[FYI, the yearly wrap-up posts are long. Feel free to skip it.  I mostly do these for myself.] 

I think it’s about time for an update.  This is late, practically a year late.  Basically to the point of being ridiculously late, but until now I just couldn’t.

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a wrap-up post for 2016, which had proven to be a really difficult year.   If you remember, I have this habit of naming years in my head, and 2016 was “The Year of the Two HMA’s.”   I was late writing it, and I didn’t get it posted until the middle of March.   I finished up that post with these words: “It is yet to be seen what kind of name 2017 will end up with in my head.  But I’ll be sure to let you know.” 

I had no idea when I wrote those words that we were just a couple of weeks away from having a bombshell dropped on our family.   Because I was about to learn that 2017 was “The Year We Found Out Lacey Had Brain Cancer.”

I’m not going to write extensively about my thoughts on all of that at this point.  It will come.  Maybe.  But for now I’m going to try to at least walk through the events of the year so that I’ll have them written down.

2017 went a little something like this….

In January, we took a trip to Mississippi for my little sister’s wedding.  I had spent a couple of weeks trying to round up everything we’d need, because it should come as no surprise that we don’t really have fancy clothes or winter clothes here in Arequipa.   We finally made it to the airport on our departure day, only to have the fog roll in.  And in Arequipa, fog means the planes are grounded.  So we waited at the airport all day long, and they ended up canceling all the flights.   So we went back home, went to bed, and tried again the next day.  More fog.  So we waited at the airport for the entire day AGAIN (which was by this point filled with lots of screaming angry people), only to be sent home that night.  On the 3rd day, I was starting to panic, because it was just a few days until the wedding, and I was afraid we wouldn’t make it.   But thankfully the fog lifted long enough that a couple of flights got off the ground, and we made it out of the city.  It only took us 50 extra hours added onto our itinerary, but we finally made it to Mississippi, and my kids never wanted to see an airport again.

Finally arriving in Jackson after 50 EXTRA HOURS added onto our itinerary. But we made it. And some of my favorite people were there to pick us up!

The wedding was amazing.  Janie was a fairytale princess.  My boys were in awe; it was their first American wedding and they’d never seen anything like it.  Lacey and I had the privilege of standing up front with her as her matrons of honor, and we cried as we watched our baby sister take her vows.    The reception was at my parents’ house, and we all had so much fun dancing to the amazing band.   My boys fell in love with the Pettis girls (whom I’ve known almost my entire life… my boys have good taste), and they had so much fun with their “dates.”

Have you ever seen a more gorgeous bride?

The boys’ expressions for pretty much the entire night. They were in awe.

After the wedding festivities, we packed up and drove to Chattanooga to spend a little time with Nate’s mom and brothers.   His mom spoiled us with a little overnight date, so we snuck away to downtown Chattanooga while the boys had fun “Mammaw time.”   Nate and I stayed at the Read House, which was special because we haven’t been back since we stayed there on our wedding day in 2004.   It was neat to be back.    After a few days with the family in Chattanooga, we drove back to Mississippi to squeeze in a couple of medical appointments (mainly with Barrett’s pediatric cardiologist) and throw a fun little birthday party for my mom before heading back to Peru.

The Read House in Chattanooga. It was fun to stay here again after almost 13 years!

We left Mississippi on the first day of February, and we even though we always hate the goodbyes, we were excited to get back to Peru. While we had been away for the wedding, the Goots (our teammates, the Gutierrez family) had arrived after their HMA!  We’d been apart for months, so it was so wonderful to get to be reunited.  They were exhausted from all of their traveling and support-raising, but they were motivated to jump back into ministry after so long away.

Bonhams & Goots… Finally reunited and back into ministry planning mode!

We all hit the ground running and started making ministry plans for the year.  Now that the whole team was back in one place, we were able to start back with some of the ministry activities we’d had to put on pause.  We were busy again with things like “Noches de ROCA”  (Wed. night discipleship and prayer meetings),  youth group meetings, counseling, and bible studies.

