Exploring Peru: The Sacred Valley.

Just 2 short weeks after our little trip to Colca Canyon with my parents, our team set off on a trip to Cusco, Peru, and the Sacred Valley which surrounds it.    There are several families with our missions agency who live and serve in Cusco, and Nate and Nathaniel had been there several times in the last couple of years for meetings, but they had always just flown there for the day.  There had never been a good time for all of us to take the kids along, so Alicia and I had never had the chance to see that part of the country.

When an opportunity came up that would require a longer trip to Cusco, it seemed like the perfect time for the whole team to go along.   The new director of our missions agency was coming to visit Peru in September, and they were hoping to get as many of the Peru missionaries together as possible to meet him and attend some seminars he would be leading.  Some of our fellow missionaries were also having their first official service for the new church plant they had been serving in, and they had invited us to attend.  In addition, our teammate Nathaniel needed to finish up some of his meetings and exams for the ordination process and would need to do it in Cusco.    Since all of those things happened to fall within a few days of one another, we decided it would be a great time for all of us to drive out together.

^ can't beat the views on the drive
^ can’t beat the views on the drive.

We rented a house in Urubamba, which is in the Sacred Valley and about an hour from Cusco.  The trip was going to end up being about 10 days long, so we knew we wanted to stay somewhere where the children could run and play without worry, and where Alicia and I could cook meals to save money instead of eating out.    We ended up getting an amazing deal on an incredible house that both of our families could share, and the owner gave us a rate that was better than any of the hotels nearby.  Plus it had a HUGE fenced in yard, perfect for 6 crazy children.    And even though it was a bit of a drive for Nate and Nathaniel whenever they had to drive into Cusco for meetings, it meant that Alicia and I could stay with the kids, prepare our own food, let them play, and not have to worry about being cooped up in a hotel for hours at a time.   It ended up being the perfect set-up.

^ So much green space to run!! That's hard to find in Arequipa.
^ So much green space to run!! That’s hard to find in Arequipa.

We headed out early on a Monday morning, expecting the drive to take us 9 hours or so.   It ended up being 11, because once again, we had to cross over areas of very high altitude, and this time we didn’t fare so well.  We stopped every 20 minutes or so for kids to throw up on the side of the road… and occasionally in the car when we didn’t stop in time.  It was a lovely 11 hours, you can imagine.   Thankfully, the views were incredible, and being surrounded by such beauty made a rough trip into an enjoyable one, all things considered.

^ this view makes a drive full of sick kids a little more peaceful.
^ this view makes a drive full of sick kids a little more peaceful.

We stayed one night in Cusco for Nathaniel to have his meetings and exams, then headed to the house in Urubamba the next day.  The place ended up being perfect!  The kids were still not feeling all that well, so Alicia and I stayed put for several days.  We certainly didn’t want to put them back in the car on those winding roads after all of that!  But since we had such a beautiful place to stay, we didn’t mind a bit.  The kids had plenty of room to play, and Alicia and I sat on the patio enjoying the views of the valley while Nate and Nathaniel attended all of their meetings.

^view from our hotel room in Cusco... then on to Urubamba the next day!
^view from our hotel room in Cusco… then on to Urubamba the next day!

Over the course of the 10 days, we explored the little town of Urubamba as we had time, as well as a bit of Cusco on the days that we had to drive there for various things.  And while it was fairly laid-back trip for the mamas and kiddos, that wasn’t quite the case for Nate and Nathaniel.  They were certainly busy and had a full schedule, but we were all really thankful to get to spend time with some of the other missionaries serving in various parts of Peru with our agency,  with the new agency director, and with our regional director.  Alicia and I were able to go with the guys to a few events, and it was wonderful to catch up with our coworkers here in Peru.  The kids were thankful to get to play with their missionary-kid buddies that they hadn’t seen in awhile, and we were glad to have the chance to go to the very first service of one of our new sister churches here in Peru.

