Wednesday, September 2, 2015

And so it begins

I can't believe my last post was back in June. It's now September. You'd think we were busy or something!!!

Home-schooling ended with more than a fizzle than a bang. Ethan finished everything he was supposed to get done to stay caught up with his class even a few days early. But that does not imply it was without tears or gnashing of teeth, or more often, simply just-below-the-surface irritation and an eye-roll suppressed only by the most extreme will-power.

I am not meant to be his teacher.

The rest of the summer passed in a haze of a great vacation, meetings, ministry, moving, and doctor's appointments. The kids had a blast. I rejoiced every morning the alarm didn't go off, and then rapidly reverted to cursing the craziness of four children and three dogs underfoot in our new, single story house. I was so used to saying, "Go upstairs!" in moments of exasperation, that once we had no upstairs I felt paralyzed. Until I realized the whole point of the new house was the large yard, in equatorial Africa where winter is played out in 78 degree days. "Go outside!" saved the day, and I figure the children are better off for it.

Anya, grade 8
School here starts early, so by August 1 the dreaded (by them) countdown was on. Almost to the day the calendar flipped over, Ethan began having trouble sleeping again, started getting into things he shouldn't, started being more sensitive. Isaac started getting mad at 'stupid school' for 'wasting all his time'. And Omara began incessantly crying and whining, and at the same time adorably asking, "If I eat all my dinner, will I grow big enough to go to school too?" Only Anya was unaffected. Or I should say, pleasantly affected. She got out the hair-dryer, practiced with new styles, and upped the teeny-head toss to perfection.

All that counseling we've done prepared me to interpret rather than react.  "Find the reason. Find the reason" I heard the counselor saying in my had to have been the counselor because, as inevitably happens, I was single-parenting for the first 2 weeks of August.

Ethan, grade 5
Ok--this wasn't brain surgery. Ethan: stressed about starting school. Isaac: stressed about starting school. Omara: stressed about everyone else starting school. Anya: never stressed about anything.
So we got cool back to school haircuts, and went out for ice cream, and read extra books, and ignored as much of the reactive behavior as possible, and Chad made it back to take some of the pressure off me.

Isaac, grade 1
School started on Aug 11, and I'm happy to report that everyone is still alive and kicking. Some days kicking all the way to the car, but kicking is better than the alternative, right? Everyone has great teachers; Ethan's in particular is doing so much to ease his stress with modified assignments, oral testing, and gentleness. I can't tell you the relief and gratefulness I feel! It turns out all that African sun bleached out most of what Isaac learned in KG, so he's not enjoying the steep learning curve again, but he'll get there!

After our meetings with Ethan's teacher, and the obvious efforts she is making to help him, and after he started answering, "Awesome!" to the daily, "how was school?"...I somehow expected we were home free. You know--that parenting would go back to being easy (as if it ever was).

Omara, desperately longing to start school
Of course, that's not the case. I shed a few tears in my coffee as that pipe dream blew up in my face. Ethan is still stressed by the very presence of school--be it with me, or with a kind, patient teacher (yes, those are opposites!) We can't ask for a better teacher, and we can't do more to set him up for success, and it's still going to be a daily exercise of speaking encouragement, ignoring irritations, picking battles, and staying positive.

I didn't ask for this challenge any more than he asked for a brain that has trouble processing at the speed in which life goes by. Any more than he asked to be overwhelmed by challenges and discouraged by failures. Or to be distracted by every single sound and sight and thought.

I didn't ask for it, but I'll accept the challenge, because it's the one that's been given to us. And how can I possibly ask Ethan to face his challenges with courage and determination if I don't show the same?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

From the Mouth of Babes

I am task oriented. If you look the term up in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure my latest passport photo is there to sum it all up. It doesn't bode well for life in Africa, actually. Or life with 4 kids. 4 kids IN Africa almost puts me over the line into certifiable.

