Christmas Joy.

Last month I walked into my friend Lori’s apartment it was April and her Christmas tree was up. I laughed and then I stared awhile and I touched (as I often do with most things) a few of the ornaments and branches. WE caught up and had a nice chat over coffee and her delicious quiche. Later, when I was alone it got me thinking though. That Christmas tree. In Morocco. In April. What was Christmas to me? How do I feel around Christmas time? What memories do I have?

Christmas to me is my grandma Meyer’s sugar cookies. Gatherings with both sides of my extended family. Christmas to me was cutting down or finding a deliciously smelling tree, needles on the carpet, my mom rearranging the ornaments we would put up as kids, angel Gabriel at the tippy top. Candlelight Christmas services, silent night, and Christmas morning pajama joy. Stockings, driving around to see the lights, and playing in the snow.

Christmas got me thinking and stirred up so many emotions inside of me. What were my Christmas traditions the last four years? Surely, they weren’t how Christmas was “supposed” to be…but then again- my life didn’t turn out like I thought it always would and I can’t imagine it any other way. The past few years I’ve spent Christmas in sunny South Africa, at 10,000 feet at the top of Germany with family, in South Korea with our tiny tinsel tree.

When I asked my husband what Christmas meant to him he had similar memories to mine, but says it’s always been about the people you’re with. This is the daily struggle of an expat. When I sit down and have time to reflect I know that no matter where we are my heart longs for some distant place, an island we visited, a memory, a feeling, or most importantly family or friends who seem so far away. To say I’ve had some big struggles, with this exact thing the last two years while living in Morocco, is putting it lightly.

I recently read the book Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist and one part really stood out to me and has stuck with me over the last few weeks. I’ve revisited it and read it again and again because. WHOA, hello my life the last two years. There have been dark moments of lonely, sad, and empty feelings. Struggling with our job situation and the darkness of it all would overwhelm me to no end. I would pray. I would cry. I would hold on. But this, it just summed it all up so perfectly:

“The last round of decisions have been made in silence and solitude, and that’s been necessary and healing and challenging. I’ve wanted the committee, and at the same time, I’ve sensed that there are some seasons in which the only way through is alone, a solitary path of listening and learning. This is uncomfortable for me and I’ve yearned to gather around my people at every point, for familiarity, for safety. There are, though, certain passages you have to walk alone. When you arrive at the other side, the people you love the most will be there to meet you, certainly, to wrap their arms around you and walk closely with you once again. But it’s only when we are truly alone that we can listen to our lives and God’s voice speaking out from the silence.”

God has taught me so much the last two years here. It’s no secret that it’s been hard for us- I blogged about it here. I always say that I don’t know many things. I still have so much to learn- but what I do know is this:

He is faithful. He is there in the darkness. He has gone before us. He will honor our commitment. I learned that we needed to be the Christmas light & that Christmas joy that I love so much to such a dark world. That we were here, in Morocco, for a very specific reason. That people would come into our life at exactly the right time. and that it was by no accident. That they would take us in, dark moments and all, and that they would remind us of God’s everlasting love.

and so some seasons you walk alone when all you want is the company of your loved ones. You navigate that darkness, but you become stronger because of it. God used Morocco to bring the silence so that I could listen. Even when I would fumble through terrible internet connections and feelings of isolation & just not being able to relate or connect like I longed for to our peers back in the states. So even though it’s hard having all these Christmases away I know that God drew us near. That even though it feels we are often worlds away and who knows where our next Christmas will be spent– that God gifts us each and every day with so much more than I deserve. That as we anticipate the birth of our baby in about a month that Christmas joy I so often long for isn’t in the things, but the people that God continues to bless us with.

5 years ago around Christmas time Tom wrote me this note and I still have it saved.

JOY.

The Journee to Parenthood.

Now that I am almost 9 months pregnant I figured it would be a good time to document some of my thoughts on Tom and I becoming parents in just a short amount of time!

If I had to sum up pregnancy in two words my words would be: weird and surreal. Weird because I know that there is a human in there, but my brain can not picture what this baby looks like, it’s tiny little personality, or how it’s getting out. Surreal, because even though I am at the end of my pregnancy the baby clothes are washed and my hospital bag is half packed… it still does not really feel that real.