^ the guys enjoying dinner with the new agency director (Far left: Lloyd Kim) and our regional director (Far right: Bill Yarborough)
^ the guys enjoying dinner and discussing ministry with the new agency director (Far left: Lloyd Kim) and our regional director (Far right: Bill Yarborough)
^ dinner and a meeting with the Peru missionaries and some of the people involved in the churches in Cusco
^ dinner and a meeting with the Peru missionaries and some of the people involved in the churches in Cusco
^ we had the privilege to attend the very first worship service of our sister church in Cusco, La Fuente de Gracia.
^ we had the privilege to attend the very first worship service of our sister church in Cusco, La Fuente de Gracia.

At the end of the trip, we had a couple of days for our two families as a team to spend some uninterrupted time working through planning, vision, and goals for the future of our ministry in Arequipa.  (Unless you count interruptions by the kids, in which case we were interrupted about 270 times.)  It nice to dream about future ideas, work through logistics of ministries that we hope to start soon, and spend focused time discussing the vision for our team.  The evenings were spent chatting by the fire, playing a little Catan, and being reminded of how thankful we are for our teammates.

^ preparing a pachamanca... a delicious peruvian meal cooked in a hole in the ground! YUM!
^ preparing a pachamanca… a delicious peruvian meal cooked in a hole in the ground! YUM!

Finally it was time to fill the kids up with anti-nausea medicine and hit the road again.  Thankfully we did a little better on the return trip, but we were all ready to be out of the car when we arrived in Arequipa again.     And even though it was a long drive, it was completely worth it.  The boys are already asking for another trip back to “the Big House!”

^ The sun setting over the sacred valley, as seen from the backyard of The Big House. We can't wait to go back!
^ The sun just starting to set over the sacred valley, as seen from the backyard of The Big House. We can’t wait to go back!

***

Check out a few more picture from our trip.  Hover over the photo for captions, and click for larger view or slideshow viewing.  Enjoy! 

Exploring Peru: Colca Canyon.

In the year and a half that we have lived in Peru, I havn’t had much opportunity to really explore the country.   I have heard how beautiful it is, and I have seen some photos, but I havn’t had the chance to see much of it for myself.  Other than quick trips to Lima (the capital) here and there for visa issues or filing government documents, I haven’t really left our little corner of southern Peru.   All I knew was Arequipa, which is breathtakingly beautiful in its own right, but I was dying to see more.

In August, I finally had the chance.  Twice.  And though I still didn’t really leave southern Peru, I was finally able see a little more than just our little city.

In the middle of the month, my parents came down for a visit, and we decided to take the opportunity to take a couple of days off to visit with them and explore.     We decided to head out to Colca Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in the world (over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!), and only a 3 hour drive from the city of Arequipa.     We weren’t really sure what to expect or if the kids would enjoy it, but we booked 2 nights at a kid-friendly hotel and headed out.

On the drive there, we had to cross over some areas of pretty high altitude.  We actually hit the 16,000ft mark at one point (which leaves you feeling a little woozy if you’re wondering).

^ The screenshot from Nate's app that was tracking our altitude. 16,000ft is definitely high!
^ The screenshot from Nate’s app that was tracking our altitude. 16,000ft is definitely high!
^ stunning views on the drive
^ stunning views on the drive
^ tunnels through the mountains
^ tunnels through the mountains

We made a stop at a volcano lookout, where 7 volcanos could be seen from one spot, and the kids flipped out over seeing snow.  (They threw a few snowballs at each other, then jumped back in the car because they aren’t really used to anything below about 50 or 60 degrees.)   And of course, there were lots of stops to let the alpacas, vicuñas, sheep, or burros run across the road in front of the car.   At one point it was pigs.  You just never know.

^ please move.
^ please move.

 

^ the kids on "shoo" duty
^ the kids on “shoo” duty… which includes running, jumping, shouting in the road without getting too close.  That last part is important.
^ delayed bc there's a bull fight in the middle of the road. Just another day in Peru.
^ delayed bc there’s a bull fight in the middle of the road. Just another day in Peru.

After coming through the mountains, we descended into the valley and spotted the grounds of our little hotel, which turned out to be an amazing place to stay with kids.  {Comfy beds + hot water with good water pressure + rooms large enough for a family of 5 + a yummy restaurant on-site + kid-friendly staff + GRASS TO RUN IN = a major hit with the Bonhams.}

^ view of our hotel as we were descending into the valley
^ view of our hotel as we were descending into the valley
^ we loved staying here! A great place for the kids to let loose and run.
^ we absolutely cannot wait to go back here again!