I've read so many books and blogs about motherhood, and its sacred value, and I believe it all with my head. But in the day-to-day grind its really hard for me to get excited about laundry which just gets dirty again, or dinner which gets rapidly devoured, has to be cleaned up off the table and floor, and then has to be wiped off bottoms the next day. (Sorry if that's too much--I'm a nurse with 4 kids. Poop stopped horrifying me years ago.) What they don't necessarily tell you about task-orientated people is that we want to do a meaningful task, check if off the list, and move on to the next meaningful task---not face the same mundane thing 17 minutes later. Because that's not accomplishing tasks. That's my worst nightmare. And that's life. But as much as I despise the 'wash and repeat' nature of a mom's life, it's still easier to do that load of laundry than to tackle tasks like:

1. turn children's hearts towards God.
2. foster gentleness and grace towards one another
3. embrace each child's differences and build self-esteem without entitlement
4. teach children how to balance life between cultures and how to help without hurting
5. encourage generosity towards the needs around us while avoiding bitterness at the
     things we've given up to be here

Chad has been out of town a lot this year. The first few times were rough, mostly because I maintained such a long list of things to do each day, and I never put being both mom and dad to the kids on the list (cause really--how do you check that off???). But slowly, with gentle reminders from my dear husband and prompting from the Holy Spirit, (and the return of my work partner to take some of the tasks off my plate--hallelujah!) I'm starting to get it, and we're in a rhythm that's working pretty well. There might be hope for me yet, because... miracle alert!...yesterday I put aside packing boxes for our upcoming move and painted rocks with the kids all afternoon. No joke!

Last night, Omara was in tears because she couldn't find any pajama bottoms at bedtime. The clean laundry, folded but not put away yet (see, task undone) was nearby so I pulled out clean jammies and said, "Momma saves the day!" She laughed and said, "No, you don't!" so I tickled her, she squealed, and we went up to bed.

This morning, she was still in those jammies when she wanted to go play, so I told her to get dressed. She cried because she didn't want to go upstairs to get once again, I pulled out clean clothes from the same laundry basket full of cloths still not put away, and said, "See, momma saves the day again!"

Omara rolled her eyes and said, "Mom, washing laundry does not save the day."

I have to admit, that voice inside my know the one that always feels under (or un-)appreciated? It tried to take a jab at me. "For crying out loud child, it totally saves the day, because it's now TWICE averted a 4-year-old-melt-down, and anything that can do that is most definitely a day-saver!!!!!"

But that was just in my head.

Out-loud I said, "I thought surely washing laundry saved the day!"

In her best lecturing voice, she shook her head at me and explained, "No, mom. It doesn't. Kisses, and kisses with hugs, save the day." And with a big juicy kiss planted on my cheek, she danced off.

Kisses with hugs. That I can do. Maybe, just maybe, it'll save the day in the end.

I'll add that to the list...


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The days crawl as the months fly

There are days I feel like I have nothing to write about--the dullness of life answering e-mail and breaking up fights between over-active children. And then 2 months go by, and I can't wrap my head around how to talk about all that has happened in those 60 days, and I swear to never let so much time go without updating this blog again!

In the past 2 months...

We lost our place of worship on campus due to a foiled attack at University of Nairobi; the terrorists were caught, but all religious meetings were banned from the dorms. We met outside in the center square for 5 or 6 weeks, and people (us included) were discouraged. And then, just when we were losing hope, one of our students found favor in the eyes of the officials and got us granted access again! Last week, we worshiped in our old Hall 3 TV lounge along with 24 others. God is Faithful in providing what we need to glorify His name!

