Whew. We made it. The end of the year is a sweet season of reflection, a time to consider lessons learned from a year of living and make a plan for the next. Here are some thoughts from your favorite Carrolls in Kigali.
- “From scratch” isn’t as hard as it sounds.
This one has been learned somewhat out of necessity. Turns out, living in a country that is not America means you can’t find prepacked food. We don’t have a Publix with pre noodled sweet potatoes or frozen pizza (or even pizza dough), no pre shredded cheese (or really any cheese), no jarred marinara, no Trader Joes monkey plantain chips, no break and bake cookies. So what this means is I make everything from scratch. And if you know the Eller family, that is NOT something we know how to do. So I rode the learning curve this year and it’s taken us on some pretty great culinary adventures (and some not so great ones, sorry Chase).
I’ve made pizza dough, perfected pasta sauce, indulged in cookies/brownies/pies, experimented with soups, fried plantains, baked bread, cooked Pad Thai and come up with a hundred new recipes with whatever is in the fridge! As it turns out, it’s not nearly as intimidating as I thought! Except for the time we butchered and cooked a chicken—that was actually really hard. So grab your yeast and flour, pick up some fresh ingredients and make something homemade for dinner—it’s fun! And enjoy something with chocolate chips for me.
- There is never a bad time to bake homemade goodies.
This is separate from number one for a very good reason—baked goods are a whole separate level of important. Sometimes you just need a cookie for breakfast. Or sometimes that friend could really use a pan of brownies. And really, who doesn’t love being the hero at a party with a homemade pie? Also, I just learned how to make almond toffee and there is no better medicine than its buttery chocolate goodness (thanks Emliy!). I now work at a bakery, but I have zero real experience in this realm. But I am beginning to recognize the friendship found in baked goods—whether you’re baking together, sharing with each other, or loving a neighbor, it’s always appropriate to use this medium. Jesus offers himself as the Bread of Life because bread is the best, right?
- Essential oils—seriously.
Y’all, I joined the club. I jumped on the bandwagon. I’m a believer. Whether the kitchen smells weird, I need something to calm me, we can’t sleep, Chase has a stomach ache or someone got a bug bite (all daily occurrences) there is an oil for everything. You can smell them, rub them on, ingest them, spray them, clean with them… it never ends. These things are legit. My current favorite it Peace by DoTerra. My friend Karli hooks me up and it’s just the best thing. Try it. It’s not a cult, it’s a lifestyle.
- Hot drinks warm the soul.
I’ve never been particularly into hot drinks. Now coffee (praise the Lord for Starbucks), I’m your girl, but my hot drink affinity used to end there. But this year we invested in some yummy fancy tea bags, we’ve detoxed with lemon water, have had an obsession with hot chocolate this holiday season, and just can’t get enough of our chai tea latte mix—all served hot and delicious. Hot drinks work for relaxing, caffeinating, calming, sharing or soothing. All good things start with some boiling water. Something about drinking in the warm goodness of any one of our concoctions makes a day go better. Morning, noon, and night self care now looks like something hot in my mug.
- Learning to say hello can brake down barriers.
Language is really hard. Both Chase and I only speak English. We’ve daveled in Spanish (I took 6 years in school and still can’t claim it), French (does preschool count?), German (for one year in fourth grade), Latin… but Kinyarwanda is a whole different beast. After a year and a half of living here, I can introduce myself, get around the market or a moto, greet you at any time of day, and make my way around a bakery. It’s so hard, y’all. But so worth it.
Learning a language breaks down walls. It creates comradery, companionship, connection—and usually when I say something wrong it’ll get a laugh. Any time I’m walking down the street, exiting a shop, entering my office building, or greeting the ladies at the bakery, a few simple words spoken in someone’s heart language creates a deeper level of relationship. Learn to say hello to someone in their native tongue and learn their name to go with it and you’ll have a new friend instantly. Don’t we all love to be acknowledge and feel known?
