Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Traveling with Two to the San Diego Zoo

January 6, 2013

The adults loved San Diego because we love travel, the ocean, adventure, and sunshine. Our two-year-old loved “Sandy Eggo” because of the airplane ride, the sand, unlimited access to grandparents, and the animals. Oh, the animals! What toddler doesn’t love animals?

For animal-loving tots, the San Diego Zoo is a must-see. It’s famous. It’s huge. It has cute (rare, famous, giant) pandas.

Included in our multi-park pass was a bus tour around the park. Do it! You see 70% of the zoo in just over half an hour. We walked the first day and rode the bus the second. With two strollers, lots of hills, and two tired little ones, it’s no surprise that we were all much happier on the second day. One of my favorite things about the bus ride was seeing the zoo’s animal ambassadors. We saw an arctic wolf out for a casual stroll with its trainer. On other days, you may see a cheetah or a blue-tongued skink.

The Skyfari was also included in our pass. It’s a four-minute ride over the zoo forest. Strollers that fold can ride, too!


With little ones, the petting zoo is a must. There aren’t any really special animals in there, but when was the last time you got to pet a sheep or a goat?


Like SeaWorld, the zoo has live animal cameras–pandas, polar bear, ape, and elephants. Check them out before and after you go!

Parking at the zoo is free! It’s located in Balboa Park, which is also home to a Science Center. Our local museum membership got our family of four in for free because of the passport program. Score!


The best bang for your buck is definitely with the multi-park pass. (Did I mention kids three and under are free?) With that option, how can you go to San Diego and not visit the zoo? Next time we’ll be sure to visit the Safari Park as well. Has anyone been there?


Traveling with Two: SeaWorld, San Diego

January 4, 2013

I’m a travel optimist. Nothing will stop me from having a good trip. Not even a stomach bug, a coughing toddler, an infant growth spurt, a three-hour time difference, or  an impending blizzard–all challenges we faced on our first cross-country trip with two little ones.

Was I phased when our normally happy baby was fussy on the plane? You bet. Did I wish for death when my guts were trying to explode before the captain turned off the fasten seat belt sign? Perhaps. Was I frustrated when my babies melted down during dinner because it felt like midnight to their little internal clocks? Of course.

On the other hand, how fun was it to watch my toddler wave to and clap for dolphins, birds, and whales? Will it ever get old to hear her tell people that she saw “animals SPLASH”?! Or to watch her waddle like a penguin? Or to hear her ask to “ride the fish” (kiddie roller coaster) again and again? Or to see the baby smilingly happily as her daddy talked to her and pointed out animals from the comfort of her Baby Bjorn?

And it was pretty cool to see an arctic wolf casually walking around the San Diego Zoo. And it was pretty nice to pass the babies off to Mamaw and Papaw when the girls woke up early. And I loved having a beach instead of a back yard.


See? Like I said–travel optimist!

As we were preparing for our trip, I had trouble finding travel tips for San Diego with a toddler and a baby, so I’ll write a few of my own. Keep in mind that our oldest is just over two and the baby is five months.

SeaWorld with a Toddler and a Baby

Get the pass. 

This trip was a Christmas gift from my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!), and we knew the whole family (including my brother, a college student) would like the San Diego Zoo. Nate’s Christmas gift to me and the girls was to add SeaWorld into the mix. He purchased a pass that allowed us unlimited visits to SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, and the Safari Park for seven consecutive days. This allowed us to come and go as we pleased. We went “home” for lunch and naps. We went back to the parks multiple days. Bonus: purchasing through ebates gives you cashback (ours was 2.5%)! If you haven’t signed up for ebates yet, I’ll send you my referral link. It’ll be a good deal for you and for me.

Prepare Your Kids

Did you know there is a live Shamu cam and penguin cam you can watch online? How fun is that?! The live feeds helped prepare and excite our little one for the animals she was going to see. And as I’m typing this, I have the penguin cam open. I’m watching the trainer feed the penguins. Cute!

Even if you’re not going to Sea World any time soon, this is a fun at-home activity.