At home, the kids and I jumped back into homeschool after their break from the holidays and the wedding.  Barrett spent the month wearing an old-school heart monitor because he’d had a few abnormalities over the past several months, and the doctor wanted to know if the high altitude in Arequipa was affecting it.  It drove Barrett a little crazy, but he handled it like a champ.

In March, we continued ahead with our normal ministry events, plus a few special events like a church-wide beach retreat to Camaná (a beach about 3 hrs away) and a New Members class.  We also started our Sunday School classes back up and started incorporating a “Children’s Sermon” into the service each week, and Nate and Nathaniel took a trip to Cusco for a presbytery meeting.   In the middle of the business, we had a 12-day (!!!) water cut, which was the longest stretch without water we’ve had yet.  It was not fun.  (Still not as bad as the time we had a 6-day water outage along with our most violent stomach bug to date…that one was worse.)

Sunday School starting back up at La Roca

We also had a couple named the McCalls come to visit our team here in Arequipa to talk more about missions and get a feel for what ministry in Peru might look like.  We had a great time hosting them and getting to know them for a week or so, and we looked forward to seeing what God might do in the future through that connection. [spoiler alert: we were excited to extend an invitation for the McCalls to join our team, which they accepted. They’ll hopefully join us on the field when they finish their support-raising!]

And then came April.    On April 5, I received a phone call that suddenly shifted everything.  My mom called to tell me that doctors had just discovered that my big sister Lacey had a large brain tumor, and they were pretty positive it was cancerous and very aggressive.   Everything stood still.   The next couple of days were extremely emotional, and Nate and I began making a plan for what we should do. In the meantime, Janie and I created the Love For Lacey Facebook page where we announced the news and asked people to join us in prayer.  We knew that Lacey would most likely need a very delicate brain surgery in the next several days, plus weeks or months of treatment.   We decided that we would fly back to Mississippi to be present for the surgery, and that the boys and I would stay on in Mississippi for an indefinite amount of time to help out as needed with Lacey’s family.    So we packed our bags and I loaded up our homeschool into suitcases, and we flew back a couple of days after receiving the news.

Finally back with my sisters!


“Braverman Dinner” (as Lacey calls it) on the night before her big brain surgery

Lacey’s surgery was 2 days after we arrived, the Wednesday in the middle of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.  She went home from the hospital on Good Friday.  We celebrated the resurrection as a family together on Easter morning, and it was beautiful.

Sitting in the hospital with Lacey after surgery, reading her texts to her so she could hear all the encouragement pouring in

After the surgery, the biopsy showed that Lacey’s cancer was indeed a stage 4 glioblastoma.  She would need aggressive treatment for the rest of her life.  Even though we all knew that it was the expected result of the biopsy, it was still hard for all of us to hear the official diagnosis.  But we cling to the truth that God’s will is good and right, and that his plan for Lacey’s life is for her good and His glory, however it may unfold.  We know this is true, and we believe it.

Nate stayed in Mississippi with us for about 2 weeks altogether before needing to head back to Peru, but the boys and I stayed to help with Lacey’s 4 kids and errands and treatments and anything else that we could do.  Plus, to be honest, I just couldn’t imagine getting on a plane and being a continent away, so I was glad that there was a way that I could help.   Lacey had a couple of weeks to rest and recover from surgery, then started chemotherapy and radiation.

By May, I was busy helping in Mississippi and missing Nate like crazy, and he was back in Peru getting ready for a short-term team to arrive.  Our home church (Madison Heights Church) was planning to send 5 guys to Arequipa to help with a project to install large water tanks on the homes of various members of our congregation who had regular needs for water.  (When you live in the desert, the need for water becomes a stark new reality on a day-to-day basis.)  I was sad that I wasn’t going to be there to help host.  It worked out well though, because since the boys and I weren’t there at our home in Arequipa, there was plenty of extra space and beds for the 5 short-term team members.  So instead of staying in their hotel as planned, they just stayed with Nate in our house.  They worked hard and accomplished a lot in a few short days, but they were all worn out by the end!

In Mississippi with the short-term team before they flew down to Arequipa!

Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, our whole extended family and tons of Lacey’s friends were working together to help Lacey and her family get through all of her weeks of treatment.  It was all hands on deck, and so much support flowed in from all directions.  Meals were brought every single day to Lacey’s house and to my parent’s house in order to feed the masses.  Different people drove Lacey to every single appointment and treatment since she couldn’t drive and needed extra help with some of her day-to-day tasks following the surgery.  Friends and classmates helped Lacey’s kids with every single activity, including their schoolwork on their 3 “at-home” days per week. (Her children attend a university-model school where they do their work in class 2 days and at home the other 3, so it is like partial homeschooling in a sense.)  There was such love and support and practical help from every corner.  Lacey’s community rallied around her like I’ve never seen, and it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

The quilt that Lacey’s friends made for her, covered on both sides with patches signed by friends who prayed for her during the hours of her brain surgery. Her community came together like I’ve never seen in order to carry their family through those months of radiation and intense treatment.

Nate and I were doing the best we could to keep some things “normal” while we were apart.  We knew it would be hard on the kids (especially on Luis) for our family to be split for so long.  Through Facetime, we tried to keep up with the routine of  Nate reading to the kids before bed.  They called him often and video chatted every chance they got.   Noah and Barrett understood for the most part what was going on, at least as well as they could at that age.  They missed Nate, but they knew where he was and they understood why we had stayed in Mississippi for longer. But Luis struggled significantly, and he didn’t quite understand what had happened and his anxiety peaked.

Keeping up with the evening routine of Nate reading while the boys color…. except it was through Facetime.

Near the end of May, Nate and I had the chance to sneak away for a weekend.   We had been looking at tickets to see if there was anywhere at all that we could get to cheaply so that we could see each other in the middle of our stretch of being apart.  Flying from Arequipa to Mississippi is expensive, and we thought there had to be an inexpensive option somewhere, and we didn’t care where.   He finally found a couple of cheap tickets to Miami.  We met there for a long weekend and it was so nice to get to spend a few days together after being apart during such an emotionally intense and weary time.  It was such a blessing, but it was also really hard to leave him in the airport afterwards and head back to Mississippi alone, where every day held such intense emotional weight.

A quick weekend trip to Miami so we could see each other in the middle of the craziness. It was just what my heart needed.

The twins turned 7 at the beginning of June, and we celebrated with a party at my parents house.  The boys also had the chance to attend VBS at Highlands Pres (the church I grew up in and that my parents and Lacey’s family still attend).  Those kinds of things aren’t really a possibility for them in Peru, so I was glad they had the chance to go!  On the 9th, the kids and I headed back to Peru.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder time saying goodbye than I did on that day.  The boys were also more emotional than normal because they didn’t want to leave their cousins that they’d been spending so much time with.  Luis, in particular, struggled intensely because he hadn’t seen Nate since the beginning of April and was afraid we would get back to Peru to find that he had left us.   Luis’s abandonment fears run deep, and his anxiety that his dad was gone forever came out in full force on that trip back.  It was hands down my worst travel experience to date, and I was a sobbing mess by the time we arrived in Arequipa.

The 7 crazy cousins. They became a tight crew during those 2 months.


Saying goodbye to this girl was rough. I sure do love my big sister.

We didn’t rest long, though, because I had to jump back into the government process for my Peruvian driving license as soon as I got back (which is a long and difficult and MISERABLE process!).   I was also determined to finish out our homeschool year by the end of the month so that we could take July off from school and have at least a few weeks of “summer break.”  We finished at the end of the month and celebrated with ice cream!  Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, Lacey finished up her radiation, and we waited to hear results from her first scans.

Celebrating the end of the school year! High fives all around!

