30 December 2016

Looking past or really seeing

I was walking from a parking lot just up the road to a center where I was having a meeting recently. It was bitterly cold, a fierce wind blew more than gusted, and even bundled up, I was freezing. I usually love winter weather. After years of living in the Sahel, I appreciate… even relish… actually being cold. I know; it’s a bit strange. Yet as I was hoofing it that morning, I yearned for a transporter that would allow me to instantly teleport back to the oft sweltering heat of West Africa.

The silver lining?

Brilliant arctic blue colored the skies, cotton ball clouds dotted that wide expanse, and the sun radiated a dazzling, blinding glow that bounced everywhere, momentarily blinding as it reflected off the snow covering the neighborhood. It was a beautiful winter morning! Living in Quebec, sunlight is a commodity to be treasured during the long hours of seasonal darkness.

I noticed something that morning. Sunlight is powerful. Incredibly powerful, in fact. That morning, it was well below 0’F (-18’C) and I had refused to look at the wind chill because I just really didn’t want to know. Yet sunshine was still melting snow. Frozen patches of ice had small streams of water flowing toward storm drains, even surrounded by all of that frigidity. It didn’t seem physically possible.

In that moment, the thought crossed my mind that this is not only true of sunshine, but also of “sonshine.”...

Please join me at A Life Overseas, where I'm posting today, to read the rest! Hope to see you there.

29 November 2016

YES! I did it!

I REALLY don't like talking on the phone, for any reason, ever. Not even with family and close friends. I can do it, I don't sound freaked out and usually don't stumble over my words. I even leave coherent messages on answering machines. But given the choice between talking to someone in person, texting, fb messaging or email... or making a phone call - I will NEVER choose the phone call. 

My husband doesn't get that, not at all. So, sometimes I have one other avoidance option - I get him to make the necessary phone call for me!

He usually rolls his eyes and sighs big... and then does that little service for me, because he loves me!

When you add the complication of trying to make a phone call in French - well, I can become a world champion procrastinator...

Several months ago, I decided I decided it was time to start looking for ways to volunteer, outside of my church or a Christian school, in my local community - wherever that might be. It was one of those New Year's resolutions from a few years back - before we left Niger for home assignment. I had been convicted of my furloughing introvertedness:  when home from Africa (our place of service, at that time), I'd literally quarantine myself within the Christian community. I couldn't... didn't... do that for four year chunks while in Niger; I figured I had that right and I had justified it by my very real need need to rest, recharge and rebuild. 

January 2013, I realized that MY "reasonings" were hogwash - and simply excuses for me to avoid ministry and give in to my nature that is perfectly content at home, not talking to or interacting with people, except on MY terms. In fact, I was convicted that my "self-fulfillment" in that sense was nothing less than sin.

So, I made that resolution and by God's grace... and a few friends and family members who help keep me accountable... I've actually followed through and maintained this practice for a significant chunk of time - volunteering at a Pregnancy Resource Center and at a wildlife rehabilitation center while back in Michigan. 

Then we moved.

It was easy to get involved in our church, Christian school and the studio ministry - for the obvious reason: THAT was why we came to Quebec - to encourage Jesus followers here and to hopefully encourage others to become Jesus followers.

Finding ways to get involved in our communities, outside the Christian communities, however, has taken a little bit of time.

Tori gave the first accountability nudge, without even realizing it! We hadn't even been here a month, I was still unpacking boxes, and she began begging to find out if there was a wildlife rehabilitation center in our area. She loved working at the A.R.K while back in Michigan (and usually requests the possibility of a shift or two when we are back in town for vacations). We did find a place to volunteer - only they only needed help from April to September. We contacted them in October. I left my name and contact information - and hoped to hear from them the following spring.

I was content to let the volunteering stay on the back burner until April - I was starting to experience the full impact of plunging 6 kids at once into a non-maternal language school system, and homework not only felt overwhelming; we were drowning in it. But Tim kept telling me about a guy he worked with at the studio, an older gentleman that volunteered, working with kids after school to do their homework. He kept saying I'd be good at something like that. That wasn't the direction I really wanted to go. I was doing enough French homework with MY OWN kids! About that same time, a refugee family (from Congo by way of Burundi) started attending our church. The idea of helping refugees sounded a lot better than homework, and the arrival of Syrian refugees was all over the news. 

So I looked on line and found a center that coordinates volunteers, filled out the application, went in for an interview, had my police check and thought I'd see lots of opportunities to help welcome newcomers to the Belle Province. Except there were none of those opportunities listed, at least none that I found. 

So I started to sign up for one-shot opportunities, to at least dip my big toe into the water and test the temperature.