They explored the whole place, hiked up to the top of the nearby hills (which they called their “superhero adventure”), and had plenty of space to run.   We headed out the next day to explore the nearby towns and find some natural volcanic hot springs.  We weren’t disappointed!  We found a great spot down inside the valley where we could sit inside the steaming pools with the walls of the canyon rising up around us.

^ the view from the natural volcanic hot springs
^ the view from the natural volcanic hot springs

Our last morning, we drove to the “Cruz del Condor,” where we were able to stand at a lookout at the edge of the canyon and watch the condors soaring overhead.   Andean Condors are the largest flying bird in the world, with wing spans around 10 feet, and they are incredible to watch.

^ condors soaring above the canyon
^ condors soaring above the canyon
^ these birds are amazing!
^ these birds are amazing!

After a couple of fun days exploring the area, we loaded up and headed back to Arequipa.  The trip was short and sweet, and we are hoping that we will get back to Colca again before long!   And now I have my first check on my list of “Peruvian Places to Explore.”

***

Check out a few more picture from our trip.  Hover over the photo for captions, and click for larger view or slideshow viewing.  Enjoy!  And don’t forget to come visit (:

2014.

I am late with this, but that’s par for the course these days.

I never got around to doing a 2013 wrap-up post, and now that I don’t have one to go back and read, I regret it.   I love being able to go back and read bits and pieces of our story whenever I get nostalgic.  So, I want to make sure I get one written for 2014 even if it is February before it is getting posted.  And of course, there’s no way to do it without it being ridiculously long… sorry about that. But I’ll make up for it with plenty of pictures (:

It was a crazy year, but I have a feeling I am going to be able to say that every year for awhile, so I should probably find a more specific descriptor to use.  It was another year of adjusting, transitioning, and figuring out what “normal” is going to look like for us here in Arequipa.  It was another year that pushed and stretched us a lot.  It was full of some really great highs and some really rough lows.  But that also feels like another generic description of a year that was anything but.

So since I can’t figure out how to describe it, here’s the roundup of what went down in 2014.

January.   We started the year on our rooftop at midnight, watching the entire city erupt in color.  Arequipa does New Years right.  {Click here for a video to see what I’m talking about.}  We had been in Arequipa for 2 weeks.  We were still staying in a temporary rental apartment while we hunted for a place to live and a vehicle that didn’t cost a million dollars. (Cars are expensive here.  Although a million might be an exaggeration. Barely.)  We had 3 huge sicknesses back to back that wiped out almost every member of the team, and 2 of those sicknesses were stomach bugs.  There were children vomiting everywhere AT THE SAME TIME.  We finally found houses for ourselves and our teammates, and we all moved in. But we didn’t have any of our stuff that we had shipped from Colombia (mostly clothes and beds bc we had sold everything else).  We were sleeping on the floor of an empty house (my back says NEVER AGAIN. The kids thought it was fun).  But mostly we were just thankful to finally be here and to have a place to live.

^ the day we showed the house to the boys, they were thrilled to find TURBO (the snail) on the roof!  Sadly, he was gone by move-in day.
^ the day we showed the house to the boys, they were thrilled to find TURBO (the snail) on the roof! Sadly, he was gone by move-in day.
^ the view from the rooftop of our house.  We were so excited to move in!
^ the view from the rooftop of our house. We were so excited to move in!

