Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Grieving as one with hope

"Please help our son pull himself together so we can be back to Kenya!"
It was a heart-wrenching prayer that started back on December 5, 2015. Counselors had just informed us that he needed more than we could get in Nairobi. It triggered a road of bewilderment and step-by-step following through some of the most twisted and confusing paths that we've ever walked. Chad cried out, one day, "We just played hard all season, and now we're being benched for the big game! It makes no sense!"

"Please, give us the tools to help our son thrive in Kenya!"
The crooked path took us to Raleigh, NC, a place where we had zero connections. A place where God provided a community, great schools, great counselors, and healing in areas we didn't even realize we were sick. It helped us cry out an equally heart-wrenching prayer that showed our growing understanding of our son's needs; understanding that he wasn't acting out of spite or purpose or sabotage. That he was processing the world differently. That he was scared and overwhelmed and in despair.

"Please, show us where we as a family can serve You most effectively for Your glory!"
The wrenching was no less, but we knew God had brought us through to the right prayer. Not viewing our son as the problem, or viewing him as the one in need. But viewing our family as a whole, only able to do our best if every part is empowered to do so.

I had moments of wishing someone else would make the decision for us--that Medical or Education support would tell us what to do and let us abdicate the responsibility of making an impossible choice. But I also knew I would always resent being told what we could or couldn't do. I would always wonder if "they" had really heard from God what was best for us. But I also felt like I didn't know enough about ASD and what to expect from it to even know what our son's needs would realistically be.

And then in the span of 48 hours, we received 4 emails. Member Care, Education, the school principal, and the counselor all wrote to say the best possible thing they could have said.
1. They would absolutely do anything they could to support us returning to Kenya,
2. They were sure it would require multiple changes for us all; a new role with less travel for Chad,      resignation from medical coordinating for me, a new house closer to the school...
3. It was their professional opinion that the US would be able to offer better support

There was only one person whose input was lacking. Since Ethan had just been studying poetic language terms in English, I asked him what connotations he had with Rosslyn Academy. He looked up with a quivering chin and eyes full of immediate tears, and said, "I just can't do it, mom. I can't give them what they expect from me!"

What else could we do other than see that God was asking us to be brave as He brought us back to the US? For us all, not just for our son. For us all to be most effective in living outward-focused lives without neglecting family.

For many people, the thought of taking a family overseas, of depending on a fixed income from the church, of being far from support and community, is terrifying. I promise you: it's just as terrifying to come back! All 6 of us are terribly sad. We know the things it will require giving up--our friends, our meaningful work, the exotic nature of overseas life, the frequent travel to new places. Game parks and the Indian Ocean, and a sense of distance from American politics. The ability to focus on real and deep issues without distractions from Hollywood or Wal-Mart.

But we grieve these losses as ones who know we have hope. Hope for new jobs in ministry that will give us meaning and allow us to make an impact on a community hurting. Hope for new friends who will sharpen us and keep us accountable and lift us up just as we have overseas. Hope for fun vacations and great memories and opportunities for our kids. Hope for joy and peace and the blessings of knowing we are where God wants us.

We had a tremendous gift, that God let us represent Him to the nations on their turf. We are honored that we were chosen to go to the ends of the earth for a time. And we know that God is now asking us to represent Him on our home turf, in our 'Jerusalem'.

We haven't been benched...our field has just changed. We don't know all the details of what that will look like, but that's ok. Coach does.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Alphabet Soup

I re-read my latest blog, The Crooked Path, and wondered if I did a disservice to the missionary struggle by not "showing my work" from the months leading up to this point! The last thing I want to imply is that we're trying to decide if we want to go back to Kenya, or suggest that we're asking God if He's released us from Kenya because it's hard there and we're done.

Our hearts are in Kenya. We love the people. We love our jobs. We love our co-workers. We love being given a part to play in what God wants to accomplish there. In some ways, it feels like we were MADE for it! Of course there are hard parts about it--have I ever mentioned the traffic?--but there are also so many blessings and gifts, and it's home.