Chad was arrested by a very angry police man for going12 miles/hr over the speed limit. Thankfully the high-school kids he was carrying pulled together the $110 bail, since he didn't have enough, and he was released. Under orders to show up in court the following Monday. Along with every other person pulled over in random stops and for contrived reasons over the weekend. I tried to get him to court on time, but the traffic at 7am was so thick I was couldn't move, so he jumped out of the car in his suit and nice shoes, and ran the 5km. In order to be there by 8. In order to wait for the judge to show up at 9. In order to wait for her to work through old cases first while sitting with hundreds of others squeezed onto a few rough benches, while being worked over by the police offering to make their 'cases' go away in exchange for some 'tea'. In order for her to take a break at 11 and return at 12:20. In order to be called before her, to be given 5 seconds to admit guilt, and be fined $200 for this serious infraction. And warned that next time it will be much more severe. Because, you know, when there are taxi drivers going the wrong way down streets and buses passing on the wrong side by driving up on the side walks, and pure mayhem in the round-abouts, going 43 miles per hour on the main highway is really uncalled for. Forgive us.

The day after his court appearance, we drove the 9 1/2 death-defying hours to the coast. It actually wasn't that bad--we were only run off the road 9 times total, so who can complain? The kids were total champs; 9 1/2 hrs, 2 squatty-potty breaks, no fast food, and no electronics? Amazing! And then--all inclusive resort on the Indian Ocean? Yes, please!!! The only good thing about all the terrorist threats and travel advisories is rocking-low hotel deals!  So anyone looking for a good time--I'm telling you, Turtle Bay is where it's at!!!
Of course, all vacations must end, so we packed up and made the 9 1/2 hr death-defying drive back home, and it's always worse heading back to normal life, right? We hit truck traffic on the outskirts of town, and could feel the pressure rising again. You really have to have driven here in Nairobi before you can fully appreciate the horror, or the anger it invokes. The only thing worse was...Chad getting pulled over by another angry police man. Again. No joke. I thought Chad might just turn the car around and head to the airport. Take it as a definite sign we were being called to move back to sanity. There was a delicate dance around the police man's offer of a 3,000/= bribe, and let me tell you--that's where the rubber hits the road. How committed are you to refusing corruption? Committed enough to pass up $30 and your convictions in exchange for a $300 fine, a full day in a stinking court, and intentional humiliation??? We stood firm, though, and groveled low, and this time we were shown mercy. Once the police heard Chad is a pastor and "must have a receipt for all payments" (aka doesn't bribe), he made us grovel just a bit lower and then waved us away in disgust. And I believe God was in that, because I'm not sure we could have survived another day in court again so soon!

So that's what happens in 2 months in the life of a worker overseas. Really high highs, and really low lows, and a lot of every day life in between. So don't pity, and don't praise...just honor our attempts to live faithfully where God has placed us by living faithfully where God has placed you.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times

Tragedy is raging around us, and we're not in the very middle of any of it.

But we've got court-side seats to a lot of it. Flames of others' heartbreak and suffering seem to lick at my feet at all times. Medical crises. Home invasions. Mental breakdowns. Violence. Al-Shabab. Threats. Violence. More violence.

And I know that it shouldn't overwhelm me; I am only a minor player in each event. But to be honest, it does. It grieves me, and tires me, and builds up, straw upon straw, on this tired camel.

I was on a business trip last week to an area near Ethiopia, and let me just give a shout-out to those working in that HEAT. Oh. My. Goodness!!!! It was a great trip, but a lot of work and a lot of sweat. Literally.
Lots of sweat.
I was there when the massacre occurred in Garissa, so I watched in remote horror from my hotel room. NOT AGAIN. Please, Jesus, not again. A couple of bales of straw fell as I saw those horrible photos from the aftermath.

And then I developed a case of shingles. No joke. So insignificant next to the horrors at the University. But one more straw.

As my plane landed back in Kenya on Good Friday, my phone blew up with texts and e-mail regarding another horrible situation. Chad and I were up until 2am working on that. Straws.

On Saturday, we spent hours talking about Garissa. And University of Nairobi. And the church service there on Easter Sunday, where Chad needed to bring a message of hope and forgiveness and life defeating death. And if it made sense to take our family there, given the threats that Garissa was just the beginning of attacks against Universities in Kenya. And we agreed we would go. That could be a whole blog entry itself, but suffice it to say Straws.

