Dinner with Kevin

Recently I had a couple of interactions with a few people in the homeless population that left me frustrated with myself. Both times I stumbled around what to say, thoughts circling in my head – what resources could I think of quickly to offer, do I buy food or do something else, do I have the time to sit here and talk, or what do I do? I didn’t have a good answer either time and disliked how I handled both situations. However, after feeling frustrated with myself, I sat and thought through what I could have done better and what I should do if the situation were to come up again (it will). I couldn’t go back and change how situations went, but I can learn and change how I might approach things in the future.

Shortly after these occurrences, Epi, Esteban and I went to Chipotle for dinner. On the corner by where we parked was a man asking for change. We made eye contact and said hello – that was one of the things I made a mental note to myself about prior, look at the person, acknowledge them and their existence. If there is a human being in front of you talking, you shouldn’t just look past and pretend you can’t hear them.

Standing in line at Chipotle, I still felt unsettled. Unbeknownst to me, Epi felt unsettled too; after a few minutes he spoke up and said, “What if we buy that guy dinner…or maybe invite him to eat with us?” And so, Kevin joined us for dinner.

Interestingly, as we’re in line choosing our burrito fillings Epi and I were both asked if we would be dining in or not. Kevin is just asked, “This is to go, right?” “It’s not,” Epi and I both say at the same time, he’s eating here. We sit at a table and I see every person in the restaurant staring at us. Literally, point blank just staring. Feeling uncomfortable with those who are homeless is a common issue it seems. We hold hands in a circle to pray, my son’s tiny hand engulfed by Kevin’s huge hand. We ask Esteban, per the usual, what he wants to thank God for and he points at Kevin. Our meal is fun, we hear Kevin’s story –about his parents, when he moved to Chicago, his current life.

In the end, Kevin carefully packed up the leftover food and put it in his backpack. We walk out of the restaurant together and bid him farewell. People asked us if we referred him to a shelter, we mentioned them but he knew way more about all that than we did. So what was the point we’ll get asked, why eat dinner with him? I think, because he is a human being and we are to see all people as just that – humans. To get to know them, hear their story, and see God in them. It’s easy to be absorbed in one’s life. To shy away from what’s uncomfortable but I don’t think that is okay. Your actions also don’t necessarily need to be classified as helpful. That’s where a lot of problems lie I believe, in the “us” helping “them” attitude. Instead, letting people be seen as people, having a meal together, letting our lives intersect, that’s where real change occurs.


Preeclampsia Awareness

PreeclampsiaThis month is Preeclampsia Awareness Month, which feels timely since I developed severe preeclampsia (and had my sweet boy) in May two years ago.  Prior to being pregnant I didn’t even know about this disease and when I was pregnant didn’t pay much attention to it.  I didn’t fall into any of the risk factor categories and no one I knew ever had it.

Esteban’s birth was hard and scary; you can read more about those details here.  Like is common with preeclampsia, once I developed the disease it became severe fast.  I am thankful it didn’t start until after 40 weeks for me, so when I was induced I didn’t worry about it being too early for my son.  Afterwards, Esteban and I recovered fairly quickly from it all.  Unfortunately this isn’t the case for many women who have preeclampsia.  I’m part of a Facebook support group for women with preeclampsia; reading those stories and updates is sobering.  A lot of women deliver early, babies spend weeks in the NICU, and many lose their children and/or mothers to this disease.  While only affecting 5-8% of pregnancies, globally preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death – responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year (source).

Pregnancy and motherhood have changed me significantly, so did having preeclampsia – physically and emotionally.  This month I am especially thinking and praying for all of the families who have and will be impacted by this disease.


It’s been a month since I had my 29th birthday and set the goal to write more this year.  One of the places I am hoping to bring some of my writing to is this (neglected) blog.

Around my birthday every year, I like to sit down and list goals for the upcoming year. This time I also paused to step back and observe themes that run through my life.  What things do I do, enjoy doing, or even dislike that occur over and over again?  So many I hadn’t paid much attention to but once I actually saw them it made so much sense.

One of the themes I realized maybe I shouldn’t ignore, and instead embrace, is writing. When I was little I’d fill notebooks with stories and thoughts.  If I was upset or frustrated I’d write it out and that seemed to help put my thoughts in better order.  Now as an adult, I often think of ideas to write about things I’d like to get down on paper and process or share with others.  As an adult though, writing suddenly became a little scarier. At least the writing that would be shared with others.  My journals are filled with thoughts and reflections, but sharing bits and pieces with others? Not so much. Maybe it was all the papers I wrote in school that were marked up with red pen that deters me.  Maybe it’s the idea of being an adult and being vulnerable that somehow seem a bit contradictory.