A lot of Sea World reviews bemoan the heat and lack of shade. With a December trip, the weather was quite nice. It was in the sixties during the day. The So Cal folks wore scarves and gloves. We wore short sleeves and sunglasses.

One evening it rained. We brought our stroller cover, but mostly went to the indoor or covered exhibits (polar bear, penguins, manta rays, etc) when it rained. Bonus: the lines were short and the park felt empty!

There was also a special Christmas exhibit. We visited the reindeer but decided to pass on the sledding area. We get enough snowy goodness here in the Midwest, why spend our vacation time in a man-made snow rink? Sorry, SeaWorld. We came to California to escape the snow.

Sesame Street Bay of Play

This kiddie area was a hit with the tot and Uncle Wade. I worried that introducing a kiddie roller coaster at bedtime would be disastrous,  but our girl loved “flying” with her daddy on Elmo’s Flying Fish ride. The uncle used the toddler as an excuse to spend twenty minutes climbing through a somewhat complex rope course. In the summer, it appears as though there’s a little splash park.  There are also a few other spinning rides for kids and parents with strong stomachs.


There’s a school of thought (which I totally understand) that suggests waiting until your kids are old enough to remember before seeking out (and paying for) big adventures and experiences. While it’s true that our two-year-old won’t have any actual memories from this trip, the experiences were valuable. She learned that an otter can be taught to wave, and whales can splash.  Dolphins jump really high, and sometimes people get to ride on their backs.  Sea lions growl like her dog (“Mommy, when I pick up Sofi, she growl too”), and Santa Claus is just as scary in California as he was back home in Indiana. All of that from the famously fun SeaWorld shows.

(For the record, the dolphin show was my favorite. The sea lion Christmas show was funny. We missed the domestic pets show. The whale show was okay. But it’s SeaWorld–you have to see the whales.)

Know Before You Go

The official SeaWorld policy is no outside food or drinks. However, all bags are searched at the entrance  and there was no objection to our snacks and water bottles. Parking was $15 per day. However, one evening we had my parents drop us off at the gate so we didn’t have to pay to park.


Conclusion: the adults, the two-year-old, and the baby all enjoyed the fun of our winter trip to SeaWorld. If and when you go, I hope you do, too!

Next up: stories from the world-famous zoo!


Traveling with a Toddler: Sleep Disruptions

June 21, 2012

We’re linking up at Travel Tips Tuesday!

By far my biggest concern when traveling with a toddler (as opposed to a baby) is how it will disrupt our daughter’s normally wonderful sleep schedule. She and I both thrive on our predictable routine, and I’ve literally had nightmares about how a trip could ruin all of the happy sleep habits we’ve worked so hard to implement. I know some moms who are easy-going and flexible about naps and bedtimes. Not me! At home, our little girl happily plays in bed until the generously late hour of 9:00 or 9:30. She goes down for her nap at 1:30. She sleeps for 2.5-3.5 hours. Daddy puts her to bed for the night around 8:30. This is predictable and our normal. This works for us.

But an early flight messes with nap time. Strange hotel rooms make it difficult for our little one to fall (and stay) asleep. And a change in time zones throws off all of our internal clocks. On this particular trip, we dealt with all three of these fear-inducing obstacles.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that I need to relax my (sleep) expectations when we travel. (Nate has always been easy-going about such things.) I now know that our dear daughter won’t sleep as much or as peacefully on the road as she does at home–so be it! Traveling and jet lag are two of the many obstacles that kids will face as they learn how to become good sleepers. I don’t want this to be the issue that keeps us from traveling. And the experts say that the good habits will return, in time, once we’re home.

One part of “relaxed expectations” for us means a few sleep-related exceptions that wouldn’t fly at home. For instance, if our girl could have her way, we’d hold her hand and stay by her side through every nap and night. We obviously don’t/can’t do that at home. But on the road? Sure, I’ll stretch my arm from the front seat to the back back seat to hold her hand and help her relax. We’ll also let her have her pacifer more, and sing, talk, or shush as much as she needs.