February.   Our container that we had shared with the other 2 families finally arrived…except it was late because it was caught in huge agricultural strike that blocked all the roads.  After two and a half months living out of a couple of suitcases, opening up our boxes felt like Christmas!   We tried to save as much money as we could on furniture, so Nate ended up buying a bunch of lumber and making a good bit of our stuff:  dining table and benches, side tables for the living room, bedside tables, a buffet/island for the kitchen.  There was sawdust everywhere, and then I sanded, stained, and painted everything.  The house was a mess, but we were happy with the results!  We spent the month getting the house set up, exploring our new city, trying to meet new people, visiting various churches around town, learning our way around, and continued hunting for a reasonable vehicle.  {Click here to read our team’s February 2014 newsletter to get caught up.} 

^ checking out the loot from a trip to the fish market
^ checking out the loot from a trip to the fish market
^ the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city
^ the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city

March.   With the beginning of March brought the beginning of preschool in spanish.  The boys began 3 days a week, which meant 3 days a week of homework help for me.   The “school” part wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped, but the spanish boost it gave to the twins was worth it.   Nate started classes again as well. The car-hunt continued, hopelessly, and the guys (Nate, Nathaniel, and Josh) finally decided to take a trip to Lima, where there is more selection and the prices are a bit lower.  They found and purchased cars and drove them back, which took 17 hours on some rough roads.     We found out from the US government that Luís’ citizenship had been denied due to us living outside the country and they sent him a green card instead and said we would have to come back to the US to finalize everything. Noah came down with Tonsillitis and was the sickest I’ve ever seen him, and I braved a pediatrician’s office in spanish for the first time.  We continued visiting churches and making ministry contacts.  My parents took their first visit to Peru!  We participated in a Leadership Assessment with our missions agency and were encouraged by the results.  {Click here to read our March 2014 newsletter, which was a quarterly “Family Update,” to get caught up!}

^ the boys on their first day of preschool
^ the boys on their first day of preschool
^ showing my parents around Arequipa
^ showing my parents around Arequipa

During those first few months, we also surprisingly dealt with culture shock all over again.  I thought there would be some, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be intense again.  But Peru is different from Colombia.  And though there are some similarities, there was still a heavy adjustment period.  Thankfully this time we could get by with spanish, which helped tremendously.  But we also had the added difficulty of not knowing anyone, whereas there was already a team on the ground when we moved to Colombia.   I also struggled with a lot of loneliness the first few months.  (I still do occasionally.)   And even though we had our small team here, whom I love dearly and am very close to, being constantly surrounded by strangers is difficult, and it weighed on me.  Plus, Luís struggled a lot with the move. He had only been with us 5 months at that point, and was still at the height of initial transition in many ways.  He regressed a bit and was very anxious, and it took some time for him to settle back in.  All of those things combined with Nate’s initial busyness to get us settled made for an intense few months.

market20

market16

aqp around town 4

market

April.  We started the month with a bang.  Or a shake, rather.  Our first “big” earthquake happened on April 1st, another big one on the 2nd, and I was a bit jittery for a few days following.   But it wasn’t long before getting shaken up became kind of normal!  Small quakes are pretty common.  The boys continued in school and Nate continued in class.  We began visiting a new church (the one we are a part of now) and began developing relationships with the small congregation there.  Nate started getting together with a few Peruvian guys to learn Andino music and practice spanish.  He took a trip to Cusco (another city in Peru) to visit other missionaries there.  We experienced our first Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Peru.  Our landlady taught me a bit of Peruvian cooking.  Luís started speech therapy.  Our teammates Nathaniel and Alicia began preparing for their trip back to the US for their son’s skull surgery, and we hugged them goodbye on the 28th. {Click here to read our team’s April 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^ Nate and the guys practicing Andino music in my living room
^ Nate and the guys practicing Andino music in my living room
^ torta de choclo... So glad I learned how to make this because it is AMAZING!
^ torta de choclo… So glad I learned how to make this because it is AMAZING!
^ Making salt dough volcanos!
^ Making salt dough volcanos!

May.  I celebrated my 30th birthday, which just felt weird.  But in a good way, I think.   Much of the month was spent in preparation for a quick trip back to the States in June.   We needed to go back to the US to work on Luís’ citizenship issues, plus we needed to update some of our US paperwork/IDs and needed some specific medical checkups.   Trying to make arrangements for everything we would be doing for those couple of weeks took us a lot more time than we expected!  May was an admin-heavy month, for sure.  But we also had the chance to host several different families in our home for meals and to get to know them better.  The team was also invited to participate in a youth ministry up in the north of the city, and Nate started attending and getting to know the kids.  Nate’s mom came down at the end of the month to see Arequipa and help me travel back to the states with the kids while Nate stayed in Peru for a few extra days.  {Click here to read our team’s May 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^ at the boys' favorite park
^ at the boys’ favorite park
^ silly boys
^ silly boys
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^ homemade bows and arrows from stuff we found in the park