This is why I shy away from blogging. It’s kind of a scary thing.  But what is the name of this blog that I named way back in 2012(!) when I started it?  VidaCourageous.  Living a courageous life has been another theme throughout my life. This shy girl from Nebraska, who pushes herself outside of her comfort zone over and over again, who got the word courage tattooed on her neck just to remind her fear didn’t need to dictate her actions.  This girl has to work hard to do the scary things (as does everyone I think).  So, blogging is kind of scary for me & difficult, but time to push past that fear and just write.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve been on this blog, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite posts from this blog over the years:

My Neighborhood

Friends Within the Enemy

Come Closer

Raising Children Here

Motherhood and Some of its Surprises

Story from the Train

My Neighborhood

Writing about where we live, what we do, life in general here on this blog is sort of a difficult task for me.  It is very important to talk about, and it forms the foundation that a lot of our daily life and activities stem from.  Yet, I wrestle with what to write and how to write each time I try to talk about an aspect of life here.

First, there’s the words to use.  I try not to use the phrase “inner city” very often. I feel it draws up images of poor, dilapidated houses, or when used with children – inner city kids – it puts them in this lower-than category.  I struggle with knowing what sorts of words to use to help convey these topics without writing a paragraph on it each time.  

Our neighborhood is beautiful, it is a Mexican-American neighborhood with many immigrants (often un-documented), first, and second generation Mexican-American families.  Our neighborhood is divided in half by two gangs; there are doubles of a lot of places because of the gangs, one for each side of the neighborhood – two libraries, two McDonalds, two Burger Kings, two Walgreens.  All of this within a four and a half square mile area.

Our neighborhood is next to an African-American neighborhood.  This is the neighborhood where I work.  Churches here sometimes do activities with our church.  While the culture is different in each neighborhood, the struggles are similar.  Both neighborhoods are poor, they have high rates of crime, high rates of public health issues, and the pain that comes with these.

With all this said, I never want the negative points mentioned above to be the focus.  I do not want to talk about how we live in a poor, high crime neighborhood because it is so much more than that and as soon as I describe it that way the good things get pushed to the side.  The struggle is that those hard parts of the neighborhood are an important proponent of the neighborhood and living here and so they get mentioned often.  I can’t speak well on what my husband or I do without talking about those negatives.

Same with the youth in the neighborhood; they are beautiful, they have all sorts of hope and dreams.  I want people to see that, to not focus on the negatives or the stereotypes of what kids in our neighborhood are like.  Again though, the negatives are very real.  They are why my husband has a job.  When we have youth over to our home, when Epi runs softball leagues or I meet with the girls I mentor we see the beautiful and work to cultivate and help it grow.  We battle the negatives though, we step into situations that are hard and can sometimes be scary. Those things are very real.  There are two gangs that fight back and forth, the schools in our neighborhood are not great , homes are often not safe spaces for youth to go home to when the day is over.

It’s hard.  When I meet other Chicagoans in a context outside of our home and work and we talk about where I live I try to describe our neighborhood with its positives.  I often get a look of amazement, “Where is this neighborhood? I’ve never heard of it!”  When I describe the location or give the name I see the recognition come across their face.  “Oh, I would never go to that neighborhood. I can’t believe you live there.” Is often the response I get.  Or, once, “Isn’t that neighborhood really shady?”

So this is my struggle.  How do I share both sides with you, my readers, without allowing the negatives to cast such large shadows over the positives but also realistically show the challenges the neighborhood faces?  I’m not sure.

I also struggle with my perspective.  I see and hear a lot.  I’m allowed into very sacred spaces of people’s homes and lives.  I also am white, I didn’t grow up here, and have access to many resources those around me do not.  I try my hardest to understand and sit in a spot of humility and listening, realizing I’m an outsider.

I hope though as I write different posts you give me grace.  Grace as I find the words to explain things, grace as I share my perspective on topics.  I do not think I’m better than those around me, that I have all sorts of answers and solutions, nor do I want to be toted as this person sacrificing so much by living here.  

Right now my husband and I are called to be in this neighborhood, to love and work and learn and raise our family here.  I am always learning though, always growing.  I hope you will learn and grow along with me.