I'll never forget my first volunteer experience here in Quebec. It was helping with a 5K cross country up near the military base. All the other women who looked to be about my age got to stand around and hand out bottles of water as runners passed their table. I was recruited with the 20-something crowd (Really people? Can't you see the gray roots and wrinkles?) to run up a mountain and then stand there all morning, cheering and directing runners to follow the race/right path. I stood right next to a sign that warned of the prolific presence of black bears in the area. I was a little nervous most of the morning.

Would I do it again? Possibly... ah... probably.

Tori and I did hear back from the wildlife rehab center - and volunteered there, averaging 1-2 shifts/week throughout the rehabbing season this past spring and summer. We are both looking forward to returning next spring. It is funny how in serving and caring for animals, I get an opportunity to serve, care for and love people who are passionate about wildlife and the environment.

But I knew that would be coming to an end with the beginning of a new school year...

So, I finally decided to take a peer counseling training course, thinking I could get involved that way. The first session was offered over the summer, while we were traveling - so I registered for the one slated to begin in the fall. I received my certificate in October, and am officially signed up as a trained volunteer with the "Maison de la Famille" as a peer counselor.

But what does all that have to do with using a telephone... the subject with which I started stream-of-conscious-ing way back at the beginning of this post?

Well, I picked peer counseling because it is something done in person. No one told me, until I was already signed up and given a client to contact - that THAT FIRST CONTACT was done by phone.


Today - after much fear, trepidation, procrastination and finally, prayer - I made the call.

I was able to understand and be understood.

And I've set up my first actual meeting.


Not just celebrating my phone call,
but the success my football team has experienced this season as well!

Don't expect me to say that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Because it was. I feel like throwing up just thinking about it, and knowing that it will be a part of every helping relationship I have through this organization.

That, however, isn't a good enough reason for me to consider not being involved... not trying to serve this community... not taking His love into this world with every tool and talent God has given me.


How are you giving back? 

Are you seeking ways to be involved, even though it may not feel natural or comfortable for you?

How are you involved with people outside of your Christian community?

26 November 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ The Greatest Surrender Ever

Thanksgiving is behind us.

Christmas is, literally, just days away - unless, of course, you are under the age of 12. Then it still seems like forever and a day away.

And I've had a song playing around in my head that I hadn't thought of for years.

Released way back in 1983 - like, when I was a sophomore in high school (over half of my kids have already achieved that milestone) - this song struck a chord.

Like the song in the wind - Lord you call me again:  surrender.
And I find myself drawn to your voice, as I lean toward the choice: surrender.
Like the echoing sound of the sea - Lord you echo in me: surrender.
Like a dancer I'll follow again, to the music within: surrender.
For the freedom I seek is the word that you speak, running deep as the song of my soul.
To be totally sure and totally yours and totally...surrendered.
Like the song of the rain, you repeat the refrain: surrender.
And I know that your music is mine, and I follow in time: surrender.
For the freedom I seek is the word that you speak, running deep as the song of my soul.
To be totally sure and totally yours and totally... surrendered.
Like the song in the wind - Lord you call me again: surrender.
And at last I can soar like a bird on the wings of the word: surrender.

Surrender is a hard word, for anyone... 

It is definitely counter-cultural and unpolitically correct. It was true way back when - as a competitive swimmer on an almost continuously undefeated high swim team, victory was THE goal. Surrender... giving up and just letting an opponent touch the wall before me... was unthinkable, no matter how bad my lungs and muscles hurt, no matter how hopeless a particular race "felt."

It remains true today - as I consider how hard it is to apologize to my husband or kids, to admit I was wrong and another was right. A cursory glance at social media proves I'm not the only to face this struggle.

Look through some of the common synonyms and idiomatic expressions for the word: abandon, capitulate, cede, concede, give in, hand over, quit, relinquish, renounce, succumb, yield, fall, knuckle, buckle under, cave in, cry uncle, eat crow, eat humble pie, play dead, put up the white flag, thrown in the towel, toss it in... None of these are typically considered favorably.

Once I began speaking and reading in French, the etymology of the word literally jumped off the page ~ literally, it means to give back over.

To return, or give back, to the one who had it originally. 

Thinking about this relative to the Christmas season rapidly descending upon us, I started wondering.  

What was Jesus' greatest act of surrender?
  • His incarnation and birth: "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man..." (Phil 2, NIV)

  • His submission to human authority: "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (2 Pet 2, NIV)

  • His submission to death on the cross: "During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent surrender. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." (Heb 5, NIV)

I don't know the answer to that question - but I do know that the second two wouldn't have been possible without the first.

So... as Advent begins, as I look toward Christmas... This year, I'll be spending time meditating upon Jesus and the greatest surrender ever... and remembering that surrender isn't such a bad word.

