Food…at 13,000 feet

(Warning: No deep thoughts ahead. Only food).

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Local market.  There are areas that are a bit more organized, but I love these colors!

The question we get asked the most since moving to La Paz?

Is the food different?

Other frequently asked questions include, “Is it hard to find the food you like?”, “What food do you miss the most?” and “What is your favorite food in La Paz?”.

Personally, I LOVE these questions. They only demonstrate that food is on their mind as much as it is on mine!

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Picante De Pollo…SOOO good!!

First: Is the Food different?
Not as different as I expected! If you want to find a great burger or good chicken, you can find that here.  The altitude definitely makes cooking a little more interesting.  We have managed to explode (yes, explode) a batch of brownies in the oven, chicken takes twice as long to bake and pasta, well, because of the slower boiling point, pasta kind of takes on it’s own, gummy, character.

Second: Is it hard to find the food you like?
Again, not as difficult as I expected.  There are amazing fruit and veggie markets that are super accessible.  We have learned some tricks to make sure our produce is super clean.  Dish soap and water for non-porous veggies such as tomatoes, peppers and apples.  Vinegar and water for things like strawberries.  We learned the hard way not to use soap and water with strawberries…yuck!

The grocery stores also carry pretty much anything you might want. You just have to ask yourself how much you are willing to pay.  For a basic box of “American” cereal, you might spend between $11 and $13 U.S. dollars.  So yes, our taste in cereal has changed significantly!

The one thing that I haven’t found are convenience foods and frozen veggies. It makes us cook from scratch and I have learned how to flash freeze veggies.  As long as we allow a little more time than usual, neither of these is much of a bother (and healthier maybe?)

I thought I’d enlist the kids for the last 2 questions:
1. What food do you miss the most?
Kid 1: I miss Panda Express.
Kid 2. I miss Pizza Hut.

2. What is your favorite food in La Paz?
Kid 1: The Factory because it has really good hamburgers
Kid 2: Pasteles…they are funnel cakes filled with cheese (seriously, people, whoever invented this was a genius!)

Personally, I think honorable mention needs to go to Charque de Llama (pulled, dried and fried and then put on a sandwich.  Might be one of those things you just have to try for yourself!), Picante de Pollo (spicy chicken with an amazing broth, served with rice), cuñapes (little rolls made with yucca flour and cheese. YUM!) and the quinoa (often cooked similar to fried rice, but with less oil…delicious!!).  Many (husband included) would argue and put salteñas on the list, but I just don’t love them.  Maybe I’m not a “paceña” quite yet…??

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Enjoying pasteles (I’m an awful selfie taker!)

There you have it! You can find almost anything here, depending on cost.  The fruits and veggies are amazing (you’ve never really tasted a carrot until you taste a carrot in La Paz!) and there are enough interesting options to keep this foodie quite happy!  Come and visit and we’ll make sure you get to taste all of our favorites!

 

First laughter…then love

So, in accordance with my blogging plan, (see here), this week’s post should be “fun”.  What could be more fun than talking about love??

I’m a very serious person by nature. Those of you who know me now might not believe this (…or maybe you do!).  I remember a time in college when a friend told me I really needed to laugh. Not laugh “more”. But laugh…just laugh.

Then, I met Alex.  Oh, how his sparkling blue eyes and grin immediately captivated me. Not in a Disney Princess “let’s-run-off-right-now-together” sort of way, but rather in a “this-is-my-new-best-friend” kind of way.  We met for five quick minutes at a wedding reception where we learned that we lived 500 miles apart.

The distance did not deter him.  He found my email (yes, email…so primitive!) online at OSU. I had actually written it down for him, but he couldn’t read my awful handwriting. We started writing regularly.  It wasn’t long before I decided to drive up to his city.  Of course, this was SOLEY to seek out graduate programs and had NOTHING to do with a pair of blue eyes.