- Work to love and love to work.
We work hard here. We both are working in what we would describe as our dream jobs and loving it, but it doesn’t come without challenges. But regardless of the hard stuff, the most important part for me is that we work to love. Sure we’re working within organizations that are creating jobs, sustainably affecting families and communities, and building the economy. But at the end of the day my desire is to “do small things with great love” (I mean if Mother Theresa said it was a good idea, I’m in). Even in the mundane tasks, the setbacks, or the stress, we love our work because we’re getting to love others through it.
- Don’t take your day too seriously.
If I could only make a list every day of all the things. All the things that drive me crazy, that aren’t how I think they should be, or are just different than what I’m used to. Let’s just say it would be a long list. When you live somewhere that isn’t your first culture, when you’re a resident outside of your passport country, things on a daily basis can seem strange, difficult, stressful, or disheartening. I literally almost get in an average of four car accidents every morning on my way to work. But you learn to just roll with it. If I take in every moment of culture stress, I might lose it. So every day is an exercise in patience and flexibility—some days I’m better at it than others. But I’m learning not to take my day too seriously.
- It’s not all mine (or yours) to own.
On the other hand, there are serious issues to be seen in every day life in a developing country. There is a population here that is severely impoverished, and experiencing people in need is a regular interaction. From the momma who asks me for some pennies for her baby to the kids who maybe don’t have a home or a family, to the women I work with and see their broken parts on an intimate level, there is need all around. I’ve learned that we regularly experience secondary traumatization (google it, it’s really an interesting phenomenon) but we can only do something for so many someones.
If I chose to own every one of these scenarios, I’d want to crawl under a rock in defeat. One of the most important things I’ve learned this year is to listen to the Holy Spirit, do something when prompted, and allow the heartbreak to fuel me, not cripple me. He’s got the whole world in His hands and not every crisis is mine to own. As my dear friend wisely said recently, “you can’t be the Savior of the world, that job is already taken.” I do what I am called to do each day, and say a little prayer for the rest. As I grew up hearing Andy Stanley say, “Do for one what you can’t do for everyone.”
- Understanding your mental health is imperative.
As some of you know, both Chase and I have been on a journey in understanding our mental health this year. Dealing with this part of my body is something I’ve never experienced. And Chase has his own story to tell. But we have both been learning to listen to our brains, take care of our bodies, and medicate when necessary. Mental health is no joke. The brokenness that mental conditions cause can threaten to destroy.
For the first time this year, I have suffered from medium to high levels of anxiety on a regular basis. I have experienced panic attacks and fatigue, mood swings and irrational fear. And now we have a plan for treatment. We are not ashamed of our mental health stories and as we learn to love each other in the midst, we want you to know that understanding your mental health is essential to your quality of life. It does not make us weak. It does not mean we can’t. It simply means, just like any other health problem, that we need to seek healing.
- Choosing to love is always worth it.
This year we’ve learned that sometimes love centers around an intentional choice. Having friends and family so far away means choosing to take the time to love those we can’t see on a regular basis. And we have been so well loved in others choosing to take the time to reach out. We had to choose to love our enemies when our house was broken into this year and we could have harbored hate for their violating crime. We’ve had to choose to love new things, new people, new places, new circumstances as the year has continued. We’ve had to choose to love each other in commitment to our marriage even on the days when it doesn’t feel good.
But making that choice is always worth it. Building and maintaining relationships, trusting our journey and staying close to each other is always worth it. Jesus chose to love us in the midst of our brokenness, and we must do the same. Loving the ones who hurt us or the marginalized or the ones far away, that takes commitment, dedication, perseverance—it’s a choice. This year we’ve learned how to make that choice more intentionally every day.
Friends, it’s been a good year. It’s been a hard year. It’s been a sweet year. We look back on lessons learned and we’re thankful. And now we move into 2018 expectant, excited and grateful.