Five Minute Friday - set a timer for five minutes and write whatever the given prompt brings to mind. In the interest of transparency, I typically add any photos and links AFTER the five minutes are finished. This time, I also added the Bible verses included (although I did get the references down) as part of this post.

Want to write with us? Head over to Heading Home, Kate Motaung's blog.

22 November 2016

When Parenting Gives You Whiplash + ...

Last night, I was at a basketball game for my ten year old. 

In between cheers of encouragement and full belly laughs at her team of just-shy-of-tween-age girls who are all limbs and uncontrolled speed with awkward (at best) coordination, I was also busy texting away with my almost 18 year old. That daughter - who moved back to the States last summer - was working on one of her college applications for next fall. She was rapid-firing me screen shots (which I had to enlarge and scroll all around just to be able to read on my phone), asking me what different abbreviations referred to, what certain questions meant, generally seeking advice and counsel as she negotiated her way through the on line application.

Two very-different-but-not-really-because-they-are-all-my-kids worlds colliding: the fun, noise and movement of an elementary school basketball game with the seriousness, potentially future-life-impacting decisions of young adulthood and the completion of college application forms. 

My head was, almost literally, spinning.

This is one of those things that I couldn't fathom way back when - a young mother of several littles. Those all consuming, all absorbing days of diapers, late night feedings, steamy showers to alleviate croup and congestion, car seat battles, potty training, moms & tots groups and mountains of laundry that rarely got folded and put away before being worn again. 

I could have never foreseen such craziness, even when frazzled by the scurrying of school mornings and making then packing lunch for eight or nine bodies leaving the house by 8:00 a.m. - at the latest, the wild switch between drilling second grade spelling words, kindergarten writing practice... both while deciphering physics and striving to remember how to use a scientific calendar... only to be interrupted by a seventh grader learning to use a Chromebook followed by ninth grader trying to write a poem for English class. Oh yeah... dinner was prepared and a prayer letter written while all of that other stuff was taking place.

Now we've entered that parenting season where biggers are far from us and busy with lives they are building independent of their parents... but who, in many ways, still need (and thankfully, still desire) coaching from Dad and Mama as they learn to navigate all of those new-to-them real-life-with-real-life-results-and-consequences types of situations. When overwhelmed and confused, they text Mama, hoping she can somehow figure out what they need to do. When tired and needing encouragement, they call Dad, hoping his voice (and a few words of wisdom) will breathe courage and gumption back into them - and just maybe tell them what to do so they don't have to figure it all out all by themselves.

We currently have three at least knee (or waist... chest... neck... depending on day and/or circumstance) deep in a swamp called Discovery that Adulting is Liberating, New, Fun and Exciting... but Sometimes Scary... and Almost Always Lots of Hard Work and Responsibility! 

Our young adults are on a steep learning curve - but, "Oy!" 

So am I.

For when I get those texts from distant ones who are removed from my right here right now reality of elementary homework (almost all in French), high school homework (again, almost all in French), carpools, basketball games and schedules, malfunctioning saxophones, school Christmas programs as well as all the regular daily - dinner, laundry, picking up around the house, keeping up with mission correspondance,... I'm learning how to multitask in a totally new way. For I try to give my biggers the coaching they need, encouraging, giving factual information, asking questions that get them to think... but I can't just grab a pencil and work out a sample college application the same way I just walked then talked our 4th grade Elsie Mae through adding signed numbers - until she was ready to practice all on her own. I can't write a college essay, apply for a job, talk to the financial office and figure out a payment plan for school bills. I can't just default to telling them what I think they should do because I'm discombobulated by straddling the chasm between these two parenting worlds... These bigs have to make their own plans and decisions and then follow through (or not) and get the results (or consequences) that are a part of their choices.

It IS agonizing as a parent - to want to tell them what I think they should do (after all, experience has taught me a few things here and there) and know that that's exactly what I shouldn't do. Instead, I need to coach and encourage and comfort as they live their own lives and choices, listening and listening and listening - occasionally reflecting back what I hear or asking probing questions - but no longer pushing... no longer leading... 

Instead, I'm coming alongside as they join me in this adulting adventure.

That's all fine and dandy - I get it.

What makes it crazy is that at the same time, we still have the bigs and littlers at home - who have very different parenting needs. And I need to be very present, not distracted by the text of the moment - which can be hard. After all, an elementary basketball game doesn't seem to have as much long term life impact as decisions about which college to attend.

That switch from parenting-by-text to basketball mama? 

