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So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

As LCC Staff/Faculty depart, they are presented with a beautiful embroidered sash -- a traditional Lithuanian gift. Thank you to student-photographer Evaldas Daugintis for the beautiful photo featuring my "turkey timer."

Going into "Farwell Mode"

You don't have to know me well to know that I'm not exactly a musical fan. Please don't try to change my mind-- no matter how many times I attempt to enjoy 'The Sound of Music,' 'Into the Woods,' or *gasp* 'Rent' I just can't find myself humming along. However, God has a sense of humor and has placed a certain nauseating chorus into my brain and I can't seem to get it out. So for those of you who can't get enough of their beloved Rogers and Hammerstein, here you go:

This song has been on cerebral repeat as we prepare to end our time at LCC International University. These past four years of missionary service have been equally challenging and rewarding and it's clear that God has been preparing us for what is next [read more about that here].

You can't, however, begin your next big adventure without concluding the current one well.
Our calendar has been filled recently with the usual farewell parties and gatherings that you would expect from an academic institution. We've been blessed to say our "proper goodbyes" to the colleagues, students, and friends with whom we've shared our lives.

These 'goodbyes' will culminate on Saturday with the Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies at LCC. It's more than just an "Auf Wiedersehen" to these students -- it's kind of like our graduation, too. When we arrived on campus four years ago, we joined the ranks of the class of 2016. While we won't be crossing the stage and receiving a diploma -- although that would be awesome -- we too have experienced the growth and wisdom that comes with four years of international life while here in Klaipeda.

These students arrived as freshmen with us and will soon graduate, with many leaving Lithuania behind as they embark on their next journey. We've seen them grow from the oblivious first-year students who always, and I mean ALWAYS, set off the fire alarm in Neumann Hall into wise and experienced leaders ready to tackle the world. We've laughed together, cried together, and built a bond that will long outlast our time on campus. Through both the tough conversations and happy memories, their lives will forever be interwoven with ours. 
A few snapshots from the year. It's hard to believe a few of these guys will be walking across the stage on Saturday!
To the LCC Class of 2016: Thank you for helping shape Josh and me into the missionaries we are today and the people who are not only ready to tackle our next missionary posting in Spain, but also PARENTHOOD!

Baby Baby (i'm taken with the notion, to love you with the sweetest devotion)

Josh constructed a "Sidecar Sleeper" - handtools only.
OK, that's clearly an attempt to switch earworms from my current 'Sound of Music' tune to one of Josh's favorite artists - Amy Grant. You'll have to ask Josh all about his childhood love affair with a certain cassette tape to get the full story on that one.

We're clocking in at 38 weeks and three days, so this little guy could make his appearance any time. The only thing we know for certain is how much we don't know. I think accepting that fact as first-time-parents-to-be is an important step. We have, however, done our research, read the baby and breastfeeding books, and attended birthing class. 

We'll even tour the Klaipeda Birthing Center on Friday with our doctor. (Yes, we're having the baby in Klaipeda. No, we're not worried -- babies are born here every day.).

We're stocked up and ready with all the baby essentials. The hospital bags are packed (to include TP and a tea cup) and the infant car seat has been installed. Thankfully, through the generosity of friends, we've had to spend very little to outfit the nursery for the incoming "Roni" and many of these things will remain in Klaipeda to bless the next baby to arrive on LCC's campus after we've long gone.
If you are looking for ways to support us as we anticipate the arrival of our first child, here are a few suggestions:
  • We'll be stateside in a few short months, so consider delaying shipping any baby gifts. This will prevent us from having to pack them back into suitcases and check them when we fly across the Atlantic later this year. We'll have time scheduled in both the Midwest and Arizona so you'll be able to meet our new addition and we can celebrate together in person.
  • We'll have considerable resettlement expenses when we are back in the US to fundraise for our next adventure. Consider one of these options: 
    • Make a deposit into our personal US Bank Account (JP Morgan Chase). Email us directly for information about this --
    • Consider a gift card. These will surely come in handy when we are back stateside.
    • Hold on for a little bit longer. We'll be sharing details about how to make donations through Mennonite Mission Network for our next missionary placement in Spain shortly.
  • If you are in the Klaipeda area, consider helping us out with meals / laundry / house-hold chores / sanity breaks after the baby is born. 
More than anything, please support us with prayers. The love will surely be felt across the miles. I must continually remind myself that this is a high-risk pregnancy. With two past miscarriages and my age, we were already in the danger zone. Add to that Gestational Diabetes, anemia and Strep B we know that we're in for an uphill battle in the delivery room. We hope to have a natural birth, but recognize that the baby's health will come first.