{Mama Mondays} Teething Helps

Teething is rough.  Painful enough that banging one’s head against the wall feels better than what is going on in the mouth.  At least that’s what my son’s actions are telling me.  Esteban cut his first two teeth when he was 2 ½ months old (!), then five teeth came in all at once a few months later.  Now, Esteban is cutting eight teeth (4 canines and 4 molars) and it is rough!

I thought I would share a few of the things I’ve found helpful during the intense teething times:91pMLN6hX9L._SL1500_

-Hylands teething tablets and gel – we use the teething tablets quite a bit and gel every once in a while.

811bRzA-6bL._SL1500_Baltic Amber Teething Necklace – Esteban wears this almost every day, although we take it off during naptimes and bedtime.  Baltic amber is resin from fossil resin from pine trees.  As it warms up on the skin is slowly releases succinic acid that works as a natural analgesic (pain reliever), it’s also known to provide calming effects and support the immune system* (source).  Wearing the necklace seems to help take the edge off of the pain, although it never seems to take the pain away completely for us.

-Cold wash cloths – I put a wet washcloth in the freezer for just a couple of minutes and give it to Esteban to naw on.

-Watermelon, smoothies, and other cold foods – Anything cool to help ease the pain!

-Sophie the Giraffe teethers – big and little; I mentioned this in my favorites of the first year post but wanted to mention it here too.  Sophie is our best friend and goes everywhere.71-ZnM0UcwL._SL1450_

Bach’s Rescue Remedy for Kids – helps the body with stress and seems to help Esteban feel better and calm down/be less fussy.  I also use this when Esteban is getting sick and love it!

-Essential Oils – lavender, copaiba, and clove on his feet are my favorites.

Those are my main go to’s for teething help.  What do you use?  Anything else that’s not on my list that you have found especially helpful?

*source one & two

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{Mama Mondays}: List of Baby Favorites


On this Mama Monday I thought I’d share items I especially used and enjoyed during Esteban’s first year.

  • Co-sleeper – We co-slept with E until he was 6 months. I loved this since it kept him right next to me but not in the bed where his daddy could squish him.
  • Infantino Activity Gym – Lots of tummy time was spent here. Also, the mobile was Infantino Play MatE’s favorite thing for months, he would talk away to the flying butterflies (which gave me time to make myself some lunch or get dressed!).
  • Little Unicorn Diaper bag – Originally I bought a cute backpack from Forever21 for E’s diaper bag. After a while though it started to fall apart and I realized having lots of pockets and compartments is helpful when you only have one hand to rummage through the bag with.
  • little unicornMoby Wrap – I love baby wearing! The Moby wrap was my favorite carrier until E became too heavy for it.
  • Spit-Up/Burp cloths –because of E’s acid reflux we used these all the time!! This one is my favorite as it absorbs a lot quickly and works as a bib also.
  • Aden and Anias Swaddling Blankets – We swaddled E a lot in the beginning, these were the best blankets I found for getting a secure swaddle.DarkBlue-Stars-1
  • Dribble bibs – Between spit up and drooling E has worn these every day since his first month. I especially like the “bandanna style,” they seem less obnoxious as regular bibs and still do the job.
  • Munchkin White Sound machine – Living on a busy street and in a small apartment, we use white noise whenever E is sleeping. This noise machine is a great price and has a lot of sound options as well as a projector with little pictures to look at.
  • Nose Frida – Gross in theory but awesome in getting the job done.
  • Cloth diapers – I have a love hate relationship with our cloth diapers. They save us lots of money and I like that we’re not creating tons of garbage.  However, they leak once they get too full. Usually by the time we realize it, E needs both a diaper and a pant change.
  • Diaper Pail and Reusable Diaper Pail Liner
  • Sophie the Giraffe – I was a little dubious about Sophie, she is such a trendy toy I wasn’t sure if she was actually going to be as great as I kept hearing.  Sophie though is one of E’s favorite toys (and can be seen in most pictures with E), perfect for chewing and holding. We also like the mini version!
  • This website for making my own baby food.  So helpful and such tasty food. Baby-Banana-Bendable-Training-Toothbrush-Infant-0-1
  • Baby Toothbrush – Brushing teeth is one of E’s favorite activities. I bought this tooth brush because it was cute and I liked that Esteban couldn’t shove it too far in.  E just loves it.  🙂
  • Ergo – What I use now for baby wearing. Esteban and I go on walks each day with it and often when he’s having crabby or clingy moments (or hours!) I put him in the Ergo.
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Little Red Bird