So why the crooked path? Why the questions?

Do you remember reading my thoughts on calling and how it was time to put my money where my mouth is? It's been awhile, for sure. For those who aren't sitting on the couch hanging on every word I write, let me summarize: God has called us to live as His children, on mission with Him, in the family He has given us. Those callings will never change. God has also called us to live out a vocation in a location depending on how we can live out the first 3 callings in the most faithful and effective way.

Ethan and us at his graduation from Wright School
Now that theory is out of the way, move with me into personal. We have not tried to hide the challenges Ethan has had in the past years, but we also haven't been fully clear on it--partly due to wanting to protect him from scrutiny and labeling. Partly due to new-found awareness of how the stigma of mental health is still alive and well. And partly because we didn't have words to describe things.

The past 9 months here in the US have been nothing short of a gift from God through our employer. We have done some hard work as a family, as a couple, and individually, and it's been brutally exhausting. But the kind of exhausting like a good run, where you know it's growing new muscle and burning off gunk. We understand our son much better now, and we're working on and closer to having healthier expectations for him and tools to help him in ways that are actually helpful.

I can not tell you God's mind or plan, and I refuse to get into a debate about God's active vs. passive will, predestination, or speculations as to why. I know only 2 things for certain:
  1. God loves us and God loves Ethan.
  2. God entrusted Ethan to us for his time on earth, and we have the obligation to model God's love and instruction to him.
Why Ethan faces the challenges he does is unanswerable--the only thing we can do is faithfully work with what is. And what alphabet soup. ASD, ADHD, GAD, and MDD.
Let me clarify. Ethan is not those letters. He has them, and his testimony will one day be how he used them and walked with God through them. But for now, let me explain what that means so you don't have to pull up Web-MD.
Ethan has autism, which makes it hard for him to read social cues or understand the relationship between him and others. This makes the world unpredictable and seem to be against him, because everyone else is following a play-book he doesn't have access to. At the same time, his brain doesn't filter out any unimportant sensory information, so it's a constant flood of noise and interesting things to look at and he can't concentrate on any one thing...or he blocks out EVERYTHING to the point he can't even hear his name. Since concentration is so difficult and exhausting in the midst of navigating classmates and teachers who make no sense to him, he has anxiety about always failing. He goes into survival mode, protecting himself by only trying things he knows he will be successful at and avoiding at all costs things that require MORE brain power. Like English class. Or math class. Or really any class. And this frustrates teachers and parents alike, which makes him feel bad about himself, and has led to overall depression.

PHEW! Doesn't your heart just break for him???? Our do. Every. Single. Day.
So for these 9 months, we have been crying out to God for clarity as to how to best help him while also meeting the needs of our other 3 and ourselves. And the only answer we have received is this: "The work is plenty and the world is mine. Serve me where you can serve me best as a family." It's freeing and yet ambiguous.
Kenya gives the kids perpetual sunshine, a safe gated yard to play outside freely, a very strong support system for them and for us, and flexible jobs...and a passionately academic school with limited experience and ability to meet special needs in the higher grades.
The US provides public schools who look upon his alphabet soup as just another day, has teams of staff dedicated to special needs students, can offer electives like archery and free-reading and forensics, but we don't have the support systems here, and winters coop us up indoors and push us to the brink of insanity.
So the million-dollar question at the end of this crooked path isn't: should we live in Kenya or in the US? It's where can we be the healthiest, most effective family on mission for God? And the answer to that question remains unanswered. So, rather than getting dizzy with trying to sort out what is best, we are sitting back and striving to not strive. We have a team of professionals who know better than we do what his academic needs will likely be, what accommodations he will  require. They will help us know if the effort it will take to meet those needs will leave us with enough to also be effective global workers, or if it will force us to neglect something; the family or the work or our own sanity. So we keep walking, not knowing a single thing about our future other than that God is on this crooked path beside us--catching the tears, feeding us daily manna, and promising that our story is not over.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Crooked Path

Everyone knows crooked paths conjure up images of dishonesty, or evil. No one wants to be on the crooked path. No--we want to be on the straight and narrow.

