we had the opportunity to take a trip to Puebla for a prayer retreat with some of our colleagues who also work with indigenous people in Mexico. To get an idea of geography, we live close to the Guatemala border and Puebla is about a 10 hour trip by car. It's a beautiful drive, taking us from humid, chilly San Cristobal, through sweltering Veracruz, and then up to chilly, dry Puebla. You can imagine dressing 4 kids for the cool morning, then stopping for lunch and stripping off the long sleeves while they "complain" about how hot it is! And then, at dinner time, you stop again and have to bundle back up.

Our time in Puebla was enjoyable. When we first got to Mexico in January, we spent a week or two in Puebla, so it was a familiar place to be. The prayer retreat was near a lake at a Christian retreat center. It was a blessing to us in so many ways.

Ellie loves to swing, especially with her new friend!

First, we got to meet many of our colleagues face to face. Until this time, we were facebook friends with many of them, or had skyped once. But now we can put a personality with that face. And there were kids everywhere! And they spoke English! (Yes, that made my kids happy.)

Second, of course the time of prayer and reflection was a blessing. Sometimes we get so busy "doing" that we don't stop and spend time in directed prayer. It was a great reminder to me that the battle is fought on my knees.

One of Ellie's new outfits! Isn't it adorable?
Third it was a blessing to hear the testimonies of the other missionaries and the work they are doing among the indigenous. Although geographically we are far away, we are not alone. We have a network of laborers who can offer wisdom, advice, encouragement, and prayer.

Fourth, we were blessed by a team of volunteers from Tennessee who came to serve us. They left their families during Thanksgiving week to serve in Mexico! They provided childcare and led our devotions and worship. They also brought suitcases full of goodies that we can't get here. And a new outfit or two for the kids!

Another favorite of mine was the beautiful flowers this time of year in Puebla. Did you know that pointsettia flowers actually grow to be a tree in the right climate?

Pointsettia tree

Monday, December 10, 2012


I've been in a bit of a writing slump lately. I realized today that I hadn't written a blog post in over a month. I really try to write at least twice a month. I want to keep everyone back home informed on what we're doing. I want to stay connected. I want my readers to feel connected.

Christmas can be a real lonely time of year for anyone, but especially when you're in a foreign country. We're doing our best to make it fun for our kids, but also maintaining the correct focus for the Holiday. And we are extremely blessed with our friends here in San Cristobal de las Casas.

So why haven't I written? Why this slump?

I guess because I feel like what I'm doing isn't any different than what you are doing. Who am I? I'm no different than any other follower of Christ. I just happen to live in a country where they speak many different languages. I am blessed to have arrived already speaking Spanish, therefore making our first year on the field much easier. Typically the first year is spent struggling to learn the culture and language. For us, our second year will most likely be a struggle to learn our third language.

So when people ask us what we're doing, it's sometimes hard to answer. We're not in language school. We don't have our own full-time ministry. We are in transition, fullfilling requirements that are in place to help us adjust to our "new" home, culture, and language. So nothing has changed. There's nothing exciting to write home about.

Yet I know that every day is an important step in our training.