One thing we don’t change is her pre-bed routine. Whether we’re in the air, car, or hotel, we read her a few books, tell her it’s time to go night-night, offer her a snack and drink, pray, and sing. At her age (20 months), she responds well to verbal explanations and a bit of time to transition from being awake to going to sleep. When we take our time, she adjusts well and fights sleep less.

We all sleep better when A is in a separate room. We’ve tried having her in our room and even in our bed, but she will inevitably wake up, see Mommy and Daddy, and assume it’s time to party and play. For the first half of this trip, we had a condo with lots of space. We put A’s bed (a Pack ‘N Play like this: Graco Pack ‘N Play Element with Stages, Oasis) in the dark entryway where we wouldn’t disturb her either during the night or during her day-time naps.  Because it was “only” a three- hour time difference, and we were “only” going to be gone a few days, we decided to put her to bed about halfway between her normal bedtime and what bedtime would be if we switched completely to local time. (That is to say, we split the time difference.) With this setup, we were all able to enjoy a few peaceful nights of completely uninterrupted sleep. Yes, she woke up early according to local time, but 6:00 a.m. felt like 9:00 a.m. to us, so it wasn’t a big deal.

One thing that is (now) a permanent fixture in our life is this video monitor that we bought off Amazon (of course): Motorola Digital Video Baby Monitor with 1.5 Inch Color LCD Screen. We love that thing!  With the monitor, we can “peek” into her room and see if she’s really awake or if she’s just talking/fussing in her sleepy way. Before we had this monitor, I can’t tell you how many times I went into her room to get her up from a nap only to find she was actually settling herself back to sleep! The other bonus for both travel and home is that it has a 2-way microphone; we can comfort her, sing, or shush her without disturbing her with our physical presence.  It’s by far our favorite baby “splurge,” and Baby #2 will get one of her own as soon as she moves to her own room.

For the second half of the trip, we were in a normal hotel room with no separate area to give her a bit of space. So we improvised. We moved the TV, lampstands, and tables and covered them with the extra hotel blankets. The end result was an elaborate wall of blankets that created a visual barrier that kept her from seeing us or the fun we were having without her. It was effective and made sleeping in the same room a surprisingly pleasant experience!

My final sleep-related fear was that the time change would throw things off when we returned home. Before our trip, I read that parents should give their children four or five nights to adjust before they freaked out about how messed up things seemed. So I braced myself for middle-of-the-night tears and early-morning wake-up calls. But, thank God, it was like we never left. Maybe it was because she was tired from the shorter nap on the plane or maybe God just chose to encourage us by making the transition home EASY. Either way, we all adjusted well, and my fears about traveling with a toddler have eased ever-so-slightly.

Now for our next challenge: traveling with two little ones!

(Since we buy everything from furniture to diapers from, we decided it was time to try their Amazon Associates program. Therefore, the links in this post are referral links that all go to products we genuinely use and recommend. We don’t expect to make more than a few pennies from this program, but here is our official disclaimer: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Traveling with a Toddler: On the Plane

June 6, 2012

The thought of flying with an unpredictable, easily-frustrated, strong-willed toddler  is enough to make some parents swear off vacations for the next ten to fifteen years.

I understand.

However, in our experience, the flights are never as bad as they could be. Our girl’s seven commercial trips have included twenty (!)  individual flights, and the majority of those flights have been (relatively) positive! And those few where our child was a crying, screaming mess? I swallowed my pride and reminded myself that, in all likelihood, I’ll never see the other passengers again! It’s rough but manageable.

Here’s how we survived our last trip.

On the Plane: In our daughter’s closet, I keep a large diaper bag packed with goodies to take with us when we travel. I update it before every trip and only bring it out only for long car rides or plane trips. This way, everything in there is special, fun, and “new.”

Here’s what’s currently in our travel bag:

$1 Magna Doodle from a discount store–this is my current favorite travel toy.  On a recent trip to Indy, we passed it back to A, and she played with it quietly for 45 minutes. 45 minutes! That’s an eternity in toddler time! We actually had a real, adult conversation while our child busied herself in the backseat!