Please pray that when the "D-Day" comes, that we have the patience and grace to manage our next big adventure as best as we can -- in God's timing and not in our own.

A very special goodbye gift presented by the Student Life Department on Tuesday. This custom woodcut plaque includes the emblem of our favorite pub in Klaipeda-- Herkus Kantas. Our "home away from home" that includes so many special memories for us like Christmas / birthday / anniversary meals, staff who became like family laughing and crying with us through difficult times, very important tests, visits with friends from the US and Spain, concerts, innumerable delicious beers, and the naming of our son (no spoilers)! This place will be sorely missed when we leave Lithuania in a few short months.



Baby Announcement: It's a...

For those who have been patiently awaiting the news on whether or not we are expecting a little boy or a little girl, the wait is over. Before we do the big reveal, however, we'd like to express a few feelings pink vs. blue (not to be confused with Red vs. Blue) onslaught we're anticipating. 

Where are the cars? The soccer balls? The dinosaurs?! 
Ever since Josh and I confirmed our third pregnancy, it's been hard to not drift into the baby section of the local shops. The racks and shelves are filled with so many cute onsies, booties, and baby bric-a-brac that is clearly FOR BOYS ONLY or FOR GIRLS ONLY.

Today was a milestone doctor's visit where we were to learn things such as the baby's due date and gender. First off, it's indescribable to explain how it feels making it this far into a pregnancy after our first two losses. We've fully let our minds embrace our future as parents and it is exciting.

That said, the excitement to learn the gender has been partnered with a sense of mild dread: "What if we are gifted with exclusively pink or blue for baby Garber #1?"

Living in Lithuania has exposed us to a strict gender divide you can find in many post-soviet countries. Boys are boys and girls are girls and that's that. Boys have trucks and girls have dolls. Boys wear blue and girls wear pink. 

It seems that there is no in-between and requesting "gender neutral" colors is out of the question. 

Don't get us wrong -- we are extremely appreciative of any gifts and support we have received so far and may continue to receive. But at this point, all we want is a healthy "Roni" with ten fingers, ten toes and a cute little nose -- it doesn't matter which gender box they check on their future FASFA forms.

This is not just liberal ideology, either -- this is who we are. Despite his glorious beard, Josh is not the stereotypical male. He likes creating art, cooking, rejects violence, and doesn't eat meat. And I'm certainly not the picture of femininity! I love watching sports and getting rowdy, a good action movie, and know my away around under the hood of a car.

This short comic about the most recent trend in LEGOs sums things up pretty well.

To be clear, we do not intend to raise our future little one to be gender neutral. However, we want to emphasize the importance of developing character and an independent voice and teach that your value does not come from if you are the best football player or if your doll has the best accessories. 

We're taking some advice from a wise friend and make the following request: If you choose to help out, we would like gifts with gender-neutral colors so that we can use them on future Garbers, regardless of gender.

We're thrifty Mennonite missionaries and this is what we need the most -- not a barrage of princess castles or Tonka Trucks. Kids don't care, regardless of their biological gender and neither do we.

On to Business

Let us proclaim that today's visit was a great one. The baby is coming in at 556 grams (about 1.22 pounds) at 22 weeks and 5 days, placing our estimated due date on May 17, 2016!

The heartbeat is strong and, unlike it's Mama, this wee one is sneaky. This is the second ultrasound where baby "Roni" is using the placenta for a blanket -- making it difficult to see certain...areas. :) 

If you've enjoyed the 2005 animated film "Robots," you may recall this memorable scene (see
image on the right). After the "assembly process" was complete, the robot parents found one extra part in the box...after a swift swing of the hammer, their baby was complete.

In the same spirit, we're excited to announce that baby Garber is a BOY (no hammer required).

Thank you to everyone that has held Josh and me in your prayers as we have struggled with starting a family. We are by no means at the finish line yet, but everything is healthy to this point -- with a little extra anatomy.

To quote our OBGYN, "If it's not a boy, I'll be surprised.

Our next check-up in February will include blood tests to check for the potential of gestational diabetes and other routine things. 

To continue the spirit of thriftiness, don't be surprised if you get a call like this one sometime mid-May...


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There's so much to be thankful for.

School is back in session. The students have returned from their holiday travels. The campus of LCC International University is buzzing. Our calendars are filling up already with events, celebrations, meetings and other tasks. As I sit in my office, working on budget updates, discipline reports, and other important emails my mind can't help but drift off to the fabulous holiday we had away from the LCC campus. 