That night, Chad woke up with severe pain, taking his breath entirely away. I had the opportunity to practice my NP skills and see a massively positive Murphy's sign (definitely gallbladder attack!) So off to the ER we went, with a dear friend willing to come over at 1am and sit in our cold living room in case our kids woke up.

Unfortunately, or fortunately? the ultrasound and blood work was entirely normal. "Acalculous Biliary Colic" sounds much fancier than it is. Basically, it's a gallbladder attack with no evidence of one! Super fun. Starting to feel like the straw-man by this time.

Sunday morning the kids woke as if nothing was wrong, excited for Easter. I stumbled out of bed, having had 3 hours of sleep, and got a pathetic breakfast of cold cereal on the table. No way Chad was preaching, so he called his guys. No problem, they said. We'll hold service without you, they said.

Worship will go on.

But I wasn't really worshiping. I was thankful for Jesus and all, and I was repeating over and over in my head, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow," but it was more a desperate plea than worship. Like, "Please. Can you help me face tomorrow?" "Please, can I feel like I'm alive as well????" Then add on top of that the guilt for an entirely non-intentional holy week for the kids, and no special meal, and not even church?!?!?!? I wondered what it will actually feel like when the camel's back breaks.

At noon, as I was contemplating if Easter lunch should be PB &J or toasted cheese, our college guys called again. They wanted to come over and pray for Chad. So sure enough, 8 guys trooped over across town, bringing a guitar and their worship.

And suddenly, church came to us. There in our living room, groggy and overwhelmed and sleep deprived and discouraged, they prayed for us, and they sang Luya and Swahili worship songs, and we laughed and talked and just enjoyed being together. Chad had a chance to encourage them with the words he'd wanted to share. Conversation naturally drifted to life-on-life topics like dating, and future wives, and parenthood. Man, that's where discipleship HAPPENS!!!

I whipped up a couple batches of home-made cinnamon rolls, and we had enough dyed eggs to share, and they had brought fresh tropical bananas as a gift to us...and we put it all together for the most blessed Easter lunch I can remember.

And isn't that the real message of Easter? When the new dresses and the honey-baked ham and chocolate bunnies melt away, isn't it all about blessings in the midst of tragedy? Hope when everything seems hopeless? Forgiveness when that seems impossible? The Church being the extension of Jesus Himself, to come to us in our times of need?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lessons Learned: Home-school Day 1

I'm a planner at heart, so we made our steps towards home-school a full 2 weeks before it was to begin. We had our son finish out the quarter, have a big good-bye party with his class, and then enjoy his Spring Break. It was a decision that I think we were right on.

Today, Spring Break sadly over, his siblings climbed on the bus, and as we got them settled, he disappeared. After searching for him around the compound (with no small amount of trepidation over how on earth we were going to survive these 10 weeks) we found him sitting on the steps in front of his classroom. At 7:15am. I hadn't had nearly enough coffee yet!

So we decided there was "recess" first, while I drank my coffee and gathered his school books, and "prayed up" for the day.

3 1/2 hours later, we emerged...tired, a little overwhelmed, but successful. He had finished all his math, his reading, and his grammar. And I had come to several conclusions.

1. I no longer remember what constitutes a short vowel sound vs a long vowel sound. I'm fairly confident in my ability to USE vowel sounds correctly, but don't ask me to name them. I'm quite certain I messed up the whole lesson on breaking up syllables based on vowel sounds.

2. I have no idea how to parse the sentence: The pen will not write. I got subject and predicate, but what exactly is considered the verb? And is it considered past tense? Present tense? Either/or? Arggggg! As an English major at heart (though I spurned it for some inexplicable reason and focused instead on Biology) it's a major blow to my self-esteem. And Google was no help at all. Wikipedia--even worse. Hmmmmm. Perhaps having the teacher's book would have been helpful for grammar lessons.