It = whiplash + wind knocked out of you + exhaustion 
(bigs text at the most unreasonable hours, by the way) 

Most days, I don't know 
  • whether to cry from loneliness for my hearts that are walking around many miles distant - I miss those awesome young adults, a lot...
  • whether to celebrate all of the great steps I get to hear about (and occasionally see) as they trudge through the adulting swamp...
  • whether to panic that a car is in the ditch or someone is deathly sick because I haven't had a text or Facebook message in the past 36 hours - and send out the Calvary to check, just in case...
  • whether to just bask in the enjoyment of learning to be not just parent but friend...
  • or whether to take a 25 minute power nap and slather Icy Hot on my neck so I'm ready for the next wild texting session in the middle of a basketball game!

On the other hand, every single day, I DO know

that I wouldn't trade this life I've been gifted by God. 

11 November 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ Common

I've NEVER written a FMF post this way before, but when I saw the prompt... remembered this photo taken just a few weeks ago... thought about the past few weeks...

I knew I had to at least give it a try.

So, I'm tapping away on my android, in a dark room, in the home of people I'd never met before last night... after flying all day Wednesday and then driving 500+ miles Thursday to bring my third child on a college visit (HOW we can be at this point with THIRD child is a fact that leaves me a little dizzy from all the spinning).

But that's  all superfluous stuff.

Last month, Tim and I had a day-long date. We were in the States for two different training conferences, with a day off in between the end of one and the beginning of the next. So we took that day and drove to the outskirts of DC, rode the Metro to the station nearest the "Mall" and spent all day discovering our nation's capital. On an October day warm enough for shorts and sleeveless shirt, we spent the entire day outside... traversed over 14 miles on foot - from the outside of the White House, to the Marine service monument pictured above, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to Jefferson's Memorial to the Capital Building... and just about EVERYTHING in between. Exhausting, and we were oh-so-sore the next day, but? Oh so worth it! The time together and the experience of who and what we are... at least pieces... as Americans was pretty special!

It was standing at the monument above, though, that I was most "bouleversed"  (that's the English-ified way of saying bowled over), in the midst of snapping pics, to just experience that blown away feeling. For THAT quote -inscribed on the pedestal- should, ESPECIALLY in this season...

give us all pause.

For right now, in such a time as this, we need 

uncommon valor to be, perhaps, the MOST COMMON virtue.

We need to recognize the "valor" exhibited by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as they chose to place themselves under unbelievable scrutiny, all for the opportunity to serve us and our country (regardless of whether I agree with idealogy, past actions or future plans... I think that took courage). 

We need to see the valor in those who voted or didn't vote, uncompromisingly living their personal convictions. 

We need to choose valor TODAY, in this moment, as we seek to live next to, interact with, build bridges and relationships, with ALL around us - speaking truth in love, learning to listen and understand first, standing firm on truth.

Like other Americans before us, who faced challenging times although different circumstances... like our current fellow Americans who face this present challenging time with different understandings of our current circumstances...

We all need to choose, by God's grace, this uncommon valor as THE common virtue.

It is a heritage we can and should live up to...

04 November 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ Journey that includes Physicians and dentists, Panic attacks and Pretty amazing grace... "Oh my!"

Might as well start off by saying that I'm not setting a timer, not watching a clock, not worrying about keeping this to five minutes... although in the spirit of Five Minute Friday, I will skip the overthinking and editing that is normally a part of my blog posts.

Of course, if I did watch the clock... took the time to overthink... went back to edit... 

Chances are? 

I'll never hit that post button.

So without further ado, here it goes.

This journey began 12 or 13 years ago... and if I'm honest - a season of burnout. Still not sure of the exact mechanism... the why or the how... but somehow a combination of 
  • stress due to my stage of life - busy misso mama with home and ministry responsibilities...
  • parenting many children in close succession and the wear and tear of successive, close pregnancies and long term nursing -physically- on my body...
  • medications instrumental in preventing malaria, but that did bad things to both my mind and body...
  • stress due to high expectations that I had for myself as an overseas missionary...
  • through the roof stress in co-worker relationships, both perceived-by-me AND real...
  • rising tensions as well as physical dangers and threats in our neck of the woods...
  • a downed high tension electric line that resulted in persistent and long power outages (while living in what has, at times, been described as the hottest capital city in the world)...AND
  • an out-of-the-blue tree nut allergy suddenly emerging...
plus some other things that I'm forgetting as well as a few that I'm choosing not to list...

All of these mixed made a powerful cocktail that knocked me off my feet for what felt like a long season.

I began experiencing panic attacks. 

At first it was hard to distinguish an attack from an a reaction to tree nuts - heart racing then pounding then actual palpitations, difficulty taking a deep breath or breathlessness, a numbness and feeling that both my tongue and throat were swelling, extreme nausea, a fear of being alone (in case it was a real, physical issue) but an even greater terror of anyone seeing me in said state, cold sweats, physical trembling all over. 