We had our first date that weekend.  He was performing in a talent show and I went to watch him.  He did a comedy routine. It was hilarious.  I laughed hysterically.  Unfortunately, no one else did.  I learned later that he wasn’t actually trying to be funny. He was trying to create a sort of awkward silence to lead into a following act. I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew I loved hearing him speak, and even his “dad” jokes made me laugh.

Fast forward 17 years and many ups and downs. I get stressed and anxious. There are some days when I forget to laugh.  But this never lasts for long. My very best friend always finds some way to make me laugh again.

“If love is the treasure, laughter is the key.”
Yakov Smirnoff

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Picture from our first date.            Yes, we looked so young.

The Ride

In keeping with my new commitment to the blog, this week’s topic is “faith”.  What perfect timing! This past week has held so many moments that have required me to examine my faith and how I deal with change and uncertainty (I’ll write about the actual week another time!!).

Recently, I was sitting with a friend and she compared life to a roller coaster: the ups and downs, the excitement and anticipation. I had another friend write an article about how waiting for something you long for can also feel like a roller coaster (GREAT post that you can find here).  This made me start thinking more about this whole roller coaster/life idea.

Things I fear from the bottom of my stomach:
Scuba diving, parachuting and dancing in front of large crowds of people (I could have nightmares about that last one!!)
Things I love beyond measure:
Jet skiing, watching OTHER people dance and ROLLER COASTERS

I love roller coasters. From the very first one until now.  The excitement, the speed, the ups and downs and twists and turns (so grateful I do not have my husband’s motion sickness!).  I remember my Dad taking me on my first roller coaster at a little amusement park called Indiana Beach.  I sat in front of him in the little car as it slowly made it’s way up the first big hill.  I was thrilled by every exciting, teeth-jarring moment of that two minute ride. I was with my Dad, the sun was shining and there was absolutely nothing else to think about except the next turn or dip.

I don’t react to life in the same way at all.  The roller coaster starts up with that chug-chug-chug, the news comes of an unexpected turn of events, and my stomach drops.  I am immediately filled with fear.  I want to know what is coming next.  I want the full blue print of the ride.  How is this all going to work out? What exactly should I prepare for?  How can I best control this situation so that I can determine the outcome?

Why can I relax and enjoy a roller coaster but become terrified at the ups and downs of life?  Of course, the consequences of life feel a bit more serious than the consequences of an amusement ride.  Well, unless you consider that you could actually fall out of the ride if it isn’t built correctly!  Which made me start thinking…I trust the roller coaster.  Not exactly the coaster itself, but the builder. I trust the engineer.  Why would someone build a ride only to hurt it’s passengers?  The engineer has way too much invested, even on a selfish level, to build a roller coaster that is just going to harm people.

I have an Engineer overseeing my life, my “roller coaster”, who is not invested for selfish reasons. Like my Dad on that first ride so long ago, God has not only designed the coaster, but now sits behind me, keeping me safe, enjoying every moment of the ride along with me.

One of my favorite moments on a coaster is when you have chugged-chugged-chugged your way to the very top, just before the coaster lets loose into all of the turns and loops.  There is a moment where the ride pauses, and you can look around and see for miles.  Everything is quiet and everyone is filled with anticipation for the ride ahead. I usually look over at Alex (he’s not motion sick yet at this point), and/or the kids, and smile…and then we put our hands in the air and get ready to scream with absolute abandon and glee.

This is the way I want to do life. Trusting the Engineer.  Looking around at the beauty in the quiet moments at the peaks. Then, having the trust and peace that leads to all of the laughter, joy (and squealing) that comes from just enjoying the ride.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 43:13

 

From our last time at Disney… enjoying the ride!

Public Apology

Hello blog,

I need to apologize.  In the beginning, I envisioned our relationship to be full of consistency and open communication.  I would express clever ideas and memorable experiences and you would save them for me to revisit later in life. I must say that you have kept your end of the bargain quite well.  I, however, have been horribly neglectful. I have allowed life to distract me, to keep me from documenting so many little moments I want to someday remember.