Pictures from magazines of things our dear daughter can identify–as Nate and I read through our magazines, we tear out pictures of animals, cars, trucks, clouds, flowers, airplanes, babies, bicycles, and fruit. These clippings go in an envelope and are later thrown in the travel bag. Because they’re just clippings from magazines, she can pull, tear, fold, and destroy these things as much as she wants. My favorite part? Since we already have the magazines, this “toy” is basically free!

Crayola Color Wonder markers and paper: Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote (colors & styles may vary)–these markers color only on the special Color Wonder Paper, which means no stray marks on clothes, tray tables, or skin. Genius!

Stickerssometimes they actually make it on paper or her clothes. Other times, they just go straight from the sticker sheet to a crumpled ball in her hand or on the floor. Either way, this cheap form of fun buys us time. What I’ve found is that toddlers don’t care if the stickers are holographic or have Disney characters on them; those little circles used to price items at garage sales work just fine! However, to enhance our sticker collection, I recently grabbed a pack of stickers that you can color and decorate from one of the dollar stores. Twice the fun!

Sticker books–I bought a few of these sticker pages from Amazon using their 4-for-3 book promotion (buy four books and get the lowest-priced item free). They’re small, cheap, and reusable!  Petting Zoo Sticker Activity Book (Dover Little Activity Books)

Painter’s tape–we’ve tried this on a few trips, and once it was confiscated when we went through security. I have no clue if tape is officially banned on airplanes (or, if so, why!?); however, when we have it, A enjoys playing with it. Tape is fun to smush and crinkle and stick to Daddy’s nose.

Activity sheets in plastic sheet protectors and dry erase markers–more reusable fun! This one is new. Our daughter is just now to the age (20-months at the time of our trip) where worksheets can be interesting. The pages I have now are big shapes that she can drive over (i.e. trace) with her toy car or plane, and a few alphabet activities. On this last trip, A marked on a few shapes and scribbled. I pointed out letters, and she named all of the colors. When she was done drawing, I gave her an old sock and she wiped off (most) of the marks herself. This proved to be just as fun for her as the scribbling.

Mr. Potato Head–so what if his lips end up in his ears and his ears end up in his eyes?

Foam blocks–we found ours in the dollar bins at Target. They’re good for stacking, sorting, hiding, and naming shapes and colors.

Finger puppets (we have this exact set from Ikea)–Daddy is a master puppeteer.

Paint samples–I know they cost companies money, so we try not to be greedy. However, when we’ve had the need to purchase paint, I’ve picked up a few extra paint samples and added them to our travel bag. These are good for sorting, color identification, and matching activities.

Puzzles-cheap, cardboard puzzles from Walmart. I keep them in a big manila envelope so the pieces don’t get lost in my bag.

Snacks–for both the toddler and her parents. All it took was one snack-free flight for us to realize that hungry parents do not make for happy flights!

Books–our favorite this trip was Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport. Our girl is fascinated by planes, trains, helicopters, and cars. She kept asking for the “(air)port book” so she could point out vehicles (and colors) she recognized.

Even though I always overpack, I felt like I didn’t bring enough books this time! I guess I didn’t realize how much we read. We read for entertainment and before every nap and bedtime. Our five favorite books had worn out their welcome by the time this trip was over.

Along with the airport book, we bring along a toy plane. At the airport, on the runway, and in our hotel in Phoenix, our little girl was fascinated by the big planes. She would mimic their take offs and landings with her toy plane while saying, “Big plane! Woosh, woosh!”

Backpack for her to carry that has a detachable child “leash.”  This is the exact one we purchased from Amazon: Jeep 3-In-1 Backpack Harness. I know harnesses are controversial. But when our unsteady toddler went on a cruise with my family in December, you can bet this mama was not at all embarrassed to have an adult holding each of her hands AND have her clipped to a leash when we were walking around the deck! Since then, we’ve taken off the leash and just used the backpack. Our daughter loves wearing her bag. Sometimes, she’ll ask to wear her bag around the house just for fun.