Grudgingly we accept that sometimes the straight and narrow might split and we're stuck momentarily at a cross-roads. We don't like that either, of course. Making decisions one way means turning away from the other way, and we just love having our cake and eating it too. And why not? Why would you have a cake  you weren't planning on eating? I've never understood that one. And I've never enjoyed cross-roads.

I thought I was at a cross-roads. Back in the US on Stateside for 12 months. Back in the US to get help for our son. And after that...a cross-roads. On one side, a return to Kenya. On the other, staying in America.

On one side--indescribable traffic, cultural stress, best friends, impossible school lunches, a deep sense of meaning, water shortages, eternal sunshine, adventure and instability and travel.

On the other side--stability, freeways and stoplights, superficiality, clothes dryers, snack-packs, bone-chilling cold, efficiency, influenza, hot water, isolation, and life-on-cruise-control.

So I thought...ok. I'm at a crossroad, and I'd best just accept it. Embrace it. Go with it. So one day, I made a list of all the things I need to buy for Kenya. The next, I saw a job opportunity in Missouri, and I found the perfect house there, and I furnished it all from Craig's List. Then, I found a job in Ohio, and I found several homes to buy there--because the market is apparently hot and people kept buying my houses out from under me! And Craig's List set me up well there too. And just ask me about the cutest puppy I found to add to our family!!! Oh--and then wouldn't it be awesome to think outside the box? What's to stop us from buying this place in Costa Rica, where I could work as an NP consultant on-line and Chad could be a tour guide? What would we do for school? No problem--I found the perfect place with enough room to have my brother and his family come too, and they are both teachers! That same day, I bought new curtains for our house in Nairobi, and I stocked up on all the new sandals I would need in Africa. And oh the hours of paperwork it took getting the kids set up for starting school back at Rosslyn again. But then there was this perfect job in Oregon, and we already have a house there, so that's obviously perfect--let's do that. And there's this great town here in North Carolina where the houses are cheap and one even comes with a pool, and I've always wanted a pool, and the winters aren't too bad...

Dizzy yet?

This isn't a cross-road. It's a loop-the-loop death trap and I want off the ride!!!

During the past 8 years in Africa, I've embraced my identity of Mzungu. Dictionaries will tell you that word in most Bantu languages means "white person". Fair enough. But for anyone willing to look a little deeper --isn't it curious that it forms the root of the words for wandering? And spinning in circles? And being dizzy? One friend told me it was related to the early explorers looking at their compasses to find 'North' all the time. Another implied something about white people always running in circles (a la chicken-without-a-head) compared to the no hurry in Africa mentality.

Either way, I am a mzungu. I am zunguka. I am zunguzungu. Wandering. Turning in circles. Dizzy.

Like many crossroads, we're looking at good things all around--not one good and one bad. Options that all come with tremendous blessings and spirit-crushing challenges. Places that are easy in some ways and hard in others. Places that are all within God's sovereignty, under God's management. Places I believe with all my heart that God could and would use us in meaningful ways. Places where we will take our dysfunctions and our brokenness along with us, because that's what happens on earth.

This passage out of Jeremiah has been meaningful to me lately, as you can imagine. The ancient ways must mean godliness, following the spirit of the law, walking with God.
So I've looked deeply. And I've asked faithfully. And God has given me a certain rest for my soul--what some might call a 'peace that surpasses all understanding,' in fact. But even it feels temporary, like manna, enough to get me through the day but no more. And right or wrong--I want more.