Getting rid of the tree nuts was an easy solution, except that it didn't stop the attacks. 

Then, I started to figure out specific triggers: an angry disagreement with my husband, a sick child, a need to take (or give to one of my kids) a new medication where I didn't know what sorts of side effects would be experienced... but I still experienced mad symptoms, feeling like a cat perched high on a tree branch and I didn't know what to do or how to let anyone help. Still, no real relief.

For out of the blue and no reason I could determine, I'd be blindsided by an attack. Although, I guess, in theory, it is hard to be blindsided when those attacks were happening on an almost daily basis.

We went to our doctor. She said cut out all caffeine and get at least eight hours of sleep at night, but that brought no improvement. I changed malaria prophylactics, but if that helped, it wasn't immediately evident due to the long half-life of the medication - or so I was told. After another major episode, an injection to reduce that fight-or-flight response and a resulting bout with cellulitis, our doc referred me to a cardiologist. (Totally parenthetical, but visiting a cardiologist in Niger was enough to bring on a panic attack all by itself as they'd have me remove my shirt in the exam room and then walk to the procedures/imaging department, through the hallway filled with other waiting patients, for the actual test. It didn't seem to bother the local women, but I wasn't a local woman.) He first did a 48 hour heart monitor/EKG and then wanted to follow up with an ultrasound of my heart. His diagnosis was pulmonary hypertension. Not encouraging - and it wreaked havoc with finding medical insurance coverage for our family, specifically me, for the next decade. He said absolutely no more pregnancies, no caffeine, lots of rest, minimal stress - and come back in six months to see if anything had changed. Not long after, we learned that Mary Michelle was on her way... I ended up going to the States for that delivery.

It was finally an expat missionary nurse who helped me take an initial step on my journey to "recovery." She recommended a medication used by psychiatric patients, at a low dosage and one that I could buy over-the-counter in Niamey. At first, I took it regularly; then I gradually weaned myself off and used on an as-needed basis when experiencing an panic attack. I carry that little bottle of pills in my purse everywhere... still... even though they are long expired.

After a decade of these attacks
  • no more malaria prophylactic, 
  • no longer living in the excessive heat, 
  • not having been pregnant for almost several years and not having a nursing baby for almost as many, 
  • a lifestyle where I try and get regular outdoor physical activity, rest and sleep (even when I'm sure I don't need it),
  • avoiding excessive caffeine intake - even when I'm sure I do need it (or at least want it), 
  • quiet introvert-recharge-time alone at home - without the continual come and go of visitors as was so normal during our years in Africa.
I just went through two full years without even the hint of a panic attack (literally... October marked two years) - including an international trip where I had changed handbags and didn't have my purse placebo with me.

Until I went to the dentist a little over a week ago. 

I needed work done on both sides of my mouth: a small cavity and a chipped/broken molar way in the back that I'd waited way too long to have repaired. As is typical, the dentist (a young guy, with a man bun - all of our girlies think he's really nice... and hot!) used a topical med to numb my gums before injecting the anesthesia. I must have swallowed a little because my tongue and throat lost sensation and what feeling I did have resembled the swollen feeling I'd get back before we figured out the tree nut thing, back when I had regular panic attacks. And I had a stupid attack right there in the dentist office. Thankfully, after about 10 minutes and realizing that I was able to breathe just fine, gracious, kind and concerned dentist and hygienist/helper, and finally, some water to rinse the topical out of my throat, we were able to continue with the procedure on the back tooth. I did, however, opt to return the following week for the little cavity as really, all I wanted to do was escape back to my house.

I went in yesterday for that little cavity, knowing that I needed him to look at the back tooth again. I thought I had a little morsel of glue stuck under my gum that I'd tried and tried to tease out using dental floss - but had had no success. He found that and removed it pretty quickly. But when he looked a little more closely, he saw that the repair he'd done had actually cracked and a chunk had fallen out and wedged itself under my gum line as well. No wonder I couldn't chew on that side of my mouth all week! 

So... a subsequent repair, lots of digging around already tender gums - which we decided to do without anesthesia this time because we wanted me to be able to truly feel if it had been repaired. Of course, that meant I also got to truly feel the work being done as well. I'll suffice it to say, "Ouch!" and I did come home and cry cause I couldn't even when I wanted to while in the dental office. My mouth is still sore today. But the problem now seems to be fixed and no more dental appoints scheduled until my next cleaning - in a year!

As he started to work, as we moved from discomfort to downright uncomfortable to flat out painful, my heart started to race and pound and I feared another attack. Then a small still voice deep inside whispered, "Listen to the music."