Although she doesn’t play with the iPad at home, we download fun baby apps for trips just in case. Traveling requires flexibility; this is one of the exceptions we’re willing to make for a fuss-free flight.

Ear plugs–go ahead, laugh! But you never know when YOUR kid will be the screaming child no one wants to sit by on the plane. We keep ear plugs around in case we need to offer them to the not-so-lucky passengers who sit near us. If nothing else, they lighten the mood. “Sorry about the noise. Here, have some ear plugs.”

With this bag full of goodies, the comfort of being able to sleep in her car seat rather than our arms during nap time, and Daddy’s willingness to walk up and down the aisle when our baby girl needed to burn off some energy, we made it through seven hours of flying without any meltdowns or tears! Sounds like a successful trip to me!

Next time: My biggest travel-related concern–sleep disruptions!

We’re linking up with Travel Tips Tuesday!

(Since we buy everything from furniture to diapers from, we decided it was time to try their Amazon Associates program. In fact, everything linked in this post was actually purchased by us from Amazon! Therefore, the links in this post are referral links that all go to products we genuinely use and recommend. We don’t expect to make more than a few pennies from this program, but here is our official disclaimer: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Traveling with a Toddler: The Airport

May 31, 2012

While we’d like the focus of this blog to stay on Guatemala, we’ve had little to no news to share and our next possible trip won’t be until next year. Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on here at home, and I (Rachael) miss writing. Once our new baby comes, I probably won’t spend my discretionary time on our blog; however, until then, we’ve decided to branch out and talk about new things on our blog. One of my favorite things to read about online is how to enjoy traveling with kids. So after returning from a trip to Phoenix a few weeks ago, I decided to share my own tips and hints. And, hey! We’ve taken our baby to Guatemala twice now, so I guess it’s not too off-topic!

One of the reasons we waited five years to have our first baby was that we weren’t quite ready to slow down and cut back on our travels. As it turns out, we still aren’t. Yes, traveling with a baby is different than traveling as a couple, but, the point is, we’re still traveling. Of course it helps that our baby has a pilot for a daddy. She’s been on several short flights in “his” plane, but those are easy. When it’s just your family in the plane, and you are (theoretically) in control, the normal hiccups that come with traveling with children (boredom, crying, pressure changes) seem less daunting. The harder trips include strangers who might not appreciate being strapped into a seat next to a baby who is equally unhappy about being strapped into her seat for the duration of a non-stop, four-hour flight.

A few weeks ago, our daughter took her seventh commercial trip (four have been domestic; three have been international) to and from Arizona for a conference with Nate’s work. As she gets older, these trips have gotten easier. Or maybe we’ve gotten wiser. Most likely it’s a combination of the two. Here’s how we managed the trip we fondly refer to as “Big Sister’s Babymoon”:

And, just for fun, we’re linking up here:  Travel Tips Tuesday

Packing: Weeks before the trip begins, I make lists. I make mental lists and physical lists. Sometimes I’ll find partial lists scribbled on receipts or on ripped off pages of magazines.  I keep track of my mental lists by reciting them to Nate (What can I say? I married a very patient man). I print off packing lists from online and add my own notes. I keep a notebook next to the bed. That way, when I wake up at 4 a.m. to go to the bathroom (again) and remember that we can’t forget to pack A’s current favorite blanket, it goes on a list.

Apart from my lists, my favorite packing strategy is to put all of our daughter’s outfits and accessories in Ziploc gallon bags. Each bag gets a label (e.g., Monday-travel day. Leopard pants, pink shirt, sweatshirt, pink bow), and everything for that day gets zipped into that perfectly contained little baggie. I fill extra bags with things that don’t go with specific days or are used multiple times–socks, shoes, diapers, and pajamas. This system means no digging through piles of clothes for a matching outfit and no worrying about lost socks. Daddy likes this system, too, because Daddy doesn’t really care which outfit his little girl wears when. He’s more than happy to change her diapers, get her dressed, brush her teeth, and put her hair in a ponytail (yep!), but he’ll leave the wardrobe decisions to me. I like to think we make a good team.