So, blog of mine, I have a plan for the New Year.  I will try to post one entry per week (yikes!).  To make this easier, I will have a category for each week:

  1. First week:  Food
    Because I love it. And I could talk about it for hours.
  2. Second week: Family
    Because I love them. And I could talk about them for hours. 🙂 Some entries might be stories of our adventures, others may be of what I’m learning as a mom.  Other times, I might even write what we are learning as a family (pending approval of all involved!)
  3. Third week: Faith
    This topic is deeply personal for me. I think so much on these things and it is difficult to share those thoughts openly at times. But I think they are important matters to share, and one day be able to reflect upon.
  4. Fourth week: Fun
    One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my husband is that life is fun.  It is ok for me to lift my head sometimes, look around and laugh.  Even if I just share a joke that I overheard from my ten year old son (I apologize in advance), one post will just be “fun”.

So blog, I am hoping you will forgive me and that we can begin our relationship afresh. Thank you for always forgiving my grammatical errors, (I so love my ellipsis), and being so gentle in the way you place squiggly lines under my misspelled words. I look forward to sharing the New Year with you.

Your newly committed contributor,
Carmen

Wanting to Remember

We had a friend die this week. He was an amazing young man. He had a great smile and a soft heart. Over the past year, he has suffered immensely. One day, he was pursuing a career in the culinary arts, and the next he was facing the fact that he was going to lose his leg to cancer. He was the same age as my younger brother.

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Our friend racing one of the HOPE dr’s at a family park day. He was always up for a good challenge!

Despite the amputation, the cancer spread quickly, soon taking over his lungs. Our HOPE program helped however possible. The church here also wrapped it’s arms around him and his family. How do you accept that someone so young, beautiful, strong is wasting away? It is so difficult to watch a family wrestle with letting go of someone they love so much. A son, a brother, a grandson, a cousin, a friend.

The last few days of his life were very difficult. His brother did not leave his side. His grandfather slept next to him, comforting him when needed. And then he passed away.

I did not see him much toward the end. My Spanish is still so limited and I only felt intrusive to stand and not be able to speak, comfort, connect. I will always enjoy the memory of the time he spent the night in our home. The memory of him eating a half dozen muffins, laughing at our Spanish, beating my son at video games. I will hold in my heart his smile before he was baptized, and the way his father stood lovingly behind him. All of my memories of him center around his smile.

We went to go see the family the day after he passed. A small group from HOPE and church loaded into a minibus and traveled the 2 hours to his home. We entered the yard where a number of women from a local church were preparing for a large dinner in his honor, peeling potatoes and sorting “chuño”. We hugged the family, wanting to comfort but understanding that there is no real comfort for loss. His brother and father were still busy preparing the body. Washing and dressing him, even as he wasn’t really there anymore. His family was at peace, even as his mother said with tears, “but I will still miss him”.

Not sure of what else to do, we sat and began to help peel potatoes and sort the chuño. Slowly, laughter began as we worked together. Our Spanish was met with giggles. The neighbor women were amazingly fast with their knives as I awkwardly handled mine. Stories were shared of our friend, but also of other things, lighter things. We sat for over an hour together. The sun was hot on my head and back, but I didn’t want to move. I said nothing, I just didn’t want to stop being a part of that moment. Then, I felt a hat on my head. One of the younger women took her hat and placed it gently on my head. I looked up and she smiled. Another smile I don’t think I will ever forget.

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Me wearing the hat and finding relief from the sun

We said goodbye, sharing hugs again and this time with more laughter, more smiles. His father thanked us for helping with the preparations, but it was more than just that. It was all of us together, no separation of faith or culture. The women brought out bananas and water to share. We prayed together, all of us, holding each other. And then we had to say goodbye.

Suffering is a strange thing. It can hold so much beauty within so much pain. I am writing about this day because I want to remember it. I want to remember sharing this time with my friend’s family. I want to remember these women. I want to remember the way love becomes so authentic in the middle of pain.

