Monday, February 27, 2012


Raise your hand if you had all five days of Mardi Gras off of work. Oh...just me? Raise your hand if you spent all five days of Mardi Gras at a gorgeous beach with your brothers and sisters from church. Oh, just me again? This is awkward.

I've blogged once or twice about the Carnaval holiday here in Brazil, a nation-wide celebration of the same things that are celebrated at Mardi Gras. The bad thing is that it exists, the good thing is that since it exists, we as a church use it as an opportunity to get away and take advantage of the time together!

A couple of years ago, we decided that rather than hold a retreat over every major holiday, we would plan and prepare for one big retreat each year and make it great. Well, that worked really well, except for the fact that everyone still wants to hang out on the other holidays, even if there isn't a planned retreat. What that has led to is these little mini-retreats, where we go somewhere, we do something, but it's not a big production. It's laid back and fun, and provides a nice contrast to the going-going-going, jam-packed schedule of our big retreat.

Since our big retreat will be over Easter weekend, this year, over Carnaval, we were blessed to have a mini-retreat at a beach house about 15 minutes outside of town. The son of one of our church members belongs to an association (I think he's kind of like an assistant district attorney?) of lawyers who has a beach house that is up for grabs. He knew we liked to have retreats, so he reserved it for us at no cost! The house had six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, and was one block away from one of the best beaches in Natal. Given that we are used to having retreats at an equally-beautiful, yet only three-bathroomed house, this was quite the treat!

Forty-two people spent Sunday through Tuesday at the house and several others came and spent the days with us. We had devotionals in the mornings and evenings, and the rest of the time was left open for us to do whatever we wanted. Some spent their time playing soccer, others at the beach, some playing foosball, others not napping because of the foosball, some playing card games or dominoes, many engaged in heated debates whose topics ranged from parenting to tithing to skin care, and all ate many a popsicle sold by a man on a bike.

I was even thrilled to finally introduce my Brazilian family to my favorite card game of all time, Pit. I grew up playing with my aunts and cousins (once they finally let the kids join in, we were always led to believe it's a hard game to understand *ahem*) and it was just as magical as I had always hoped!

It was a great reminder that time spent together studying God's Word and fellowshipping is never wasted, and provides an excellent alternative to what the world is offering. This was the first chance many of our newest members had to participate in an event like this, and it was given an overwhelming thumbs-up! The mini Carnaval retreat laid the groundwork for our Easter retreat to be a huge success, and we are excited about how God will use that event to grow us as well!

So if you ever see footage of Carnaval in Brazil, with the flashy parades and samba dancers, remember that not all of us are shimmying down the block in body paint and tassels. Some of us are taking advantage of a holiday that was created to dishonor God in every way to do just the opposite: growing stronger in our relationship with Him in order to encourage others to do the same!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God is Good

It's easy to talk about God's goodness when things are going great. Sometimes people (read: I) can be critical of people exclaiming "God is good!" over something that seems trivial, like a beautiful, sunny day or travel plans working out when in actuality the truth is that God is good on a sunny day and God is still good on a dark, stormy day. But what those cynics (read: I) miss when criticizing is the importance of simply recognizing that God is good. Giving God credit for good things, even if he might not actually have opened up that parking spot for me, can't be bad way to keep my ego in check, a way of remembering that there is something, someone, bigger than me, more in control than I am, who, yes, made the day sunny and, yes, gave me five senses to enjoy it. (Who doesn't enjoy an ice-cold fudgesicle on a sunny day, thus covering the fifth sense.)

So that's enough shallow theology to last this blog the rest of the year, but what's my point? My point is this: I just got back from the most wonderful trip to the United States visiting my family, friends, and supporting churches, and the best way I can think of to sum it all up is with one, simple phrase: God is good.

When I moved to Natal in 2007, I had no idea when I would be able to go back to the States for a visit. I'm cheap and tickets aren't. So imagine my surprise when, in the last 4.5 years only one of my five trips to the States has been planned long ahead of time. Some trips were a gift, some were to fundraise, one was an official, planned furlough, and this last one was a dream come true.

As I've reflected on the trip in the days since I got home, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I got to go, grateful that the tickets weren't very expensive, grateful for who I got to see, grateful for the conversations I was blessed to be a part of, grateful for the time I got to spend with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandpa, and, of course, grateful for priceless moments with my immediate family. And most of all, grateful that I got to share all of that with a very important person who loved every minute just as much as I did.

Disclaimer: This is the first and will be the only mention of any such person on this blog. But as my logic goes, if you read this you either met him or saw the pictures of him, so this should not come as a shock to anyone who knows me personally! 

Our memories and camera memory cards are full of puzzles, chips & salsa,  miles and miles and miles of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and New England highways, hugs, rounds of Mexican Train & Pit, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, museums, Braum's ice cream, clay pigeons, hours of shared meals with friends, and bookstores.

I am grateful that God allowed for all of the pieces to fall into place to make this trip happen, and grateful for the love and support we received both here in Natal and in the US that made the trip so enjoyable.

God is good!

Disclaimer pt. 2: If you are a little nauseated by the mushiness of this post, very uncharacteristic of the usual writing on Living and Loving, just chalk it up to today being February 14 and rest assured that the next entry should have all the forwardness and self-deprecation you've grown accustomed to around here! Happy Valentine's Day!