Thursday, April 25, 2013

All Dogs Go To Heaven

On Sunday, April 21, my family had to say goodbye to a long standing member of our family:

Emme, or adorable minature-toy poodle.

I have never actually had a pet for as long as we had Emme. She was the first dog who we raised from puppyhood. I remember a time when she was too small to even get out of the bathtub. And as it seems, a pet like that gets inside your heart and becomes more than just an animal.

From fancy tricks, to painted nails, long walks with mom, and bad hair cuts- Emme was one of the girls. My Dad has always said that he was the lone man in a house full of 5 girls: my mom, my sister, me, Emme, and Marble (our cat). She was very intelligent, always happy to see you, but notorious for being able to sniff out a tasty treat through purses, backpacks, and plastic bags. 

After a lot of thinking, reflecting, and more crying than I expected- I was left feeling more than just a little bit homesick. In the midst of this, I realized a few things. 

1. People in Costa Rica (and probably other Latin American countries for that matter), don't see pets the same way we (Americans) do. I felt like it would have been looked upon oddly to tell my co-workers that I was in such a strange funk because my dog had passed away. However, while they're keeping away fleas and tics, they're also keeping away a family friend who doesn't hold grudges or look at you funny if your hair is a mess. They're missing out on a friend who will give you sincere unconditional love. 

2. Sometimes I just want to freeze time and enjoy where I am a little longer. But no matter how hard you try, life keeps moving whether you like it our not. Emme was a part of my childhood. She was a part of my adolescence and young adulthood. That part of my life is over and I can't go back. And as much as I want to, things keep changing and life keeps moving.

There is only one constant and consistent that is worth holding onto with all your might.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." 
Hebrews 13: 8

When everything in your life is like sand slipping through your fingers-- hold fast to this truth.

“For I am the Lord, and I do not change." 
Malachi 3:6

(Alright, lets be honest...maybe she wasn't the best at playing with dogs who weren't her own size)

But she was still our Emme, our Ami Amour, our loving friend.

And lastly, just a little comic relief.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Meet Mr. West

As many of you know, just before I left for the trip of my dreams- I was surprised with the most gorgeous ring from the man of my dreams! 

Everyone told me that he was smart to put a ring on it before those Latino guys tried to woo me. I guess I agree ;)

So, believe it or not, I've been planning this wedding via FaceTime, Gmail, & iMessage. Special thanks to Apple for making this possible!

Lets rewind. Before I left....

We asked "the who"

Sara & Becca

Way back in January, I asked all of my bridesmaids to brunch at my favorite restaurant in Athens, GA: Mama's Boy. Ask anyone in town where to find the best home-cooked Southern breakfast, they will point you in that direction. 

Here's the catch: none of them knew that the others would be there. 

One by one, they showed up and joined the group. Everyone was pretty confused about why they weren't the only one at the table with me, but out of courtesy, nobody really asked why. After we placed our orders, I passed out my handmade cards to the whole group and watched their faces light up as they opened them. 

Erica & Melissa

Needless to say, none of them were too upset that I had tricked them after that! 

Jessie & Corbin
Laura & Callie

I can't wait to have all of those beautiful girls by my side on my wedding day.

Picked out "the where"

After lots of searching and a few unsuccessful visits, we found an indoor venue that was perfect for our cozy winter wedding: 

The Carl House, in Auburn, Georgia!  

Decided "the when"

For a variety of different reasons, we finally settled on January 25, 2014. By this time, I will have been back in the USA for a month and a half-- hopefully enough time to pull together the last details.

The cool part: After picking our date, McCray was looking back through some old journals and found that on January 25, 2012-- exactly 2 years before our wedding-- a good friend came up to McCray out of the blue and said, "the Lord agrees with the marriage in your heart". Little did his friend know that we had been praying and asking God to show us if we were supposed to be  together. We were so blessed by that word then and even more now that we will be celebrating our wedding on that same day!

Now, we're just filling in all the gaps the best that we can until I visit in June for a wedding-whirlwind month!

To find out more about our love story, 
visit our Wedding Website:

All of this madness would certainly not be possible without:

My mom...
(haha- thanks Mom!)

My sister (Maid of Honor)...

My bridesmaids...

and of course, my Hubby-to-be!

Part 1 of my fiance's visit to Costa Rica is coming up next!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Creativity is Contagious: Festival Nacional de las Artes Costa Rica

I really do love a good festival. This week just outside of San Jose was the annual Festival Nacional de las Artes in Santa Ana, Guayabo de Mora, and Ciudad Colon. It is a festival that features completely local talent. 
Here is some of the things I found:

So get this: I was just browsing around, admiring the beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry when I hear "Lauren!" I turn around and find a friend of mine (Ashley, pictured above) from the University of Georgia in the US. Remember, I am in Costa Rica right now. Of all the places in all the world, we were in the same country, same town, same art fair at the exact same time. It was so surreal! 

Carrying our bags of new art treasures!

Last year, I decided to be a mug collector because of my love for coffee & tea.
I was OBSESSED with this beautiful handmade/painted pottery that I found at the festival! And obviously, so was my sweet but mouthy furry friend.
So we might have gotten a little carried away with the pottery...