I pray for his family. I pray they find the comfort I believe only God can give. I pray that we can continue to stay connected to them. And I picture my friend, standing strong in heaven on both legs and smiling.

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“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
I Co 15:54-55

My Nagging Thought…

Disclaimer: When I decided to begin a blog, I had a certain vision in my mind.  I pictured light-hearted updates, funny little synopsis of our time abroad with a few more thoughtful posts inserted among the sprinkles.  I just want to announce that I am giving up this vision. I am not a light-hearted writer. I now realize I lack the amount of humor needed for that kind of blog.  I am only prompted to write when something strikes me deeply.  So, if you’re reading this, I just want to be super straightforward that from now on there will be very little humor and probably way too much thought.  However, I do live with two extremely funny children, a light-hearted husband and a super quirky canine.  So, maybe a sprinkle or two will still be possible within my overly thoughtful posts! 

Have you ever had a nagging thought that has popped in your head and just won’t leave you alone?  You find yourself turning it over and over in your head?  I’ve had one of those for a number of months now.  I keep thinking about “compassion” and how authentic compassion is not conditional.  Even more so, that conditional compassion might actually be called “judgment”.

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In La Paz, there are many who live in extreme poverty.  Their need is evident in their torn clothing, matted hair, outstretched hands.  I hear story after story of individuals who lack simple things such as food, shelter and health care. And I am realizing how easy it is to assess whether or not someone deserves our compassion.

Maybe our thoughts are not quite so straightforward.  Maybe we don’t sit and say to ourselves, “hmmm…I will have compassion on her, but not on him”.  However, I think  we (I) can fall easily into this pattern.

    • We may decide if the poor deserve our compassion:
      Did they end up where they are because of bad choices, or really sad circumstances?
      Bad choices: no way will I help.  Sad circumstances: Ok…they deserve a hand up.
    • We may decide if the rich deserve our compassion:
      They have everything they need, what do they need from me?
      Or even worse, how can they serve my purposes?
    • We may even decide if each other deserves compassion:
      She is so grumpy today. Fine. I don’t need to talk to her anyway.
      He was SO insensitive. He needs to learn a thing or two!

Of course, I am not talking about being blind to issues behind poverty, or ignoring the hurtful behavior of our friends.  Our dear friend, Webster, defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”.

A sympathetic consciousness.  An awareness of the “why”.  A desire to alleviate…a desire to help.  I am convinced that what hinders our compassion most are our own personal judgments.  We might look for the “why” behind behavior, but instead of using that as a springboard for helping, we use it as the deciding factor in how we personally feel about the behavior.

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The compassion of Jesus is one of the characteristics that draws me to him the most. Jesus knew everything about everyone he met.  He knew all of their bad choices, everything they could have done differently and yet he was full of compassion.  Jesus did not withhold his compassion from the stressed, from the sinful, from the proud, the poor, the rich, even from those who directly mistreated him.  I think this is because he really SAW people.  He saw their brokenness despite the outside appearance. He saw the suffering of the richest pharisee as clearly as he saw the suffering of the impoverished widow. And because he saw each individual clearly, he knew what was needed to alleviate their suffering. The pain of hunger may have been relieved through food.  The pain of pride might have been healed through direct teaching, or even rebuke.

We are ALL broken. For some reason, living in La Paz has made me so much more aware of this fact. I have to fight looking only at the outward appearance of others and really see the person.  Brokenness can be obvious in rags and disease, or hiding under layers of highlights and perfect clothing. Brokenness can be in the tears of a homeless woman, or in the apathetic behavior of a store cashier.  Most often, brokenness is the very thing that cultivates the behaviors we judge so harshly.  

I really want to live in this kind of authentic compassion. It is difficult because my own feelings and judgments often cloud my ability to see others.  Sometimes, I am so deep in my own world, I don’t even realize that I’m NOT seeing others. Maybe now that this nagging thought is finally out of my head and posted for the world to see, I’ll have a little more awareness, a little more understanding and much, MUCH more true compassion.

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”  Frederick Buechner

When in doubt…choose grace.