When luggage fees aren’t an issue (like on Southwest) or we know we won’t have access to a crib, we bring out our huge rolling duffel bag and pack our Pack ‘N Play. It’s bulky and difficult to lug around, but it’s worth it to know our girl will have a familiar and safe bed.

Since I may have the tendency to pack too much, we bring this luggage scale: Travelon Stop & Lock Luggage Scale. It’s easy to weigh our bags at home before our trip begins, but the return trip is the kicker. Now that we have the luggage scale, there’s no more shuffling our dirty underwear or rearranging our well-packed souvenirs at the check-in counter.

For several years now, Nate and I have kept our “overnight bag” packed and stored in the bathroom. This bag has almost all of the cosmetics we need for any trip–contact solution and a contact case, toothbrushes and toothpaste, his and hers deodorants, shampoo and conditioner, tweezers, lotion, and a razor for me. At the last minute, we add my glasses and makeup bag and Nate’s shaver.  Packing for grownups is easy.

In Transit: When planning this trip, we noticed that a 6:30 a.m. flight out of Indy meant we would land in Phoenix around 7:20 a.m. local time. At the risk of having an overtired, cranky kid, we chose this flight to give us an “extra” day to play. From our last early morning trip (in February), we learned that light and noise wake our daughter up, and she has trouble going back to sleep when we’re transferring her to the car. So this time we put her to bed early the night before and stealthily moved her from her crib to the car in complete darkness at 4:00 a.m. The car was completely packed, and we kept the dome light and radio off. She talked to us a little, but (amazingly!) she went back to sleep. We thereby traded one hour of potential crankiness for another hour of rest.

At the airport, Nate parks the car while the toddler and I check in. When he returns, we all go through security.  TSA gets a bad rap. While I won’t deny that it’s annoying to take off your shoes and remove all liquids and gels, people are generally gracious and happy when young kids are involved. (The fact that I was third-trimester pregnant couldn’t have hurt this time either!) A lot of airports have a “family line.” Business travelers must cringe when they think of an entire line devoted to moms struggling to collapse their gigantic strollers and TSA agents who have to open and test each jar of baby food, but we see this line as a free pass to skip ahead. It’s generally much shorter than the regular security line, and we breeze right through. Before we travel, we always check the TSA website. There are generous exceptions for young kids (e.g. extra liquids are allowed for bottles and food), but these rules can and do change.

At this point, we will have checked our suitcases, but our stroller and car seat will still be with us.  While she’s still under two (the age when most airlines no longer allow children to fly for free on their parent’s laps), we refuse to buy her a seat of her own. We’re cheap like that. (To prove her age, we always bring along her passport.) But one reason we keep our car seat with us is that on flights that aren’t full, lap infants and their car seats can occupy the empty seats. Once we arrive at the gate, an agent will tag our stroller and check to see if there are enough empty seats for our car seat to ride with us. When there are no extra seats, we wrap our car seat in two extra-large garbage bags and hope that the baggage handlers aren’t too rough. Thankfully, it’s a short trip from the gate ramp to the plane and back. Gate checked items don’t make the full trip from plane to truck to baggage carousel. Instead, they’re waiting for you on the ramp right when you step off the plane at your destination.

Thankfully, for both flights for this trip, we were able to keep our seat with us.

Once we board, the real fun begins! Coming soon: How we survive the actual flight!

(Since we buy everything from furniture to diapers from, we decided it was time to try their Amazon Associates program! The links in this post are referral links that all go to products we use and genuinely recommend.  While it’s unlikely that we’ll earn more than a few pennies from this program, we wanted to include this official disclaimer: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

First Day in Guatemala (Nate)

June 16, 2010

Although I won’t expect it to happen again, they held our connecting flight in Houston even though our first flight was delayed. Thanks, Continental Airlines!

Customs was a breeze even though we came through with 144 pairs of new, identical sunglasses for the kids. No officials searching for bribes. Thanks to God and all the people who were praying for us.