In July, I struggled.  I had expected to come back to Peru and be able to jump back in to life and ministry, but instead I found myself getting depressed as I tried to manage being so far away while Lacey continued battling her cancer.  I kept feeling myself slipping emotionally, but I couldn’t explain it.  We were still busy with ministry, but I just wasn’t myself.  I decided to pursue some counseling through the resources with our missions agency, and my amazing counselor helped me process through some of what I was feeling.  I continued working with her for the next several months.   I also continued on with the driving license process, which felt overwhelming at times. I failed the first time even though I had performed well on the test, because the evaluators wanted a bribe.  The second time I took the test, I stalled the car out repeatedly because I was so nervous (you have to use a stick-shift for the test), and I failed AGAIN.  I was so frustrated!!   But we had some good things that month as well…  We celebrated 4 years with Luis in our family, and a few days later he turned 8 years old (although he was sick that day).  We also celebrated Nate’s 33rd birthday.

Celebrating 33 amazing years of Nate.

August was busy.  Nate finally found a good property to rent for the seminary he’d been making plans for. He was excited to start trying to turn some of his ideas into reality.  We signed the lease on the property and started doing some work on the place.   We also started our new homeschool year on the 7th, and I was glad to get back into a solid daily routine again.  Noah and Barrett started 2nd grade and Luis started another kindergarten-ish year (it doesn’t really line up with a grade since it’s special-ed for his special needs and learning issues).   I FINALLY passed my driving test and received my Peruvian drivers license!  And on the up-side, since my process had taken so much longer than the rest of the team, the law happened to change in the middle of it and my license is good for 10 years instead of 2.  So I won’t have to go through that again for a LONG time!!

First day of school!


We also hosted an MTW Vision Team for our missions agency in August.  They brought down a group of people from all over the U.S. who wanted a better view of missions and life on the field.   I continued with some counseling, and when Lacey’s birthday rolled around on August 16th, I struggled with being so far away.  So I made a big purple birthday cake and we celebrated her from here!   Nate and I also celebrated our 13th anniversary with a fun progressive dinner at various stops around town.  Nate had to do a bit of traveling at the end of the month to attend presbytery meetings here in Peru, and we wrapped up the month with a big virus that swept through the whole family.

The MTW Vision Trip crew finally on the ground in Arequipa!


A purple birthday cake for Lacey. It was GOOD.

We started September off with a much-needed family weekend away. Well, it wasn’t that far away… we drove to a great hiking place about an hour outside of town, and we hiked up to a really cool waterfall.  We let the kids explore, we caught some tadpoles to take home with us (aka homeschool science class), and we stayed at a hotel with a pool.  It was nice to spend 48 hours just reconnecting as a family.   Nate continued on with plans for the seminary, and we kept working on the property that we had leased.  On the 18th, we celebrated 5 years on the field (our “missioniversary”), and we were so thankful for the way that the Lord had continued to confirm to our hearts over and over again that this life of missions is what we are called to.  It’s hard being a world away from those we love, but God just keeps reminding us that he holds us and sustains us, no matter what.   Later in the month, Nate and Nathaniel had to fly to Greece for a couple of weeks to attend some leadership meetings with our missions agency, and Alicia headed back to the US to see her family.  The boys and I stayed here in Arequipa, and I was not a fan of being the only one here!  I was so thankful when all of them landed back in Peru again!

Trying to get a selfie with the waterfall. We aren’t good at selfies.


A few shots from our little family get-away


Noah learning a little about Greece while Nate was there.

In October, we started prepping for another trip back to the U.S., this time for Nate and Nathaniel to attend the Global Missions Conference in order to do some recruiting.  While they worked on their plans for the conference, continued on in ministry at La Roca, and moved forward with plans for the seminary, the kids and I continued on in homeschool.  We released the tadpoles we had caught and raised, and I took each of the kids on a mother/son date night in order to spend a little non-school time with each of them.  I definitely need to do that more often! We also cheered Peru on as the national team played some qualifying matches for the World Cup.  We cheered for Colombia as well, and invited everyone from church over for the Colombia vs. Peru game.   We were excited when both countries qualified!

Saying goodbye to our little tadpoles froggies.
The Peru vs Colombia World Cup qualifier game. We hosted a viewing party and cheered for both!