I wanted to document some questions we have gotten along the way. I always loved reading stories about pregnancy and marriage so I thought I would share a bit about our very own story.

Did you know you were ready?

Not really. HAHA. Tom and I both knew that we always wanted kiddos and that was something we talked about long before marriage (almost 5 years ago now WHAT!?!?)

Elicia always wanted a big family- the louder the better. I really do thrive in chaos and noise. Tom says 2-4 kids 😉 We also always knew we wanted to wait to build a strong foundation in marriage and grow in our faith together. We also had so many places to see and discover first. We spent the first four and a half years of our marriage navigating being newlyweds, then marriage and life abroad in Korea– and next Morocco. Endless adventures together and countless countries explored. Tom even hit his newly formed goal of 30 countries before 30 years old!! It was important for us to wait to grow our family even when our peers and friends were having kids years before us. & I have to say– that was the best decision for us. I feel that with each passing year we grew stronger as a team and each year has truly gotten better, together.

How did it all begin?

Nothing, absolutely nothing can prepare you for seeing the positive results that you are pregnant. No matter how planned or unplanned the baby might be. Even when my stomach started to grow, we saw the heartbeat and the baby move on the ultrasound, then I began feeling the baby move, then Tom felt him or her move- it just all felt and continues to feel so surreal. This is a story for another time, but Tom was shocked and very anxious and needed time to process it all- which I think is probably normal for most men! I have to say though after the initial shock wore off it has been a total joy observing him take it all in. I also think it’s important to add here that babies can take TIME! Do not be discouraged if it’s taken you a few months. A couple (with no fertility issues) only has a 15% chance of conceiving each cycle. So many couples told us that they got pregnant on the very first try. That is NOT NORMAL! At all. I wish someone had told me that. Be patient. Good things take time and it can be months 😉

How’s pregnancy been? 

It’s not as scary as people make it. Now, I know I have had a great pregnancy. Some women just struggle so much with sickness throughout pregnancy and I truly feel for them. My mom was pregnant with my littlest sisters when I was high school and she was sick the entire pregnancy. It was awful. Overall, my pregnancy has been great. I have continued working out 4-5 times a week, eating pretty healthy, and I was even able to run up to 33 weeks. The last two weeks I’ve been doing lots of low impact workouts and mixing in some- prenatal workouts here and there. (Thanks to the awesome blog Nourish Move Love!)

That isn’t to say pregnancy hasn’t had it’s challenges. Sleep is a debacle each night and I am sleeping in 3-4 hour increments these days. I definitely had nausea the first four months and smells OH THE SMELLS. I didn’t want to eat anything except for fruit the first 20 weeks or so. I am out of breathe A LOT. Working out consistently has kept and fueled a healthy pregnancy- that I am sure of. It helps combat lots of those pregnancy symptoms, helped a ton with heartburn, achey butt/leg muscles, and the breathlessness I feel (ironically!) It hasn’t always been easy- but I don’t think pregnancy should be really. You’re growing a human. Lots of people have asked how much weight I have gained. We don’t actually own a scale and so I never really know and that has been the best thing for me. In the beginning of pregnancy I knew that my body would change. I knew that if I ate healthy and kept working out that baby would gain exactly what baby needs and I accepted whatever that was going to be. I have gained 23 pounds as of 2 weeks ago at the doctors office. So I’m calling it 25 and I still have six weeks to go so it’ll be more and I am okay with it. I want a strong and healthy babe!

What’s your birth plan? 

Keep me healthy. Get baby out healthy.That is it. BOOM. I am not opposed to meds. It’s 2017, I am so thankful for medical advancements,  and I have nothing to prove to anyone. I have always been in awe and cheer f0r women who decide to do no meds- but I know myself and my pain tolerance so we are going in with an open mind. Because let’s be real- I have never felt that pain and never given birth and it is totally out of our control the circumstances for that day. I trust our doctor and that God has gone before us.