As I get older, I appreciate grace-ful people more and more.  I don’t mean the people who can walk with a plate balanced on their head.  I mean those people who see your faults, your weaknesses and those areas that you are ashamed of and yet they embrace you. Those people who not only embrace you, but make you feel like maybe, just maybe, you are even “normal”.

This world is such a harsh and judgmental place. Each of us receive so many messages every day that whisper ways we are not adequate. And unfortunately, we make mistakes every day that support those accusations.  Others will also mess up, and what they do will effect us directly. So what do we do when that person disappoints us? What do we do when their mistake means an inconvenience for us? When in doubt, choose grace. Actually, even if you’re sure they deserve your judgment…try grace. Maybe there is a time you can remember when you made a mistake that you really didn’t want to make (I could use myself as an example here, but that would quickly turn this blog into a novel!).  It’s likely they didn’t want to make that mistake, either.

I don’t know if I mess up more frequently as I get older, or if I just become more aware of when I do.  This week, I was thinking of my dearest friends who MUST see ALL of these warts and are often on the receiving end of my blunders.

I am so very, very glad that they choose grace.

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Blank Paper and Crayons

This week, we went to play with about 60 children at a childcare center.  This center provides reduced childcare to families who are unable to pay full price. We (HOPE) visit there regularly to support the staff, connect with the children and to determine if there are any needs within the families that we can help meet.

I walked around the room desperately wanting to talk with these children. Each one was beautiful and so very unique. Unfortunately, none of them spoke English…and my Spanish is still sorely lacking! I could help manage the activities, but how was I going to connect with them??

2017-05-19-15-12-29.jpgAs I walked around the room, helping where I could, I saw some girls building a lego castle.  I sat and quickly drew them a princess for their castle.  I could not have predicted what happened next.  Paper after paper was pushed in front of me.  Little voices started speaking all at once, “para mi hermana! para mi hemanito! para mi mama!”.  As I drew and drew, small people laid their heads on my shoulder and taught me the names of colors.  We wrote each other’s names, we shared our different ways of saying things. As we packed up to leave, I hugged each of these children goodbye, and told them what I did know how to say in their language, “You are beautiful, you are kind, you are smart”.

They smiled. I melted. And I thanked God for blank sheets of paper and crayons.

 

 

A book review…kind of??

Reading a great book right now written by a dear friend of mine. It’s a book about “waiting”. Honestly, I started reading it because I miss her, NOT because I feel like I am waiting. I have DEFINITELY had seasons of waiting, but right now I feel like I’m in a, “Hey wait, slow down…let me catch up with this crazy adventure!!” kind of stage!

But as I started reading, I began to remember that I am waiting.  I am waiting on so many things.  I am waiting on my children to grow and develop, to see the outcome of their life.  I am waiting for the storms that I know are coming in our family’s life. I am waiting to see how we are going to handle them.  I am waiting for those I love to find peace and freedom.  I am still waiting on so many of God’s promises.

I am waiting for my own character to change.  I am waiting to understand my depression better.  I am waiting to be stronger, wiser, lighter, more faithful, more disciplined.

I read a part this morning that really struck me.  It is in regards to the pain we can feel while waiting, but I think it applies to all suffering.  The author discussed how we all suffer and wait in different ways for different things. Some suffering is mind-numbing, heart-breaking, breath-stealing, while other suffering is a low buzz in the back of our brains (and hearts) stealing our happiness and sapping our strength.

It is tempting to compare our pain to others. I have seen those who minimize their pain because it is not as bad as someone else’s.  I have also seen those who minimize other’s pain because they view their own pain as so much worse.  This comparison of pain has been heavier on my heart since moving here.  I see incredible suffering, and then walk away feeling guilty that I hurt over anything in my easy life!