In November, we boarded flights for the U.S.  Nate and Nathaniel went to the Global Missions Conference they’d been prepping for.  They had a booth featuring the various work happening in Peru, and they gave a presentation at the conference as well.  They also got the chance to see some of our great friends who were attending the conference, and I was sad I didn’t get to see them, too!  But I was thankful that when Nate flew to the conference, the boys and I flew to Mississippi.  I was so excited to see my sister again and get to spend time with my family!  While we were there, my little sister Janie and her husband announced that they would be moving from Chicago back to Mississippi.   When Nate finished with the conference, he joined us in Mississippi, and we stayed there through the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was one of the sweetest trips back to Mississippi I’ve ever had because it was filled with such intentional family time . But once again, it was really hard to leave at the end of the month.

The “Peru Guys” all set up at the Global Missions Conference!


A few pictures from our Thanksgiving trip to Mississippi.

At the beginning of December, we were back in Peru and I pulled all of our Christmas decorations down from the storage room.  I was struggling with preparing myself for the holiday, because I knew I would have a hard time being away from my family this year.  But it wasn’t long before Nate came and told me that my mom had called, and she had offered to fly us back to Mississippi for Christmas if we could manage to get away.  I was so thankful!  The kids and I flew back about a week and a half before Christmas without telling anyone, and we were able to show up and surprise Lacey, who had said that all she wanted for Christmas was her entire family in one place. (Here’s the surprise video.)  Nate finally joined us a couple days before Christmas, and we were all together.   It was a really sweet time with my family, and I was so glad to get to spend the holiday with all of them.

Hiding outside the door to surprise Lacey for Christmas


the sisters and brother-in-laws on Christmas day 2017


Christmas/NewYears dinner out for the adults before we headed back to Peru

We flew back to Peru on New Years Eve, and we were somewhere over the ocean when we said goodbye to 2017.  To be honest, much of the year was a blur.  I struggled emotionally in a deeper way than I have in a really long time, and I felt like I was split between two completely different worlds.  I feel such a strong calling to missions and to life on the field, but I also felt such a strong pull back to Mississippi for the first time.  It was hard to figure out how to navigate a consistent longing to be back there with my family, while at the same time being convinced that we were supposed to stay right where we were in Peru.  But ultimately, I just felt thankful that God had given us such a peace regarding where we should be.  And I clung to his promises that he’s not just sovereign, but that he is good.  He knows every corner of my heart. He knows every cell in Lacey’s brain and exactly how many seconds she (or any of us) has left.  While this year might have blindsided all of us, it came as no surprise to him, and he will bless us abundantly and show us his mercy and goodness even through this.

The Bonhams ringing in the new year at 35000ft, somewhere between MS and Peru.

And so 2017 was the year that we found out Lacey had brain cancer.  And it was also the year where God showed himself faithful and true and good, yet again.   And he will do it again next year.  And the one after that.  For the rest of eternity.




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Twice per year, both times within the span of one week, the entire city of Arequipa erupts in fireworks at midnight.    As a family –as a city– we usher in both Christmas Day and the New Year at midnight, sitting on our rooftops in our pajamas, bundled with blankets and a steaming cup of hot chocolate to watch as the skyline explodes.  It sounds picture perfect, and it kind of is.  There’s no way to explain it to someone who has never seen it, and there’s definitely no sleeping through it!  {Click here to see a video of the craziness. not our video, btw}  But I definitely love having such an amazing display as the bookends to each year, and it’s one of my favorite new traditions.  We love closing out the year that way.

But to be honest, 2016 did not end with all of us snuggled together on the rooftop like we did on Christmas Eve.  There was nothing picture perfect about it.  Rather, it ended with me leaning against the rooftop doorway in bare feet, having just stumbled out of bed at the sound of the first explosion, while the boys watched sleepily for a few minutes before trudging back to bed. “Its beautiful, but I’m just so tired, mama.”

Yep.  That about sums it up.  2016 wore us out.