It was no longer the pop music of the local station that had been playing while I was in the waiting room. It was praise and worship music - in English - and frankly, that doesn't even exist in Quebec City! It was like I was listening to a Christian radio station back in the States. And it played for the entire time the dentist was working on my teeth.

I didn't expect that. And while my heart continued to race, my one hand was clinching the arm of the dentist chair, my mouth hurt something fierce and I had to keep reminding myself that I could breathe just fine (during the instrumental parts), I was able to lay there while he worked and concentrate on words of praise and worship.

I don't know?  Perhaps the dentist himself... or his hygienist... picked out some music that they thought might specifically help me this time, after the panic attack the week before? The week before, while waiting for the attack to diminish, we'd actually had a pretty incredible 10 minute conversation about our time in Africa, faith and belief in Christ, why we'd gone in the first place and how I'd found out about my allergy/started experiencing the panic attacks. Then, the dentist left the room for another 10 minutes while the anesthesia took effect and the hygienist and I continued to speak. She'd attended a parochial primary and secondary school and had friends who'd done overseas charity work, so she continued to ask specific questions about our work and life in Niger.

If it wasn't that, perhaps the Holy Spirit did some miraculous thing and I heard the music that I needed to hear instead of what was really playing (although I don't tend to lean towards that sort of explanation - a bit too mystical for my comfort). I don't know if one of the receptionists changed to an internet station instead of a local station

What I do know is that when I needed that calming influence, God - or God through others - provided! THAT. IS. GRACE-IN-ACTION!

Time off... together, enjoying being outside on a beautiful day. and lots of physical activity... always helps when I'm starting to feel the pressure mounting. While back in the States for a training seminar last month, Tim and I took a day to visit DC. I've included a few of my favorite photos from the day, and our 14+ mile monumental metropolis trek!
In this journey we call life, grace catches us off guard, when we least expect it. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is much more prevalent than we even begin to recognize ~ for "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James said that. Or, to quote Paul, "I besought the Lord [much more than] thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

29 October 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ How the word EAT got me thinking about THIRD CULTURE KIDS, particularly my own.

We left Niger-home to move to temporary-Michigan-home on June 9, 2013. 

That was more than three years ago... 40 and one half months... 1257 days... I won't bore you with the hours... minutes... seconds...

Since the last ride on the tire swing by the front porch and the last hug from Madam Safana... 

Since we last snuggled Sasha and Hera (our two cats) and pulled away from our house - waving goodbye to Butterscotch and Beethoven (our two dogs), the Niger river just down the hill, the night guard... the place that we'd learned to love and the only place that our littlest ones really thought of and knew as home. 

We'd been home for several months when a little voice from the back seat asked, "When will I get to see Butterscotch and Beethoven again?" And I realized that even though we'd talked much, cried much, imagined much, experienced much together, at least one little one hadn't grasped the idea that we had no idea when... if... we'd be returning to Niger-home. That when she said goodbye late that 9th of June, she didn't understand that it was a very long goodbye. She certainly didn't grasp that is was most likely, at least as far as the pets were concerned, a forever one.

I did a quick survey of my gang: "If I say home, what's the first thing that you think of?"

"Quebec and Africa"
"my bed, wherever it is"
"I don't know"
"Why do you ask such hard questions?... (sigh)"
"wherever I am right now"
*eyes rolling*
(gutteral groan and dramatic falling back, sprawled as though knocked out, into the chair)
"Ugh! Why?"
"Wherever you, Dad and the majority of my sibs are."
"I don't even know... location wise."
"I think wherever family is."

It was a question no one wanted to answer... one they didn't know how to answer... one that was significantly harder for the older ones. That's why I received more answers than I have kids. Sometimes I wonder, as parents... what our life choices and callings, as parents have "done" to these sweet kids. 

I always said I didn't want our kids to grow up to be those "different" and "interesting" MKs I'd encountered growing up in church, the ones that didn't know how to talk to their home country peers, dressed a little weird, told unbelievable cool stories, and that always seemed to feel awkwardly out of place even when they looked like they could be fitting in.

From where I stand, from what others say... and most importantly - based on what my children say - Tim and I have both succeeded and failed in our efforts to achieve that goal.

It is something I think about... wonder about... almost every single day.

Because every single day, at least one - if not all - children present ask if they can eat peanut butter for breakfast.

Madam Safana's peanut butter (the most amazing peanut butter, ever, by the way) on homemade bread... on fresh pancakes... on made-from-scratch waffles... on hot biscuits... as part of the glaze on fresh from the oil doughnuts... We ate it for breakfast almost every single morning we lived in W. Africa. Unless the jar was empty, of course. This family of 10 could easily eat 1 kg of peanut butter in three or four days. 