Josh and I had the tremendous privilege of having friends from the United States visit us from December 24 through December 30. Natalie and Bryan flew in on Christmas Eve and we set out to tour as much of Lithuania and Latvia as humanly possible in seven short days.

Although the journey was long (by kilometer), it was not tiresome. It's too bad that we couldn't travel like my friends The Muppets - by map. That would have made things much faster... Check out our journey!
Insert Mennonite inside joke here.
This tour took Josh and I from Klaipeda to Vilnius, from Vilnius to Riga Latvia, from Riga to Klaipeda, from Klaipeda back to Vilnius, from Vilnius to Moletai, from Moletai to Kaunus and from Kaunus back home to Klaipeda. That's 1,606 KM for those who keep track of such things. Praise God that the travel blessings flowed freely through our trip. It was not without it's hiccups, or shady bus situations, but we always felt warm and safe, but also a little bit like human ping pong balls (excuse me, Table Tennis balls - just in case Evan Oswald reads this). 

We bundled up and toured churches, took photos, stayed in fun hostels, ate a LOT (mostly cheese and dried meats), sampled local beers, pet dogs (using my Lithuanian language skills), and had an all around superb time. Here are some photos from our adventures!

Natalie delivered Christmas goodies - she knew just what I wanted!
On Christmas, we climbed the Vilnius "Pilis" and enjoyed a snowy day of sightseeing.
The holiday meal was followed by an evening of pub games at "Spunka," recommended by our Klaipedian friend Kipras.
Once we arrived in Klaipeda, Josh facilitated a "Concert for Friends" at Herkas Kantas - our favorite local pub. Friends Kel and Inga also performed.
"Let it snow, let it snow let it snow!" sings Josh!

After dropping Natalie and Bryan back off in Vilnius on December 30, we went to Moletai to ring in the New Year with our friend and student, Julija, and her family.This was a party to remember as we joined with Julija's Moletai church to celebrate the New Year with worship songs, bible quizzes, 2 meter long sparklers, home-made cepelinai (here's the process if you are brave enough) and a pet bunch of awesome cows on the dairy farm. A baby cow named Schumacher even licked me. The hospitality we experience in Moletai was unbelievable-- I think I am still full from all the delicious meals and tea. It was great.

A quick tour of Moletai before leaving for Klaipeda.

When our journey finally ended, and we were back in Klaipeda, we were greeted by several letters, Christmas cards, and two special packages. It is always a great pleasure to receive mail here in Lithuania. I am particularly touched by all the people that take time out of their busy lives "back home" to think of us while we serve abroad. I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting mail, so it's always a special surprise to see what arrives -- especially during the holiday season.  

Cards and letters from loved ones afar.
On the same day we got two packages! One from our Trinity Family and a package from my sister Alison and her husband Zach!

A beautiful letter, lovely scarf and other goodies from Alison.
Josh loves his Christmas Present!

That's right, more Cheez-Its from both Trinity and Ali. No, I can NEVER have too many of these.
We might be able to hang this stocking with care from the TOP of the chimney.
Thank you for all your thoughtful notes and kind words.
After all these grand travels, amazing visitors, lovely letters and surprise packages, it's easy to see that we have a lot to be grateful for. Entering into our next season at LCC, we now feel replenished, refreshed and rejuvenated to tackle the challenges ahead. Thank you for sending love and prayers from afar!

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This year's Christmas band, led by Josh, dressed in traditional clothes from countries represented at LCC to symbolize the world coming together to celebrate Christ's birth.
Alisha wrote and directed the Christmas program, featuring the cutest Mary
and Joseph ever! It also spawned locally trending hashtags
#babyking and
also #ItsTooWonderful.
Our Fall Semester at LCC International University has come to a close. The students have finished their classes, the finals are complete and we are adjusting to the slower pace. 

In the past weeks, Josh and I have been quite engaged with holiday parties, Christmas Programs, final chapels, Angel Tree Project, Student Leader appreciation parties, data tracking, invoice input, employee reviews and semester end evaluations, not to mention the budget conversion to Euro that will hit on January 1! 

Check out this video about the 2014 LCC Christmas Program and Fair made by LCC Student Mykola Kutola from Rivne, Ukraine:

Sometimes we smile even though it's
hard. Our blessings are great and team
Garber feels your prayers.
In all of this busyness, it's been difficult to focus on the recent tragedy that hit us last month. Too many appointments, meetings, reports, emails and action-items to reflect on the loss we endured in November. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, check out this blog post.)