I have this weird habit of naming our years in my head, and this one was “The Year of the Two HMA’s.”  Both our family and our teammates family each took 4-5 month HMA ministry trips this year while the other family managed ministry in Peru alone.  And I think I can safely say that we as a team have ZERO plans to ever repeat it.  It was a hard one.  But there was also abundant grace to be found in the midst of the weariness.    Our team grew stronger despite the distance. Our marriage grew closer.  Our hearts were forced to trust the Lord and his goodness in new ways.  Hopefully, we are wiser for it.

>>  2016 In A {not-so-tiny} Nutshell:

2016 began in the States during our very first HMA (Home Ministry Assignment).  We rang in the new year with Nate’s extended family in Hanover, Pennsylvania, then headed back down south to Mississippi to get to work on our Stateside missions responsibilities.

The Bonham trio in Hanover, PA for New Years last year with Nate’s extended family.

From January until the end of April, we were traveling around the southeast to give missions reports and speak at missions conferences. We checked off lots of other work-related things from our list, such as medical visits, several surgeries, document updates, adoption/citizenship-related meetings for Luis, etc….all the things we can’t do while living in Peru.   We traveled a ton as a family, and Nate occasionally on his own.  He went to Germany with a group from our missions agency to assess some ministry ideas.  It was a crazy, stressful few months where we felt like we were completely out of a routine and weren’t in one place long enough to feel settled or relaxed, and we hauled the kids all over creation with us. But I won’t rehash all of that here…. Overall, it was difficult and exhausting and not at all what we had expected, but it was good.  We both are passionate about sharing our love for missions and ministry, and we were blessed by the opportunity to do it.  {Click here to read a bit more about our HMA.}

hma church collage
^ a small sampling of our stops along the way.

Meanwhile, our teammates, the Gutierrezes (aka Goots), were here in Arequipa holding down the fort solo.  There were a lot of difficult situations that arose while we were away, which I won’t go into here, but it was a stressful season for the Goots to be on the ground alone and difficult for us to be so far away in the midst of it.   We did our best to support our teammates from afar and help out however we could through video calls, but it was hard on all of us to be on different continents for those few months.

On April 27, we landed in Arequipa to jump back into ministry on the ground.   We were SO READY to be back in Peru!! We’d been thinking for awhile that we wanted to look for a house more suitable for balancing both ministry and homeschooling, so we decided to hit the ground running with a house-hunt as soon as we got back.  Within a couple of weeks we had found a great house that would allow us to host ministry events and provide Nate with a decent office, while at the same time giving me a good homeschool room and green space out front for the boys to burn energy…. all for less than we’d been paying before.  Win-win!  And in less than a month’s time from when we’d landed back in Arequipa, we were all moved in.

{Top left} Moving day!  //  {Top right} getting the living room set up  //  {Bottom} shared community green space out front!  In a city with so few yards, this was an awesome find!

We spent the next few months getting settled in the new house and enjoying the chance to use it for ministry events.  Nate hosted a guys’ night, we threw a big block-party to get to know our new neighbors, I started a weekly meeting with a couple of girls from the church, and we began hosting weekly dinners to get to know people from the church or in the community that we had met.

{Top} Guys night watching a huge Peru soccer game…  Nate projected it on the wall in our backyard and invited all the guys from church to come.  //  {Bottom} We threw a neighborhood cookout in the green space in front of our new house.  Almost everyone on the street came!  It was a great way to start building community in the neighborhood.

We had a lot going on at the church over those months as well– a few new ministries that we decided to try out, growth in youth ministry and Sunday schools, and the opportunity to host a pastoral retreat for the pastors of our presbytery in southern Peru.

The twins turned 6, Luis turned 7, and Nate and I both turned 32 and celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.   Nate traveled back to the States for General Assembly and a minor surgery.

Birthday boys!  The twins turned 6 on June 3, and Luis turned 7 on July 28. 

On August 1st, we started a new homeschool year at Bonham Academy, with the twins entering first grade and Luis in Kindergarten.  Our mornings suddenly became a bit more structured, and we started finding our groove.  We began discovering that we all really kind of like this whole homeschool thing!

But we weren’t the only ones in school, because around the same time, Nate picked up a counseling class for the fall semester and started to carve out a bit of weekly time for lectures and assignments.