 

June.  On June 3, the twins turned 4 (THEY ARE GETTING TOO BIG!), and we boarded a US-bound plane that same night.   The boys were excited to get an airplane ride for their birthday! We made it to Mississippi the next morning and began 3 whirlwind weeks of seeing people we love, updating a few churches about our ministry here, and doing a lot of government and medical appointments.   I wrote about the boys’ impressions of Mississippi, and about the specifics of our trip on the blog.  In short, it was both WONDERFUL and EXHAUSTING.  As much as we enjoyed it, we were ready to get back to “life” and sleep in our own beds by the end! {Click here to read our June 2014 newsletter, which was a quarterly “Family Update,” to get caught up}

^ we had sweet time in Chattanooga with Nate's family
^ we had sweet time in Chattanooga with Nate’s family
^ this crew spent every waking second together
^ this crew spent every waking second together
^ my beautiful sisters
^ my beautiful sisters
^ My family.  I miss them every single day.
^ My family. I miss them every single day.

**a couple of summary side-notes: During this second quarter of the year, I entered another phase… I still struggled with intense  loneliness, but things were settling more at home and I was having the chance to breathe a little more.  I had moved into a phase of anxiousness to get the ball rolling.  I wanted to be busy with ministry, to be making friends, to be active in things going on in Arequipa.  The process of observing and learning and praying and waiting to see which doors the Lord would open for ministry was so difficult for me!  I knew that the first year needed to go slow so that we could make wise decisions, but being patient was hard.  I began praying fervently for Peruvian friends, and I asked several others to pray with me.  I was lonely, but I was also very confident that the Lord was working here, and that he was laying the groundwork for building community, which also made me hopeful and excited.

AQP Misti Panorama

July.  We jumped back into things head-first after arriving back in Arequipa at the end of June, excited about the small ministry possibilities we were seeing.  We had been refreshed and refueled on our trip, and we were excited about the possibilities we were beginning to see take shape here in Arequipa.  Nate became more and more involved with the local youth ministry, and our team accepted the invitation of the small church we were attending to officially partner with them for ministry.  We were excited about where things were heading.  Nate took a trip to Cusco to help them with the building of an orphanage, and a few of the guys from church went with him to help.  Luís also started speech therapy and psychomotor therapy sessions at a new therapy center that has proven to be AMAZING. We also had a LOT of celebrating  — July 4th, Nate’s 30th birthday, Luís’ “Family Day” and 1 year anniversary of meeting him,  Luís’ 5th birthday, and Peruvian Independence Day.  {Click here to watch our July 2014 video update to get caught up!}

^ one year home with our sweet boy
^ one year home with our sweet boy
^ outskirts of Arequipa
^ outskirts of Arequipa

August.  This was around the time I started thinking of making some changes for the boys concerning school, so much of August (for me) was spent researching options and making plans.  We continued investing in and being a part of the little church we had partnered with, and Nate’s music group, “Jesus El Verbo,” performed for the first time.  The pastor who had been running the youth ministry left for seminary in Brazil and asked our team to take over during his absence, so Nate was excited to invest more fully in that as well.  We celebrated “Arequipa Day,” which was more chaotic than we had expected (:  Nate and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary on the 21st.  10 YEARS!  My sweet grandfather fell and wasn’t able to fully recover in the following weeks, and on the night of August 23rd, we received the call that he had passed away.  I threw clothes in a bag and boarded a plane the next day so that I could be there for the funeral to say goodbye, and Nate stayed in Peru with the boys.  It was a difficult, emotional, and yet very sweet time, and I am so thankful I was able to be there.  I was in Mississippi for about 48 hours, then my mom and I traveled together back to Peru.  Months earlier, Nate and I had booked an trip for our 10 year anniversary, and my mom had planned to keep the kids while we were gone.  I was back in Arequipa for about 24 hours, then Nate and I got on a plane and left for our trip to meet Kelly (my best friend) and her husband who were also celebrating 10 years.  We spent a week with them on a cruise boat, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much we savored the down time!  It was Nate’s and my first get-away since before we left for the field, which means we’ve had 2 international moves and an adoption since then.  A vacation with our best friends was just what we needed! {Click here to read our team’s August 2014 newsletter to get caught up!} 