I love what Elizabeth shares here, though:

“No matter what kind of wait you are enduring today, be it the soul-killing kind of wait or the daily-joy-stealing kind of wait, hear this, know this: your pain, your doubt, your struggles, your feelings are real. Valid. You have a wound that needs tending. Even small cuts can turn septic and poison the whole body.”*

Even small cuts can turn septic and poison the whole body.  That is such a true statement.  We can’t ignore even our small cuts.  We need to clean them, tend to them…and then once they are healed, forget them. Kayli came to me yesterday with a small burn on her finger that was just starting to get infected.  We put ointment on it and then covered it.  I didn’t scold her because there were people in the world with worse wounds.  However, I would be concerned if she was remembering the pain of this particular wound years from now.  This wound will heal completely and then I hope she forgets the pain. Unfortunately, in her life, she might gain other wounds that won’t heal as well, or will leave permanent scars.  I hope that we will have the wisdom to deal with each wound individually.

I am grateful for both the permission to deal with pain, no matter how small, and also for the opportunity to heal and grow past the pain.  And I am grateful for friends like Elizabeth who say even the little cuts matter. Like ointment and a bandaid, I’m sure that kind of understanding helps the healing happen so much faster!

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*Thompson, Elizabeth Laing. When God Says “Wait”: navigating life’s detours and delays without losing your faith, your friends, or your mind (Kindle Locations 378-380). Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

Questions…

Questions.

As we drive from home to home, to family to family, as I hear the stories of poverty, struggle and even death, there are so many questions that fill my thoughts.

Why? I know not to ask why. There is seldom an answer to the “why’s” in relation to suffering. But they still enter my mind.
Why this child?
Why this family?
Why them and not me?
Why does it need to be this way at all?
Why are there not more helpers??

God and I wrestle with the “why’s”. I am glad that He doesn’t tire of hearing my “why’s”. I am looking forward to the day when the why’s have answers.

Who?
Who are these people?
Who is this young mom with two children? What does she enjoy? What does she hope for? Does she worry about the same things I worry about? What makes her laugh?
Does she laugh?
Who is this grandmother? What has she overcome? Does she still have hope, or had she succumbed to her circumstances?
Who is this boy? Where does he find comfort? How does he keep himself warm at night? Does he have anyone to listen when he is happy? Sad? Excited? Does he have dreams?
Who are the men that will help these young boys find their way? 

I want to ask these questions and yet I flounder desperately with the language. It is so frustrating to want to bridge these gaps and not have the words. I try to connect, to show love, to show respect however I can, but it all feels so inadequate. So I pray for each of them as I see them. I cannot help but believe that God sees each one of them individually just as He has seen me.

How?
How can these cycles be broken?
How can we convince this mom that she has worth after she has suffered years of heinous abuse convincing her she is nothing?
How are these children living in these conditions and actually growing, actually developing??

How can we provide support without enabling?
How can we reach hearts and not just stomachs?
How can we alter the course of an entire system of injustice, blindness and inequality?

How can I be joyful after seeing such deep sadness?

This last question has plagued me for years. How can I go home after seeing so much pain and laugh with my kids? What gives me the right to be warm and well fed while others are freezing and starving? Surely I should feel guilt or somehow temper my joy.

The more suffering I see, the more I realize what a privilege it actually is to have joy. I believe the driving force behind joy is actually hope. And this world needs our hope. Those who are suffering need to see in us a hope for them, for their lives. They need to see that we absolutely believe that things can be different, that circumstances can be better. This world needs OUR joy. It is tempting to allow the darkness of the world to dim our hope, our joy, our light. But it cannot. It needs our light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness…only light can do that”.

I have sooo many more questions in my mind. Every person, every situation, every brilliant- hungry-neglected child seems to bring a hundred more questions and only a few answers. Unanswered questions can bring with them the temptation of discouragement. However, discouragement does not bring progress, only paralysis. So I use my language in the best way I know how at the moment. I pray. I pray for strength, for wisdom, for insight and for victories for all of those who see the pain, for all of those who ask these questions, for all of those filled with hope that there can be progress.

And I ask alot of questions.

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this…

…no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.”
Lamentations 3:19-21, 31-33