Too much peanut butter actually put one in the hospital. The power went out. We were busy looking for candles. That one found the jar - a full kilo - and ate about one-fourth of it. Plain. Then said child started throwing up and having a hard time breathing cause it stuck in the throat. Trip to the ER... we had to try two because the first one was closed for the night (don't ask). Doctors kept the kid on IVs in the hospital until they were sure the peanut butter wouldn't form a blockage in the intestine, as you get dehydrated fast in African heat when vomiting. 

That's our only traumatic peanut butter eating memory. The rest are all good... if not great! Up to this date, thankfully, no one is allergic. That would be a tragedy in our family, on so many counts.

You know what just might be the first thing I hear tomorrow morning (I'll be up early, finishing prep for the Sunday School lesson I'm scheduled to teach):  "Mama? Can I eat some peanut butter on my toast today?" 

Illustrations included in this blog post are from this book - a fave in our family.

(By the way, if you are wondering. This was a 15 minute Friday, written on Saturday, when I should have been preparing for Sunday School. I'm teaching 4-6 year olds about Daniel's faithfulness in prayer, even if it meant the lion's den...)

11 October 2016

The Enigma of Educating our TCKs

I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago... 
Wanted to share it again, and then later this week, update a bit - as we are on year further into this journey.

It is an amazing one... this journey, I mean! Not necessarily this post! :-)

As a relatively large family (eight children spanning 13 years) that’s been on the mission field essentially since the turn of the century (15 years - long enough to be considered career), we’ve tried several different education options: homeschool, local language schools, private school, public school, online school… We’ve not yet used the boarding option at a boarding school (unless you count our university aged kiddos living in a dorm, but that’s still a whole different ballgame). And, in fact, when we first left for the field, I would have told anyone who asked that home school was the plan, but also that boarding school was the only option NOT on the table. 


I would tell you that any possible option that presents itself makes its way to the table as a topic of discussion…

People have asked us before about our education plan/philosophy, and I used to think I had it pretty well figured out – actually, mapped out – before our first reached third grade. A special educator with several years of experience in the classroom… a professional trained to look at the individual skills, abilities and needs of an individual student – and one who was fairly good at what I did… I figured those skills would naturally transfer to figuring out an exceptional and best educational plan for each one of my own children. Since I was the professional educator, my husband – although always an active contributor to the many conversations – essentially followed my lead regarding what was best, educationally, for our children, although there have been compromises. 

I’ve discovered that it HAS NOT come naturally – because my own desires and dreams for my children often interfere with… even disguise… what might actually be best for them… educationally, emotionally, physically, socially… spiritually. Those best choices that I could see easily for someone else’s child weren’t nearly so obvious when it came to my own.  Sometimes, best choices actually got in the way of good decisions. Sometimes, we make what appear to be best decisions – only to discover down the road aways that we didn’t have all of the facts or experience necessary to know, actually know, what we were deciding…

We’ve I’ve made so many mistakes. 

I’m thankful for God’s grace and merciful children. 

Key questions we’ve started asking when it comes to making those educational decisions:
  1. What is available?
  2. What is affordable?
  3. What is advantageous? (Or… What is the absolute best for this one child?)
  4. What is acceptable? (Or… What is a practical and adequate reality for our entire family?)
  5. What is the actual child’s input?

The first two questions are obvious. If there is no English language day school option in country and your children are too young to go to an out-of-country boarding school, then homeschool (parent teaching or engaging a teacher) or online are probably the two primary possibilities - if English language schooling is a priority. And, of course, whatever option must paid for - often putting the private, international schools out of reach for many missionary families.The third question is an ideal – If not limited by anything, what would I choose for my child. The fourth question is more one of workability: Which choices are both doable and good - not just the individual child, but for our family as a whole. This last one is always a hard one for me, because my perfectionist side has a hard time settling for the good if there is a best alternative. Doing so is, in my mind, equivalent to failure. The final question has much to do with what the child wants – or thinks s/he needs.

These questions are not listed in a hard and fast order of priority – because priorities can change based on present realities. They also change based on the individual needs of each specific child.

Sometimes, it feels like we’re trapped in a high stakes poker game where we’re dealt a hand of cards, we try to read the nuances of the situation all around us and then make decisions that are educationally sound and profitable for our children. Sometimes we make the very best decision we can – only to watch as our child struggles, hurts, or worse… learning as more information comes to light that perhaps we didn’t actually make a very good choice – or that we need to make a change. 

There are so many “stories” I could tell – but there are two I think are particularly relevant.