^ letter practice
^ letter practice
^ the last picture I took with my sweet grandfather when I went back in June.
^ the last picture I took with my sweet grandfather when I went back in June.
^ sailing with this group was amazing.
^ sailing with this crew was amazing. Best trip ever.
^ Happy anniversary! 10 wonderful years with my favorite (:
^ Happy anniversary! 10 wonderful years with my favorite (:

September.  We came back from the anniversary trip and Nate had about 6 days at home before he was gone again, this time to Cambodia for a leaders’ conference with our missions agency.  He traveled about 42 hours each way, then dealt with jet lag, so he was exhausted by the end of it!   I started some preliminary homeschooling work with the boys just to get them used to the idea, and they finished up their last few weeks of preschool.  Josh and Emily announced their plans to transition back to the states.  We as a team got busy working on all of the things that the transition entailed for all of us.  Nate continued on with more involvement in the church and the youth ministry, and our relationships with the little congregation we were serving continued to deepen.

^ the desert surrounding Arequipa
^ the desert surrounding Arequipa
^ Nate sharing about his Cambodia trip with our church
^ Nate sharing about his Cambodia trip with our church

October.  It was an exciting and a difficult month, all in one.   We headed to the Dominican Republic for our agency’s regional retreat, which is held once every 4 years.  We were able to catch up with other missionary friends that we hadn’t seen in years and sit under excellent teaching.   It was a great time for encouragement and motivation in ministry, and we were so thankful for the chance to spend time with so many of our friends and mentors.   We were also reunited with Nathaniel and Alicia!  After 6 months in the states for their son’s big surgery, they were able to meet us in the DR for the retreat and then head back to Peru with us afterwards.   But we also had to say goodbye to Emily and the kids, as they headed back to the States directly from the retreat, and Josh finished out another week or two in Peru before heading back to the States to meet his family.  I bawled my eyes out.   After the retreat, the boys and I started officially homeschooling and Luís continued to make excellent progress with therapy.  I started classes a few days a week to give me a spanish boost.  Nate and I had to make multiple trips back and forth to Lima to get our residency figured out, and we welcomed a sweet puppy named Lucy to the family, which meant lots of long nights at first (:  {Check out our team’s October 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^ I was so thankful for time spent with good friends at the retreat, especially with Esta! I miss living in the same city with her, now that we have both moved away from Bogota.
^ I was so thankful for time spent with good friends at the retreat, especially with Esta! I miss living in the same city with her, now that we have both moved away from Bogota.
^ Nate napping with a teensy tiny Lucy.  This arrangement wouldn't work these days!  She's huge now!
^ Nate napping with a teensy tiny Lucy. This arrangement wouldn’t work these days! She’s huge now!

^ Lucy

November.  November was busy as Nate and Nathaniel jumped into a few different ministry opportunities in the church and in the city.  They were invited to lead a few different things at church, and they were both asked to preach.  They were also asked to help with some counseling situations, and soon began counseling weekly.   I jumped into the ladies ministry at church, continued helping out in other ministries where I could, and continued homeschooling the boys.  I taught my first women’s bible study in spanish!  In order to balance ministry, homeschooling, language study, and just general home maintenance and cooking (which takes longer here than in the States),  I hired a sweet peruvian lady who helps me a few hours a week with whatever I need (house things, cooking, keeping the kids, etc), and also helps me with spanish.  She has proved to be an immense blessing to us and a sweet friend, and is quickly turning into the boys’ peruvian grandmother!    Nate’s mom came to visit for thanksgiving, and she helped Alicia and me to pull off an amazing thanksgiving dinner!  {Click here to read our team’s November 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^we put the tree up!
^we put the tree up!
^ Mammaw came to visit!
^ Mammaw came to visit!
^ I wasn't sure what to do when we got to this part of Thanksgiving dinner prep...
^ I wasn’t sure what to do when we got to this part of Thanksgiving dinner prep…
^ Nate preaching in spanish for the first time since we moved to Arequipa
^ Nate preaching in spanish at our church for the first time.