August 1, 2016: First day of school at Bonham Academy AQP! 

Over the summer, we had also started getting ready for the Goots to take their HMA…  it was their turn to head back to the States for several months and our turn to hold down the ministry fort in Arequipa.  We hadn’t originally planned on both of our families having to do it in the same year, but it ended up being necessary.  The Goots left in early September, and we missed them every single one of their 142 days away !!  Seriously, without them, we… barely… survived….

Sept. 8, 2016:  The Goots ripping our hearts out, about to get on a plane for 5 months.  



And so the fall months proved to be busy as well.  We celebrated our 4 year missioniversary on September 18th.  In the weeks/months following, Nate traveled to Lima to assist in a church planters’ evaluation and to Colombia for a leaders’ retreat with our missions agency, and we had full plates with discipleship opportunities and a revolving door here at home with so many people in and out for meetings and dinners.   It was a crazy stretch, made crazier by the addition of a young teenage boy who moved in with us for about a month and jumped into our daily homeschool…which suddenly moved from being in English to being bilingual.  But that’s a whole other story!

In November we also had a really fun visit from Nate’s mom and one of his little brothers, Ben.  They came for Thanksgiving and we had a great time celebrating and showing Ben around the city, since it was his first time to Peru.

{Top Left}  Nate and Ben getting ready to zip-line over the canyon  //  {Bottom Left}  Visiting one of our favorite lookouts with Nate’s mom and brother  //  {Top Right}  Yummy Thanksgiving spread  // {Middle Right}  Mammaw having a lightsaber battle with her grandboys  //  {Bottom Right}  Photo op at a park with Uncle Ben

December was a tough month for many reasons, both on a personal side and a ministry side which made for a difficult and discouraging time.   For the sake of privacy for others, I won’t detail any of the specifics here, but it was definitely a raw and stretching season, probably the most intense we’ve had so far in our 4 years on the field.  But we clung to the promises we know are true and clung to one another; in many ways it proved for Nate and me to be a sweet time of being able to continually encourage and minister to each other’s hearts in the midst of it all.   And it made us REALLY ready for the Goots to hurry up and get back! Thankfully they were right there with us (via technology) every step of the way.

Christmastime in Arequipa
Christmas lights in the Plaza

On the ministry side of things, we were in Christmas and end-of-the-year-planning mode.  We hosted a big evangelistic/outreach-focused Christmas dinner for the neighborhood surrounding the church, and it went really well.  We had more than 80 people in attendance, with about 2/3 of them being new faces.

2016-12-23 21.21.43.jpg
Dec. 23, 2016: Christmas Outreach Dinner for the community surrounding La Roca

As I mentioned above, we rang in Christmas Day on the rooftop at midnight with hot chocolate and blankets as we watched the fireworks explode all over the city, and it was beautiful.  Later in the day, we celebrated with a few extras at our dinner table who needed a bit of extra care during the holiday season, and we were thankful for the chance to offer some love and community during a season that is difficult for so many.  The sanctuary at church was still decorated with twinkly lights from the Christmas Dinner a few days before, and it was beautiful to end the day with our evening service, celebrating and worshiping a God who loves us so much that he would come to us in the midst of our brokenness.

Christmas Day 2016
Christmas Day 2016 

The day after Christmas, we packed up and loaded the boys on a surprise last-minute trip to the beach.   It was just 3 nights away in a very humble hostel on the coast, but even with kind of rough accommodations and the fact that 2 of us got pretty sick, it was still really nice to get away just the 5 of us and sit on a beach.  We needed it.

Dec. 26-29, 2016:  a few days away as a family on the Peruvian coast

And so, by the time New Years Eve rolled around, we decided that our need for an early bedtime trumped our desire to see fireworks on the roof.  I promised the kids I’d wake them up when the chaos started (as if they could sleep through them!), and I went to bed myself.   When the noise began at midnight, the boys and I stumbled up to the roof to watch for a couple of minutes, but we didn’t last long.  I don’t think any of us had the energy.

To be honest, I didn’t have any trouble saying goodbye to 2016.  The Year of the Two HMA’s moved on along to be a thing of the past.