Final thoughts on being abroad and being pregnant:

Of course it’s been hard to be away from our family during the entire pregnancy and there have been moments of sadness or loneliness because there aren’t birth classes or the support like back in the states readily available, I can’t communicate with the hospital staff, and we don’t have family around to gather together and celebrate the most exciting time in our life. (Just to name a few)

On the upside, Tom also pointed out that being abroad has simplified a lot of things. We have less distractions around and less commitments to attend to as we mentally prepare for parenthood. We have less people to consult for advice, but the people we surround ourselves with are really great parents and have a life similar to what ours will look like as an expat living abroad with kiddos. We value that information and even though we have less to consult for advice the advice we get is very solid. Lastly, we have a lot LESS baby stuff than we would back in the states. Everything I have came in a suitcase (okay maybe two) from the states when my sister in law came to visit us and from friends that went back home at Christmas break and loaded up for us!  We have no baby nursery and just the bare minimums. Which kept things pretty easy for us- especially since we have another big move on the horizon.

Lastly, I am doing a mama devotional which I have LOVED & I am sharing that along with some pregnancy must haves below,  but this stuck with me and I’ll end on this note because pregnant or not I feel that this applies to my entire life.

“God’s gift of pregnancy wasn’t because I deserve this incredible blessing, but rather God’s way of showing his love and perfect timing.”

My mama must haves for pregnancy. I feel like there isn’t a ton you need, but I really had to prepare in advance because all of this (except the Argan oil) is from the USA and we can’t get mail in Morocco! So at 12 weeks pregnant I begun to make a list of what I wanted from the states which is when my friend Jenni went home to the states and loaded up & later my sister in law. I also did not get anything for these recommendations…but when I love a product I have to share.

Starting from the top left:

1.//DRESSES. I have lived in dresses (and leggings) my entire pregnancy. Seriously. Especially since I needed to look put together for work. Old Navy maternity was a huge hit especially since they have petite and the price point was right for me. I stocked up on about six dresses and basically that has been all I have worn. The top blue dress is for our baby shower next weekend and that is from Pink Blush.

2.//  Tubby Todd. 100% natural belly balm- citrus avocado. It smells SO GOOD. I discovered this company on instagram probably over a year ago and couldn’t wait to try their products. I am in love. The best part is that they are toxin, gluten, paraben, sulfate, artificial fragrance/color, BPA, and animal cruelty FREE. I also bought their baby travel kit for when babe arrives and I love all their products. Find them—> here!

3.// Argan Oil. SOOOO many things I could say here. Argan oil is crazy cheap and made in Morocco so it has been apart of my daily routine at least twice a day. I love and rant about the miracle properties of how wonderful Argan oil has been for me– and no stretch marks yet. I know nothing can prevent stretch marks, but I do think it’s helped a ton. The moroccan ladies swear by it and I now know why.

4.// Hospital & new mama robe. From Pink Blush. 

5.//Good reads. First Time dad (the stuff you really need to know)  by John Fuller. Quick and easy read. Lots of practical info for Tom. He really liked it and read it in a weekend! & for mamas: Waiting in Wonder- Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting by Catherine Claire Larson. I have really loved doing this devotional each day!

Bottom row

6. and 7.// Blanqi leggings and Belly band. Okay this has to be my BEST pregnancy investment. I wore one or the other of these every single day. Not only are they well made, but they provide support. I wore them working out, with the dresses, or with a long shirt over the top. ALL THE TIME. I have not gone a day without one of these. The band allowed me to wear all my normal work pants/jeans the first 6 months of pregnancy. Both of them seamless and providing support, a company started by two best friends, I am ALL ABOUT THESE and every pregnant women needs them. I would have also purchased their maternity support tank top, but it was on back order before my sister in law came to Morocco so it wasn’t available! I also found this company on instagram! Find their awesome stuff: here!

8.// Baby Boy Bakery My First Year Baby Journal by Jacqui Saldana. I have followed this mama for a few years and she has her own biz! Her story of strength, resilience , and faith amazes and inspires me. The journal she created is perfect. A baby journal that has it all but keeps it clean, classic, and simple. I love spending time writing in this about our soon to be baby and can’t wait to document his or her first year. She also creates adorable cooking kits for kids/mamas and toddler journals too. The size is perfect too for traveling/living abroad.  Check out her products: here!

9.// Athletic wear. I still fit into all my workout shorts/capris but I purchased a couple essential workout tops from Old Navy Maternity. A tank and a long sleeve lightweight top. If you follow me on snapchat you know that I wear the same top again and again…haha! I had to add the workout piece and give a huge shoutout to Lindsey at Nourish Move Love for her incredible workouts! She also just released prenatal workouts over here that I am going to be doing my last month of pregnancy! Workouts for all and they are CHALLENGING- can’t rave enough about them.