The Crooked River, Central Oregon
Then I stumbled upon this gem in Ecclesiastes 7--

                              13Consider what God has done:
Who can straighten
    what he has made crooked?
14 When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future.
Cue the mic drop. Sometimes, God goes before us and straightens the path. Sometimes God makes it crooked, and no one can discover anything about their future. It appears the road God has prepared for us has taken us into Ecclesiastes for now.
So I'm enough of trying to straighten the path--I'm tired. Yes, I know that we're supposed to be wheels up in 71 days. I know that we don't know if we'll be on that plane. I know that I want to return to Kenya and I want to stay in America and I want life to be easy from now into eternity, and I know I'm not going to get everything I want. I'll just keep eating the manna day after day, trusting that eventually we will know something more--in 71 days at least, though I pray God has mercy and gives us a hint a little sooner than that!
I can't promise I'll stop 'window-shopping' on Craig's List, and if anyone is thinking of moving to Costa Rica, I've got the perfect place...but it's time to stop turning in circles. I can be a Mzungu on this path God has given us, without being kizunguzungu.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Thrift-shop Provisions

Anya is in Virginia, living out a teenager's dream with her own room, own TV, own computer, and no siblings at her grandparent's house for the next 2 weeks.

Chad is in New Mexico, living out an extrovert college minister's dream, networking with collegiate workers from around the US.

I'm in Raleigh, NC, living out a missionary-mom's nightmare, helping 3 emotionally-fragile TCKs adjust to a new place yet again, solo. But I have craig's list and Google Maps, so we've stocked up on wheels for this 'Wheels Warrior' gang. Only--no helmets. I wasn't that worried, since they were just doing circles in the empty church parking lot, but then I got adventurous and took them to a bike trail. Turns out my kids have the need for speed. I'm sure you could have told me that, any of you who know them. But I underestimated the speed at which Isaac would fly down the hills on that flimsy piece of tin, and I could almost see the nurse-shaming headlines reading, "Nurse Practitioner-Mom fails to provide helmets; son in ICU, husband considers bringing charges of malpractice."

So I did what any self-respecting cheap-skate would do; piled the kids back in the car and googled 'thrift stores near me' and hit 'GO.'

1.3 miles made me smile, and I tried not to think about how badly things could go in a thrift store with 3 grumpy, hot kids who would rather be flying down hills on two wheels. But when I saw the store-front, I almost passed it by. Run down, some ugly particle-board end tables outside, an older couple smoking in plastic chairs at the entrance looking like they were most definitely speaking something other than English. I wasn't afraid, let me clarify. Not at all. I just doubted the effort:gain ratio was worth it. But honestly, I didn't really want to take the kids home and listen to their whining, and I figured I could find a cheap toy to bribe them into temporary peace there.

The woman welcomed us warmly, and then proceeded to find perfect items for everything I rattled off on my list. 3 brand-new helmets that fit each kid. New roller blades for me. Plastic plates and cups. Nice coffee mugs. And of course, the impulse buys as well--2 full sets of original Lincoln Logs, 4 puzzles, 2 games, 2 light sabers, a leather reading pillow. And while I was browsing, she sat on the floor and played with the kids. Teased them and gave them free ice cream bars. It was the most peace I've had in 3 days, that 2 hours in a thrift shop.

I was there for so long because a sudden thunder storm hit and the rain was torrential, so she wouldn't let me consider checking out. Instead, we sat and talked. I told her we were new to the area, and she offered to take me around and help in any way she could. She's from Syria, but she's been in the US for years, living all over but liking Raleigh best for raising a family. Her kids are all grown, but she has stayed because it's home now.

5pm hit, and their phone-app call to prayer went off. Her business partner, from Egypt, left the room quietly, but she and I continued to talk. When she asked why we had been in Kenya, I experienced another momentary pause. But why beat around the bush? I told her my husband is a minister.

She repeatedly exclaimed how wonderful that was--us serving other people. And she wanted to bless us in return. She would only charge us what I offered, and no more, even if I only offered her $1. For everything. Of course I couldn't give her only $1; I'm pretty sure we were both happy with the final arrangement.

When I tried to get the kids out the door, Ethan came running up with an electronic key-board. "Oh, he must have that! Take it, too." she exclaimed. "And come back and visit with me again!"

I definitely will.

It's a nice story, isn't it? God cares for us so creatively! But careful. Do you catch the irony?

One of the warmest blessings/welcomes we have received as weary returning global workers came from a Muslim woman. From Syria.