December.  A nasty flu swept through the family at the beginning of the month and wiped out 4 of us (not Luís… he never catches anything here!).  We were in the bed for awhile, and we were very thankful when it was over!  But we didn’t have much down time, because December proved to be an exceptionally busy month.  We hosted 3 big Christmas parties (one for the church, one for the youth ministry & its surrounding community, and one for our neighbors).  Alicia and I were so tired of cooking by the end of it!  But all 3 events went even better than we had hoped.   We helped plan the Christmas service at our church, where Nate was able to preach the Christmas message, and I participated in the Christmas pageant that the women’s ministry put on.    We spent Christmas even drinking hot chocolate on our rooftop watching the amazing fireworks display at midnight.  On Christmas morning we celebrated together as a family, and in the evening all together as a team with a delicious Christmas dinner.  My parents arrived for a visit on the 30th, and we were excited to finish out the holidays with them.  {Click here to read our team’s December 2014 newsletter, which is our quarterly “Family Update,” to get caught up}

^ The Christmas Service - Nate preaching and performing with the Andino music group, me dressed up with Juana for the pageant
^ The Christmas Service – Nate preaching and performing with the Andino music group, me dressed up with Juana for the pageant
^ me with two sweet friends from our church
^ me with two sweet friends from our church
^ new Christmas Eve jammies!
^ new Christmas Eve jammies!

Over the course of the month of December, the pastor of our small church made the decision to step down to handle some personal matters, and the congregation met and voted unanimously to invite Nate and Nathaniel to be their pastors.  After a lot of time spent in prayer and seeking wise counsel, they accepted, with plans to take on their new roles at the first of the new year.

AQP Panorama

And so we ended the year the same way we started:  sitting on our rooftop, watching the city erupt in fireworks…a little exhausted, looking back over the craziness of the year we’d just walked through, and extremely excited at the opportunities the Lord was bringing for the year to come.

Cartagena.

When we made our plans for our quick, 3-day trip to Miami for Luís’ citizenship, passport, and our visa renewals, we decided to take a little detour on our way back to Bogotá.  Instead of flying straight home afterwards, we made a stopover in Cartagena for a few days, which is a beautiful Colombian city on the Atlantic/Caribbean coast.  For the entire year that we’ve been here, we have heard over and over again, “you HAVE to visit Cartagena before you leave.”   And since Nate and I knew that our little family desperately needed to have some quality down-time together for some really intentional bonding, we thought the opportunity was too perfect to pass up.

Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia
our view
our view

We booked a stocked apartment since it was cheaper than a hotel, plus it meant we could cook instead of eating out. (With a house full of kids this age, can you blame me?! Restaurants are NOT FUN right now.)   We spent several days exploring the cool walled city, splashing in the pool, and playing at the beach.  The kids LOVED it, and it proved to be just what they needed… a little bit of casual, laid-back FUN that they could experience together, as brothers.

the boys wading in the ocean
the boys wading in the ocean

We skipped a few naps, stayed out late doing fun things, and wore the boys completely out in the hot Cartagena sunshine.  They played hard and slept harder, and for the first time in 2+ months, Nate and I looked at each other and said, “this feels almost normal again.”  It was good, and we needed it.

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I was a bit worried about the whole Miami/Cartagena trip for Luís’ sake, because the only other time he’s been on a plane or to a new place was when we met him and took him away from his entire life as he knew it.  I was afraid that some anxiety and panic would bubble up, that sleeping in a new place might make him uneasy, and that he might be afraid it was all going to happen again.   But I also felt confident that being able to spend some intentional, undistracted time as a family unit, away from class and work and other responsibilities, would probably be good for us in the long run.  I prayed consistently before our trip that the Lord would ease any fear that might arise in Luís and that he would be confidently secure in his place in our family, despite another plane ride, meeting new people, and another new place to adjust to (even if only for a few days).