For those of you who were wondering, our visit to Dr. Odetta on December 8 was a reassuring one.  Although it didn't provide any answers, it did open doors to more information. I've been referred out to a hematologist and geneticist. These appointments will happen some time in the new year.

I finally had a few moments to myself this morning and had time to think about the loss of our second child, and found peace in knowing that although I am not "great with child," Mary was. Even though we are not expecting a baby of our own, we can wait patiently for the birth of Jesus to be celebrated on December 25. 

I must remember that Jesus doesn't come wrapped in twinkling lights and satin bows; He comes straight into our pitchest black. And our God, He knows the comings and goings of our darkest days and roughest personal battles, and this is exactly where He meets us.

I need the grace and peace of Jesus in this season of my life, more than ever.Isaiah 40:31 says: "...but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

Alisha and Natalie wearing awesome hats approximately
751 years ago.
I'm happy that Christmas is coming... and so are our friends Natalie Mast and Bryan Howard from Phoenix! 

Natalie and Bryan will be our first visitors in Lithuania and they arrive tomorrow (Christmas Eve). We'll pick them up in the Vilnius Airport and show them around Lithuania and Latvia, sharing the Christmas season, until they depart on December 30. We are so excited. This is truly something to celebrate. #ItsTooWonderful

I wish for you and your families to have a peaceful and loving holiday season as you celebrate the birth of the #babyking. May you be blessed in the coming 2015.



What do you say when you can't find the words?

It is with deep sadness I write to you all. There are certain things in life that are difficult to express; things so hard that words do not convey the matters of the heart. This is one of those occasions.

Josh and I suffered a second miscarriage last week. Last April when we experienced the first loss, it was traumatic, but we were reassured that “it's common” and “it happens more than you think” – both things are true, but not exactly comforting.

This time, however, it hit a bit harder. Losing a second baby somehow cuts deeper and causes me to ask unfair questions like, "What have I done wrong to deserve this?" or, "What have I done to make God angry?" or, even worse, think things like, "I wouldn't be a good mother anyway."

This loss makes me question many things, but I must trust that God has a plan and that I must defer to God’s hopes for us. To be honest, the thought of God’s promises doesn't always motivate me to get up off the couch, or provide relief from the constant ache of my muscles, or give a sense of calm during social situations when I simply want to sit down and disengage, but it does provide the release that NOT ALL THINGS ARE IN MY CONTROL.

You don’t have to know me well to know that I like order and prefer to do things "by the book." I’m a planner and a list-maker.

Through this process of loss, I have to accept that there are things that I cannot possibly manipulate to go my way. I must shamefully admit that my prayer life is terrible. Because of my controlling nature, I’m the last one to "give it up to God in prayer" but I must now lay it all down before the Lord and release these stresses and second-guesses, trusting that God has a plan.

I can find peace in knowing that I have hundreds of awesome “kids” already -- the students live on
LCC’s campus. They are passionate and curious, seeking and learning and growing every day.

Never ceasing to amaze me, they have come around Josh and me though this difficult time offering their own kinds of support. The students and staff of this place show their care by dropping off a simple note of encouragement, a treat left at my office or in my mailbox, and even coming to our apartment to cook a meal. Let me publicly say thank you to those who have reached out with care, support, love and prayers. You have all helped us to begin walking the path of healing.
Flowers, cards, food, teddy bears and more flowers from dear friends at LCC.

Rest assured that we have not suffered through this process, in a foreign country, alone. Our dear friend Ilona Bertasiute has been our fearless guide, translator, appointment maker, compassionate advocate, supportive companion and all-around irreplaceable pal.

Ilona has come with us to every appointment and sat with Josh as I underwent surgery last week. Ilona's mother has even joined the case and assisted with requesting medical records from my last stay in the hospital. In these times of deep anxiety, when being "away from home" is most difficult, we realize where "home" truly is... here in Klaipeda surrounded by our new community who can hold us up when our own legs cannot. I thank God for Ilona's friendship.

I ask that you hold Josh and me in prayer as we pursue information regarding these failed pregnancies. I will have a follow-up visit with my OBGYN next week on Monday, December 8.

She is a lovely Lithuanian woman named Odeta who speaks English and works at the city’s fertility clinic. She is confident that we can find a solution and will again conceive as soon as my mind and body have healed.

Please pray for Josh and me, for Dr. Odeta and for God’s discernment as we enter into the next months of uncertainty.

I pray for hope and for the energy to survive the busy season ahead.