Don't worry--I don't have the energy to get into politics here. But I do know this.

A Syrian-American Muslim woman welcomed me back to the US with sacrificial generosity. If America gives in to its delusional idea that 'we' can do a single thing to protect ourselves from danger by fearing 'different' and excluding 'other,' then we will have lost. We will have lifted our (illusion of) safety as our ultimate god, over human kindness, generosity, and God's mandate to care for the powerless, the widow and the orphan. There is nothing great in that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Textures of the Northwest

As we've been hiking and exploring Oregon, I've been enthralled by the beauty that is so different than East Africa's. The texture of the landscapes is what I love most--so many different greens and browns spots of stunning flowers scattered around.  Here are some of my favorite captures.







Monday, July 4, 2016


The view from our driveway
Landing in Central Oregon felt more like 'coming home' this time than it did last time we came back in 2013. The scraggly trees, the rocks and fields and hay. And oh, the mountains. It's really amazing, actually, that the entire population of the US doesn't up and move here just to wake up every morning and see those mountains!

We have had moments of culture shock, as expected. So much skin being shown. So much PDA

Omara at Tumalo Falls
even in church, where people hold hands (gasp!) and stroke each other's backs (the scandal!). So many options at the grocery store. I've spend literally hours inside Fred Meyers, just wandering the aisles to look at everything. The kids are amazed at dish washers, and that people would just throw away bottles and cans worth 5cents. Gluten-free communion. A sun that won't set until 9:30pm and then wakes up at 4:45am. 
Ethan playing in Elk Lake, in the Cascade Mountains

We've eaten our weight in Oregon berries (strawberries and blueberries) and Washington cherries--with a touch of Angel Food cake and whipped cream whenever possible. And tortillas, and non-stinky cheese...amazing! I really could go on and on, but only a few of you will actually understand the pure joy that can be achieved by simply pulling a meal together on the fly, with no tears or sweat. Unfortunately the washer seems to be shrinking our clothes a little bit--especially mine and Chad's. So annoying. But that's totally a different issue, right????

Anya and Isaac having a real snow-ball
fight after swimming in Elk Lake
Each of the kids has asked when we'll go home at some point this month. And every one of them was referring to a different home in a different place. The farm we're on now? The house we own but have never lived in? The house we're going to live in but have never been to yet in North Carolina? Kenya? Omara keeps getting confused and asking, 'Is this Kenya or America?'. She knows we live in one and visit the other, but she can never remember what each is called.

Chad and the kids hiking Smith Rock
I have twinges of sadness over how hard it is to answer the 'home' questions. My heart sometimes cries, 'my children shouldn't have to be so confused about what home means!' But then I listen to some of the narrow conversations going on around me (because I can understand EVERYTHING now, because it's all in English! It's almost overwhelming!) and I remember how great their world-understanding is. I saw an 8th grade graduation with 1 African-American in the class, and I remember how good they are at relating to people different than themselves. I watch them react in awe to smooth roads, and efficient gas stations, and short errands, and clean parks, and I remember how good it is for them to appreciate the blessings that so many take for granted.
Anya owning the mountains!

The only photo proof that I was along for
the fun. Pardon Isaac's cut-off head!!!
We have stayed in the Central Oregon area, not even making it to Portland or the coast, and not making it up into Washington. I am grieved that we couldn't see everyone, and do everything, but these weeks have been short. The kids--unsettled by the lack of routine and the multiple transitions. Chad and me--physically and emotionally exhausted from the past 3 years. So we stayed put, mostly, and we drank in the beauty and the new-again wonder of the Northwest, and we readied ourselves for the next step in Raleigh, NC.

This is a new day by day without knowing more than a few months ahead what God's plan might be. Not that I always knew. I just thought I did. It was easier to pretend that life was predictable and steady and I had the "power" to plan. Nothing has really changed other than my consciousness of my dependency, and of my poor future-vision. So I keep moving forward, trying to enjoy each day and live in the moment. It's easier to do here than...uhem...some places we've lived recently!!!!


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