The Lord answered that prayer a million times over, and we were amazed at how well Luís adjusted to traveling.  I think he’s going to fit pretty well into this crazy lifestyle we’ve been called to!

exploring a fort and up to no good
exploring a fort and up to no good

In the short week and a half that we’ve been home since that trip, I can already see a difference in the way the boys are bonded to each other, and in the way that Luís is bonded to us.   It seems like he trusts us a little more.  The boys all laugh together a little harder.  Bedtimes have been a little easier.  A little more tenderness has emerged.  I see more and more glimpses of the “real” Luís starting to make an appearance.

Seeing a new, beautiful part of Colombia was good.  Seeing a new, beautiful part of my family was even better.

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{To see the full photo album from our trip to Cartagena, please click here!}

Official.

Believe it or not, we’re nearing the 3 month mark since Luís joined our family.  3 MONTHS.  I’m not sure how that happened.

For the first 2 months, we had legal custody of Luís, but he wasn’t technically our son yet.  We were waiting for the judge to review our case and sign the adoption decree, and we came back to Bogotá for several weeks while we waited.  (Benefit of adopting from the same country we serve in:  We spent the waiting period in OUR OWN HOUSE rather than 2 months in a hotel in an unfamiliar country!)  We got the phone call late on Friday night, August the 30th, that the judge had signed the decree and all they needed was our signature for him to be ours.  Nate got off the phone and immediately booked the first ticket out to Cali, Colombia for Monday morning.

So on September 2, Labor Day, Nate signed the adoption decree and Luís became a Bonham.  For real.  Forever.

(Well, technically he became a “Bonham Travis,” because that’s the way they do it here in Colombia.  He automatically got my maiden name tacked on the end.)

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^ The document that made it real.

But of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  He was a Bonham, but he wasn’t able to leave Colombia yet or enter the US yet.   We still had to go through the US immigration process with the US embassy here in Colombia before he could get the appropriate visa to leave Colombia and enter the States to become a citizen.   So we spent a couple of weeks carting him around to doctors visits, medical tests, embassy interviews, passport appointments, and more while we checked off our to-do list.  He was a trooper through most of it, despite missed naps, long days in offices, and a whole lot of paperwork.

^ sleepy kid passed out on my lap after yet another long day of appointments
^ sleepy kid passed out on my lap after yet another long day of appointments

We finished the process and were approved to take Luís back to the US for his citizenship.   We flew out early on September 24th, and when we landed in Miami that afternoon, the customs guy stamped Luís’ visa and that was it – He’s an American!

^ Somebody's happy to be America's newest citizen, just after getting his visa stamped and making it official!
^ Somebody’s happy to be America’s newest citizen, just after getting his visa stamped and making it official!

We stayed in Miami for a couple extra days to get an American passport for Luís, update Nate’s passport, and renew my and the twins’ visas for Colombia.  We also did a little shopping for things we’ll need in Peru (since we won’t be back in the States again before we move), and Luís got to meet 3 of his grandparents.

^ meeting Nanny and Mammaw
^ meeting Nanny and Mammaw

It was a quick trip with a whole lot packed into 2 very short days, but we got it all done and hopped on a plane back to Colombia, with our newest little American in tow!

And that’s it.  Other than some post-adoption follow-up appointments to see how the bonding is going, we are done with the process.  He’s ours.  After 2 and a half years, we’re done with the adoption to-do list…and it’s finally sinking in.

Now we can focus 100% of our attention on the bonding and attachment process, which of course, is a whole different ballgame (:

Three.

I have three-year-olds.  What?

I mean, didn’t this JUST happen?

Month 1 -- 6-3-10 thru 7-3-10

How in the world did we go from this:

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To this??

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I don’t know, but I sure am loving the process.

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 Happy Birthday, boys.  Thanks for making the past 3 years of my life even more exciting, adventurous, chaotic, and crazy than they already were.  You add a big dose of silliness to my everyday (…even on days when I’m exactly not looking for it…) and a new dimension of joy to our family that makes me cherish the “little years.”  There’s nothing I love more than slobbery, sticky kisses from the two handsomest little charmers I know.

I love watching you grow up.    I love being your mama.   I love how much you love me back.   And I know I am going to love whatever craziness Year Number 4 brings.