A group from Kokomo, IN was at Casa Bernabe this afternoon, and we were able to plop down and help out at the perfect time as Daniel and his housemates were all headed toward craft time with the other Hoosiers! Interesting timing.  We helped the kids each make a Belt of Truth and talked with Daniel.  When he first saw us, he immediately commented on Rachael’s shorter hair.  Soon after, he wanted to know what we were naming the baby.  In honor of his three best friends from the Buckner Baby Home, his top suggestions were “Daniela,” “Juanita,” Estuarda,” and “Josefina.”

P1080604 We’re worn out from travel and looking forward to our week with Christy (my sister), Chris (our brother-in-law), and the kids! Pray that God meets these orphans’ needs as we rest and do our best with what we have.

Tomorrow morning we’ll take a tour of Hogar Solidario, see Isabel from the Buckner Baby Home, pick up Daniel for lunch, and then head back to Eliza Martinez for an afternoon with the boys. Please continue to pray for us.




June 8, 2010

A few weeks ago, Scot Longyear asked our team from April to share a bit about our Guatemala trip with the rest of the church.  The main question he asked was, “What kind of return did you see when you invested in this week?”

It took Nate awhile to warm up to the question.  He tends to think of words like “return” and “investment” in a financial sense.  In the financial world, you pour in resources with the expectation that it will benefit your bottom line.

But our trips to Guatemala aren’t about personal gain, even though the personal gain is great.  Every time we go, we see God differently, love His people more passionately, and pray more desperately.  We have fun, grow closer to each other and God, and receive the blessings God gives when we seek to follow and serve Him.  However, if these “returns” were our motivation for going, we’d burn out quickly and be frustrated more easily when the “payoff” wasn’t what we expected it to be.  It wouldn’t work.  It shouldn’t work.

As Nate and I talked about it more, we started thinking of Scot’s question as being not so much about personal investment and gain, but what our investment of time, energy, and service could mean to the kids.  As Nate told the congregation, if even one of the boys sees Jesus more clearly or knows God more completely because of our visits, these trips are worth everything we can possibly pour into them.

For my part, I shared a story about a boy named Erick.  Throughout the week, Erick and I connected by making ongoing jokes about the baby in his belly.  I’d ask him how the baby was, when it was due, and what its name was.  As we were getting ready to leave on the last day, Erick was walking beside me, laughing, and rubbing his belly.  It was the same old joke, and I didn’t think much of it.  Fortunately, one of the translators was walking with us.  She told me he wanted to know if I loved him.  Somehow I had missed the serious turn in the conversation.

“What?” I asked.

“He wants to know if you love him,” she repeated.

I stopped and looked him in the eye.  “Yes,” I told him. ” Yes, of course we love you.  We love you very much. We come to visit, because we love you.”

Of all the moments of the week, this one probably hit me the hardest.  I imagine all of these boys have this same question, but few are brave enough or able to verbalize it.  This is why God has called us to Guatemala.  This is why we do the work for Foreign Exchange.  This is why families send silly gifts like sunglasses to the boys.  We do these things because the boys are desperate to see, hear, and know that someone loves them. And, although the investment on our part seems minimal, the payoff is great.

On that note, we’re excitedly, anxiously, and frantically preparing for our last, pre-baby trip to Guatemala.  We leave one week from today (June 14), and Nate’s sister and brother-in-law will be joining us! We need your prayers. Have you heard what has been going on in Guatemala lately?  A quick Google search will tell you about the eruption of Pacaya Volcano (the same volcano we climbed last June!), the floods and landslides that came with Tropical Storm Agatha, and a sinkhole the size of a city block that opened up on the outskirts of Guatemala city.

On top of all that, both Nate’s sister and I are pregnant.  Christy will be well into her first trimester, and I’ll be well into my third.  The midwife is a bit concerned about how traveling will affect the swelling in my legs and it feels like I have a stress fracture (again) in my left foot, so we’d appreciate your prayers for good circulation and plenty of places to kick up our feet and rest.

While we’re there, we ask that you’d invest in us, these kids, and these trips by praying for us each and every day.  The return will be far greater than you could imagine or hope.