It is yet to be seen what kind of name 2017 will end up with in my head.  But I’ll be sure to let you know (:

Year 3.

Today is our missioniversary.   At least that’s what Alicia calls it, and I love that.   She calls Luís’ family day (July 25) our “Luísiversary,”  and December 11, when we finally touched down in Peru, is our Peruversary. And so today, September 18, is the 3 year anniversary of the day we boarded a southbound plane and moved to another continent as missionaries. Our missioniversary.  3 years ago today we landed in Bogotá, Colombia, with 12 pieces of luggage, 2 kids, and not a word of Spanish.

When I think back on Year One, I mostly remember culture shock, Spanish, and waiting… waiting for anything at all to start to feel normal, waiting to figure out where we would be long term, and mostly, waiting for Luís, whom we finally brought home 10 months into our first year.  I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t communicate, exhausted from studying spanish, and really lonely.   But I also remember loving Colombia, embracing our new lifestyle, and thinking, “YES. This feels right.”

I remember Year Two as “The Year We Plowed Through.”   We moved to Peru right at the beginning of Luís’ transition to our family, and it was a whirlwind.  Juggling adoption, continued language deficiencies, illnesses, and adjusting to a new country (again) felt a little like I was under water and fighting to swim upward so that I could finally come up for air.  I was pushing through as hard as I could to get to a place where I could breathe.  I remember the prayer journals filled while sitting on the floor of the boys’ bedroom while they slept; I remember Nate’s late-night spanish study sessions and early-morning prayer times;  I remember wondering how long it would be before I finally made friends again in this new place.  But I also remember the numerous tiny glimpses of the amazing work God was doing in each of us as we adjusted to being a family of 5; and I remember falling in love with the beauty of living in a desert; and I remember rejoicing at each new person who slowly opened up to the idea of a friendship with a clueless gringa.  It was hard, but it was good, and God was faithful.

And Year Three.  What would I call this last year?  I’m not sure, to be honest.  It’s been a weird one.   With the first two years, I knew what I was walking into ahead of time, more or less.  Even though there was no way to truly be emotionally prepared for the reality of culture shock or adoption transition or learning a language, and even though it’s been exponentially more intense than I had imagined, there was still a sense in which I walked into it knowing what I had signed up for.  Intellectually speaking, I knew what was ahead.

But Year Three showed up with some unexpected turns.  The only way I know to describe this year is heavy.  All of it.  It’s been an emotionally difficult year.   We’ve had significant changes in our team, we have taken on new unexpected roles in ministry that have stretched us thin, and we are pouring into a church and community in which every single person has been affected deeply by abuse, poverty, and pain.     None of it has been the way we had imagined, and most of it has felt too difficult and draining to write down.

And yet, there’s still somehow a deep, sweet undercurrent of joy.  I have never felt more incompetent or ill-equipped for something in my life than I do right now, and yet I also have never felt more sure of our calling to missions and to Arequipa.  God has so lovingly and gently reaffirmed this to my heart over and over again.   I love these people.  I love this church.  I love serving them and crying with them and praying for them.   And sometimes that terrifies me because I have no clue what I am doing.  I absolutely cannot do this…which means I am reminded every moment that it doesn’t depend on me, and that my insufficiencies point all the more to Christ’s strength.

This year has been heavy, and I am thankful for that, because once again, God has tenderly shown me that difficult or heavy doesn’t necessarily equal bad.  Ultimately, it has reminded me that carrying burdens isn’t a part of my job description.  Casting them off is.  I lay them down before the cross, and then I walk with others and show them this amazing Jesus who calms our hearts and carries our burdens and loves us fiercely, and I pray that they too will experience the sweet joy found in casting their burdens on Him and resting in the One who holds the universe.

I don’t know what Year Four holds in store, and this time I am walking into it KNOWING that I don’t know.  It might be an even heavier one for that matter, but that’s okay, because I’m not the one carrying the weight.   I’m the one being carried.

Happy missioniversary to us, and here’s to many, many more.