While in W. Africa, we choose to enroll our children in a local, French language primary school. It felt like we got to have our cake and eat it too… to use a cliché! We met so many people outside the missionary community (the school was run by Baha’i missionaries). Our children were learning French and making local friends - outside of  church. The teachers and staff at the school worked very hard to meet the educational needs of our children and our children learned that the standard “American” perspective wasn’t necessarily the only way. It certainly was not the way the rest of the world saw things. 

They children grew from experiencing life as a visible minority where they didn’t have all of the prerequisite skills that typically give majority culture students an advantage. They learned independence, hard work, how to memorize, obedience without question and how to make friends with people who were drastically different from them. We were all home for lunch together every day – and for a rest time during the afternoon heat - before the children returned to school. Academically, we found that even though the educational system and priorities were different, our children were well taught and well prepared to eventually transition to an international, English language school as bilingual students. The only disadvantage was that our children were spread across three different school campuses in town.

Life was cruising along; we were following this educational plan for our family. Then our mission unexpectedly became insolvent. Resulting financial difficulties as well security challenges due to increasing terrorist activity in our region led us to make a radical change - several weeks after the beginning of a new school year. We moved our children into an English language, international mission school. 

I had to let go of my dream of genuinely bilingual children and being a part of that school community we had enjoyed for several years. I also had to accept that this was a decision that had nothing to do with an educational best choice, but a real life, real time choice of what was best for our family. Additionally, I was surprised to discover just how difficult this change was for our children who had to make the switch – suddenly, unexpectedly and mid-year. They immediately had to learn 1) a new school, 2) new classroom/teacher systems, 3) a new academic language, 4) to live day in and day out with those who had, before, only been weekend friends, 5) to walk through perceived injustices/prejudices as a result of the previous educational choices we’d made for our family, and 6) to be just like all of the other TCKs who filled their classes. Others of our children who'd already transitioned to the international school had made that transition. But, we’d taken a year of homeschooling to help each adjust to the radical differences.

What's the moral of the story? When you realize that a current educational situation is really not working, either because of a change, new information, or whatever – make the necessary changes. I shed many tears, crying for my lost vision of the future, but also with my kids as they dealt with their own losses and frustrations. I had to create time to be available and drop other obligations and commitments in my already full ministry schedule to emotionally and academically support them through the change. It was hard.

My second story is one that is taking place, literally, right now. We’ve transitioned to a new place of ministry. Those among our children who are not attending college back in the States are presently enrolled in a French language, private, evangelical school. It’s a great school. But it is already clear that it is not the best educational decision for at least one of our children, one for whom learning does not come easily, one who is an extreme extrovert - not being able to talk with friends is driving said child crazy. This child was already identified as having an articulation disorder, has an individualized education plan and was receiving speech and language services in English. For this one, languages do not come easily. Yet, because of immigration/visa requirements – our children must be actively engaged in French language education. 

Are there other avenues we could choose? Probably, but we aren’t familiar enough yet to know what those options might be. So we spend hours on homework every night. We memorize verb conjugations even though the children may not have any idea what said verb means and will not likely be using the conditional form of the verb any time in the near future. We reread and translate much of the work that was done during the day. It's like a second school day once home when what they really want is a break because they are exhausted. I easily perceive that exhaustion as “laziness.” A good friend recently reminded me of something I should know very well - as a language learner myself and as a teacher of English as a second language… Language learning is draining; learning content material in the new language is beyond grueling. Sometimes what looks like lazy is simple self-preservation from information overload. Once again, for this season – different ministry ideas I might have need to take a back seat to supporting my children as we walk through this season together and learn to thank God for His Presence when life (school) is unrelentingly hard.

The moral of this second story? Sometimes the cards we are dealt just don’t leave a particular child with any good hand, educationally. That isn’t necessarily a failure. It is a reality of life in a fallen, broken world. What may not turn out to be an academically profitable year might actually reap more real life skills and an opportunity to lean on the Lord in ways we just don’t when we don’t desperately need Him. But as parents, we can't leave our kids to just fend for themselves in the challenging seasons our life choices, our callings, have thrust upon them.

Do I believe God called me to this place, at this time, with this family? I absolutely do. He also gave me this family and called me to a responsibility to serve them. More important than making perfect educational decisions for each child each school year is a lifestyle lived, walking humbly with our God through those decisions (and others). It is climbing educational mountaintops together and holding close through the academic valleys, all the while ultimately recognizing His Sovereignty and His amazing grace in all circumstances. TCKs don't need to be coddled and protected from life's realities and hardships because their parents are following a lifestyle that denies them of much of what is valued and expected of parents in today's western/developed world. Life isn't all about our kids. But they are also not to be ignored or expected to fend for themselves. They need to be discipled in looking to God for strength and hope in the midst of our decisions.

Originally posted on Missionary Mom's Companion


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