Towards the end of my pregnancy I was up a lot during the night, at 3am every morning a bird would start singing the most beautiful tune.  Hearing him sing to world was comforting.  Being up during the night feels lonely, hearing that little guy though made me feel like I wasn’t alone.  After Esteban was born, being up through the night continued as did the bird’s singing.  I’d be up feeding Esteban when suddenly I’d hear the familiar song and without looking at the clock I knew it was 3a.  I wasn’t by myself any longer, my friend was awake too.

Winter came, the windows shut, and birds flew south.  I forgot about the bird.  House-Finch-in-SummerWithin the past month the weather here has warmed considerably and I put a bird feeder outside of our kitchen window.  I didn’t even think about the bird, more just about bringing a little more nature to our urban home.  I wanted Esteban to see something other than pigeons in the alley picking at garbage.

Shortly after hanging the feeder I heard the familiar song, this time much closer than I was used to.  Peeking through the blinds I saw a little red finch sitting on our deck’s rail with his head thrown back, his chest puffed out, and his mouth belting out a beautiful tune.  Now, he is at our bird feeder throughout the day and if he’s not at the feeder or on our deck he’s on a wire nearby singing away.

Having this little guy nearby has been such fun company to have.  Esteban and I watch him through the window, enjoy his singing, and say hello when we head out on our walk.  I love nature and often miss seeing much of it living in the city.  This little finch has been such a gift to us!

{photo credit}

Motherhood and Some of Its Surprises

In light of Mother’s Day this past Sunday and my son’s first birthday (!) this Sunday I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about being a mama to this little boy.  First I must say being a mother is the most intense, hardest thing I have ever done.  If you know me, you know I’ve done a lot of intense, hard things in my life so I don’t just throw that statement out there flippantly.  Birthday InviteBUT, I wouldn’t trade being Esteban’s mama for anything.  You hear so much of that gushy stuff from mothers – It’s the best job, their children are the best thing that happened to them, and they love, love being a mother.  The truth is all of that is so true, but it actually holds such a deeper meaning, one that is difficult to put into words.

Reflecting on the past year of being a mother, there were a lot of surprises along the way.  I thought I’d share a few with you all.

A few things I have been surprised by –

  • How selfish I am! Whew, I am reminded so often how often my actions and wants are fueled by ME. Having a baby shines a giant spotlight into that area in my life.  It’s almost like I had to break up with myself when Esteban was born.  All the things I used to love that I needed to give up was daunting and a bit disorienting.  You’re in this intense spot of life giving everything you have – energy, time, sleep, food – for this little one and most of the things I had prior to help with intense periods I couldn’t do/use/have.  I couldn’t stop what I was doing when it felt like too much and just go read a book or watch tv or eat some chocolate.  I couldn’t even really drink coffee to fuel my exhaustion.
  • Being this raw, intense space though taught (and still teaches) me so much about myself and pushed me to God in a way I had never experienced before. I remember shortly after Esteban was born a friend asked me what I had been studying in my quiet time and what I had been learning.  I paused, trying to rifle through my fuzzy brain to even recall when I last sat and read the Bible, journaled, and prayed.  All of that felt so long ago.  I felt guilty I hadn’t done any of that in weeks.  Then I realized how much my heart had been in this constant state of depending on God – for wisdom with Esteban, for strength when little man woke up 2 minutes after I fell asleep, etc.  No I hadn’t had a “devotional time” in weeks, but I had been learning and growing in huge ways.
  • How quickly time goes by each day. I look at the clock thinking it’s somewhere around 2 and Suddenly it’s 5!
  • How much I enjoy doing things for Esteban – whether is making his baby food, reading him books, or planning little outings for us. Thinking through what to incorporate into his days is so fun for me.
  • How people focus on your baby instead of you. As soon as Esteban was born everyone’s focus was on him.  This I understood, little babes are cute and new and so very special.  But this continued, friends didn’t introduce me to others as they used to.  No longer was I Liz Diaz, works at a non-profit health center and mentors girls, likes to read, etc. I was introduced as Liz Diaz, she is a mom.  This was a hard adjustment, because I love being a mom (see point above this one), so I felt guilty for not liking that kind of introduction but I also felt so unseen.  I’m still that person I used to be, I just am also a mom now.
  • My mama bear side. I am a pretty non-confrontational person; I’m introverted and generally can go with the flow on most things.  Unless, apparently, it threatens my son in any way, shape or form.  There have been a few times when my son’s safety was threatened and my mama bear side roared to life without me realizing it.  I am direct, firm, and sometimes use a few choice words if necessary. Always after the fact I am surprised not by my boldness abut how normal it seems to have that side of me.
  • How mind-blowing it is to watch a little one develop. It’s no wonder every parent thinks their child is a genius.  To watch this tiny, flailing newborn grow into a little boy in just a year is amazing.  Every new thing Esteban does I am so excited about.  I call Epi to share in full detail what new thing Esteban did and we both are thrilled.  Later I realize that skill, while very impressive, is also right on course with what he’s supposed to be doing at that age.  So amazing yes.  Genius?  Probably not.
  • How terrifying it is to have someone’s life depend on you. The first two weeks of Esteban’s life, I though every morning, “we did it.  We kept him alive another day!”  Even now, I still pause and think about the weight of all the responsibility we have been given to care for this little one’s heart, mind, body, and soul.  What a terrifying gift!