There aren't many things that I like more than "hecho a mano" or handmade art. It inspired me to do a little crafting this weekend as well! I will include those creations in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Circles Are Better Than Rows

Who would have thought that I would move thousands of miles away from home, to a foreign country- only to find a sister church (10 min down the road) to the church that I love and attend back in Athens, GA???

Isn't God clever?

Three years ago, thanks to encouragement from my older sister, I joined a community group at Athens Church that impacted my life immensely. In January, one of my hardest goodbyes was with my AC Small Group.

Upon arriving to Costa Rica, a new colleague mentioned to me a church in the area called "Open House". He said that it was a church for "unchurched people". I thought, hmmm...that sounds familiar.

So, I promptly looked up the website and discovered that Open House was based off of the North Point Ministries in Alpharetta, GA. I was so excited! I did the best that I could to write a short Spanish email to the director of small groups at Open House. She responded telling me that she was from Georgia and spoke English- but that she appreciated my Spanish effort. Whoops!

Before even attending Open House, I decided to join a Small Group...and offered to have them at my house every week (this helped solve the 'no car situation') because I knew like the back of my hand that circles were better than rows.

Now, I've been attending Open House and hosting community group at my place for about a month. The service is in Spanish and our community group is in Spanglish.

One of the deepest desires of my heart remains the same: I have to know Spanish to connect with these people!

Right now, I sit through the services, feeling lucky that I have a good background in the Bible and can piece together the sermon from the program, the verses, and the notes on the big screen. During small group, we have started sharing our "stories" to get to know one another and become more vulnerable with each other. I have been watching these girls pour their hearts out around my kitchen table- and I can only understand half of it. My heart is just longing to build relationships with, connect with, and minister to these girls. But how? 

I know that figuring out all this Spanish will take time. Everyone just keeps telling me "poco por poco"- little by little. But my fear is that just as I'm on the cusp of actually being able to use the language productively, I'll be leaving. 

Our lives are so dependent on the power of words! However, I know that my identity isn't in language. I can show who I am without all the right words, it's just a new way of thinking. Love speaks every language right? 

I just keep praying that I will get some of that Acts 2 Holy Spirit anointing!

Who can guess this song???

A Program from Open House

Easter Sunday

A CD of Spanish worship music that I bought!

They sing A LOT of the same songs. Just in Spanish!

"Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions." 

1 John 3:18

Friday, April 5, 2013

Grow Where You're Planted!

My dear friends, family, & anyone else who happens to be reading along--

Let me introduce you to Melissa. Melissa is one of my sorority littles, one of my bridesmaids in my wedding next January, and one of my best friends! She is a bundle of love, joy, and fun stories that she can't wait to share. Just when I was feeling like I would never see any of my Georgian friends ever again, Melissa arrived on my doorstep! Let me tell you about how she helped me explore more of the Rich Coast (That's Costa Rica in English for those of you who are slow on the uptake). 

When she arrived Friday afternoon, I couldn't believe my eyes! Melissa was here, in person, at my school. When she walked into my classroom, she instantly became a celebrity. The kids gave a few cute guesses about who she was (your sister? your cousin? oh I know! the sister of the boy you're going to marry?). Then, this dear lady helped me get through the worst part of the entire school week: Friday afternoon. 

Once we had pushed the last kiddo out the door, we headed on to San Jose to catch a bus to Ciudad Quesada and then another bus from there to La Fortuna. When we arrived at the bus stop, we were greeted by a taxi driver who told us that we would be too late to catch the connecting bus in Ciudad Quesada. I believe that this was probably a lie, but nonetheless we were happy for an excuse to get to our final destination faster. Melissa eloquently haggled the taxi price and then we were on our way!

When we got to La Fortuna, we directed our taxi driver to one of the nicest resorts in town:  

When we arrived, they greeted us by name, gave us a tour, and complimentary cocktails. We did the best that we could not to squeal until the door to our room closed behind us. We were in heaven! This was potentially the nicest place that either of us had ever stayed.

You may be wondering how we could possibly afford a room that cost $600 a night? Well, you may remember when I mentioned how I met the owner of La Paz Waterfall Gardens. As it turns out- he owns the The Springs Resort and Spa as well! So we were blessed with a complimentary night and day at the resort to enjoy the 20+ hot springs as well as all the resort accommodations. See for yourself!

After our luxurious nights' stay and day spent in the hot springs, we were exhausted. Who knew relaxing could be so tiresome? We spent one more night in La Fortuna at a hostel and even had the chance to check out the sketchy local discoteca! Sunday morning we took a bus to Ciudad Quesada and then a connector to San Jose. On our way from Ciudad Quesada to San Jose, we lucked out got the last two tickets! Or so we thought. Unfortunately, that meant sitting on the floor. But, we just laughed, worked our way back to the stair well, sat down, and enjoyed the ridiculous experience. 

It wasn't easy saying goodbye to Melissa the next day. I felt a pang of homesickness that I don't think I have ever felt before. But, as she often does, Melissa left me with one piece of valuable advice--

"Grow where you're planted"

God wants me to be effective where I am, with the people that I am surrounded by. No matter how I feel at one time or another, I am supposed to be here and I am growing.

"Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you." 
1 Corinthians 7:17