10.//Not pictured but should be included// Online breastfeeding classes done by Lindsey Shipley, an RN, Childbirth Educator, and IBCLC-certified Lactation Coach… this is especially helpful if you’re abroad because it can be done anywhere on your own time! https://lactationlink.com/ 

Muslim world. Christian Faith.

I’ve traveled to the pretty gold temples of Thailand, The Hindu shrines in Malaysia, the old stunning ruins of the largest religious monument in the world- in Cambodia (which was originally built as  a Hindu temple and later used for Buddhism.)  I have lived in Korea and visited countless temples where they still worship buddha. I’ve walked between the actual gold leaf beautiful towers of  Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar– the same country where I later got flowers thrown at me and told that I was “no lucky lucky” because I said I was a Christian.  I have visited one of the largest mosques in the world, and countless Catholic cathedrals in Europe. Now,  we’ve called Morocco home for some time and it’s a Muslim country through and through …there is absolutely no doubt about that.

The call to prayer goes off five times daily.

I’ve seen thousands of men pray in the streets during Ramadan.

They use phrases to end or begin almost every sentence – Hamdulah and Inshallah that translates in English to something like “Praise God” & “God Willing.”

I’ve witnessed men praying on their prayer rugs outside- pausing their routine of selling vegetables, driving vans, or guarding the cars on the streets.

Everywhere I go I see women fully covered- sometimes from head to toe and other times just their hair.

Before moving to Morocco I had never met another Muslim in my life. I had never known what holidays they celebrate, what their traditions are, or that this religion shapes and is embedded in every single aspect of life here. Every last bit.

Living here as an American we often get the question of why we picked Morocco as a place to call home. After that question we often get: Is it safe? Or aren’t there terrorist groups there? and then finally we often hear: What’s it like to live in a Muslim world?

Living in a Muslim world as a Christian is completely and utterly eye opening. It’s hard and it’s messy and it’s frustrating at times. I have never felt LESS in control than I have living in Morocco– and to be honest most days I have also never felt more safe. I’ve never prayed more in my entire life. I’ve never had to trust the lord more than I have the two years we have been here. I’ve never had to lean on God, talk to him as much as I do now, and rely on his faithfulness more than I have had to then while we have lived in Morocco. I’ve never been more inspired to live a life of Christian faith more boldly and proudly than I have since we moved here. Do I still have doubts about why it can be so dang hard? Oh, I absolutely, do. Do I still get upset or angry that it’s been SO HARD at times? Yes, yes I do. Living in a Muslim world has changed me as a woman of faith. This I am sure of.

These people who call themselves Muslim have taken us in. They have fixed things in our home, they have smiled at us, and they have helped us navigate this confusing/chaotic place time and time again. They have joked with us and called us “brother” and “sister.” These are the people we work alongside each day. I’ve stayed in their homes, eaten their epically amazing food, and that one time near the Sahara desert we were invited inside their family home for cous cous Friday. They’ve celebrated with us when we announced our pregnancy and they have invited us for dinner and talked us through some really hard work stuff. They’ve shared breaking their fast with us and taken the time to show us their beautiful country and shown us the meaning of true hospitality. They have loved us as their own and they know that we don’t share their faith.

I find myself praying for them and talking to God about them multiple times a day because they remind me that people are in fact, GOOD.

We still struggle. a lot. Sometimes I still swear (just ask my sweet coworkers- HA!)  when I am fired up about frustrations of life here or when things go wrong.  I still seek and desire the comfort and convenience that our life in America brought us. I miss our family so much some days it hurts my heart. I especially miss dill pickles, candles, and celebrating holidays with our loved ones.  I still wonder why our days can so often feel so routine or so mundane. but this I know with certainty: God has us here in Morocco, a truly Muslim country, for a very very distinct purpose. I want to honor him in wherever he has gone before us for our next place to call home. and in all we do.

So when you ask me how living in a Muslim country has been I want to tell you it’s been so epically awesome. It’s been so much more than I ever thought it would be and most importantly I would tell you this:

My Christian faith is immensely stronger because we’ve lived in a Muslim country.