What a year it has been with this little guy of ours.  I’m so excited to celebrate him on Sunday and see the next year unfold.

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{Daily Life Wednesdays}: What I’m Reading

Since my last “What I’m Reading” post here is what I’ve read:

1.  Chasing FrancisChasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

This was kind of a weird book and not something I liked a lot, except there was a small part towards the beginning that had a big impact on a part of my life I was wrestling through.  If it were not for that portion though I don’t think I would have made it through the book.  It felt fake and that it would appeal more to the upper class, mega church kind of crowd.

Furious Longing of God2.  The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

I enjoy Brennan Manning’s works and liked this book as well.  A good reminder of God’s character and who I am as his child.

3. Antelope in the Living Room The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle

A humorous book on marriage with some good reminders and new ideas sprinkled throughout.  This is probably not a book I’d read over and over but I enjoyed it!

4.  Show Me the WayShow Me the Way by Henri Nouwen

A series of Lenten devotions by Nouwen that were a good acompanyment to the devotions my husband and I read through during the season of Lent.  Definitely something I will return to in future Lenten seasons.

5.  Life Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō

This book has a lot of hype around it, and while parts are a little kooky (she talks about listening to each article you own and what it says to you and making sure you tell it thank you after using it each time), it’s a fast read and it really inspired me to do some thorough cleaning and simplifying in our home.

6.  Missional MomMissional Mom by Helen Lee (in progress)

I’m not quite done with this book, but wanted to include it in this list since I’m so close to being done.  It’s an excellent book for mom’s to read and has helped me a lot as I’ve struggled through what being a mom looks like paired with doing ministry in our neighborhood and using other skills I have.

{photo credit: Amazon}

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{Daily Life Wednesdays}: Family Life Update

Photo Apr 15, 11 50 46 AMA brief update on what’s been going on in our lives since the last update in January:Photo Apr 11, 2 21 04 PM

Esteban:  turns 11 months old on Friday, which is just crazy to me.  “The days are long, the years are short” has never rang more true.  He is such a personable little guy; he loves to greet all people and especially loves being around other kids.  Esteban pulls himself up to standing and loves to walk around with the help of our fingers to give him some balance.  Esteban also loves figuring out how things fit together – he has these little bath toys that he takes the lid off and then screws it back on.  With the nicer weather Esteban and I take lots of walks together and often go to the park to swing.

Photo Apr 15, 11 48 24 AMEpi:  has been especially busy with his running club – five of the boys are registered to run a half marathon in July so he has been working hard to get sponsorship for shirts, registration fees, running gear, etc.  He has gotten a lot of support both from individuals as well as organizations which is very encouraging.  Epi is gearing up to coach a soccer league which will begin in a couple of weeks and has been working hard with everything else for work as well.

Me:  The end of last month I had the privilege to be present for one of my mentees give birth to her son.  He is a cute little guy.  It has been a lot of fun to walk alongside her while she goes through the newborn phase of life again (she has a 4-year-old daughter as well), and give lots of snuggles to the little man.  The other girl I mentor is graduating from high school in June so we’ve been working hard to get things in order for her to start college and get a job.  The rest of my time when I’m not at work is spent with Esteban which is always a lot of fun.

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