3. 4th grade math is no problem. At least there's something I don't have to Google as I'm trying to teach! And thankfully, 4th grade math is no problem for him either. Unfortunately, natural ability and understanding does not equal ease in completing the task. We had to stop twice: once for him nearing death for lack of water (after I suggested a water bottle to begin with and he refused...but I'm distracted by minor details) and once because of a burning, passionate NEED to examine the nearby map and identify what regions of Kenya and Tanzania contain diamonds, gold, and "line-stone". So basically, that fulfilled our geography AND our spelling!

4. I should not read out-loud the sappy, inspirational stories that comprise a 4th grade reader. I bawled like a baby while reading him about Lou Gehrig. Lou was telling crowds of fans that he was the luckiest man on earth as he was slowly but surely died of a debilitating disease...and all our son could do was stare at me as my mascara ran. He informed me his old teacher never cried.

5. At the end of the day, having succeeded in teaching our son his lessons doesn't yet feel like I accomplished much. Believe me, my head knows that I did something important...I'm not knocking the value of teaching my child. But my heart feels some mournfulness at the lack of accomplishments off MY list. I'm praying for my heart to calibrate to the new measure of a successful day.

6. Our son knows the measure of success. At dinner he prayed for us, and he thanked God for the food, for the strength that it would give us, and for the special time that he had with mom today. And that sentiment...that my heart understands. I can't fully explain why school was so rough for him. I can't really comprehend why he is needing this. But my heart understands that he does, and that it's something I can give to him for this time.

So on we go...on this adventure of parenting. Of meeting our kids at the place of their need. Of challenging our kids to always grow and mature and loving them when they haven't yet. Of setting aside our list in order to check off some items off theirs. It's not an easy adventure by any means.

But the best ones rarely are.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Joining the Club

I have lots of friends who home-school; most out of necessity overseas in locations without other options, but many who do so out of conviction or preference or a combination of it all. Many of my friends thrive home-schooling, and some struggle. Home-school...Lots of reasons--lots of reactions--lots of opinions.

I never wanted to go there. In fact, by the second day of my first child's KG--when she had no desire to let me show her how to make a capital letter A, I knew that if I ever tried to home-school my children, one of us wouldn't survive; jury was still out on which of us would succumb first, but there was no doubt that one would.

When we answered the call to come overseas, we made sure it was a location that had a good schooling option for the children. One that did not involve me being mom and teacher.

Does that sound like I was putting limits on God???

That's exactly what I was doing. So 3 years later, after being challenged by David Platt's Radical Together, we "put it all on the alter," including home-schooling, and thought God might be leading us to serve deeper, in rural Mozambique. Where we would home-school. I was terrified, and at peace at the same time. And then, in what to this day feels like God providing the ram stuck in the bushes, we were asked to move to Nairobi instead. Where there is a great school.

Ahhhhhh. Trust in the Lord and He will provide the desires of your heart. He knows your abilities and your talents and will never give you more than you can bear. Let go and let God. "I know the plans I have for you...plans to give you a hope and a future." And every other true-but-not-always-the-way-we-think platitude that has ever been cross-stitched or embroidered or turned into a bumper sticker.

I'm guessing you're tracking with me that there's more to the story...

So here we are, in Nairobi Kenya, city of 4+ million and shopping malls and movie theaters and schools. Not in rural Mozambique, 12-hrs away from the nearest fuel station.

And our beloved child is struggling at school. Struggling enough that the anxiety of school makes him vomit several times a week. Struggling enough that his grades each week range from 100% to 0% depending on his ability to focus that day. Struggling enough that his teacher had to move him to the back of the class just to be able to cope with him being in the classroom. Struggling enough that one day, he curled up inside his cubby before school started and hid for 90 minutes, rather than face the day. And no, they don't have giant cubbies. They have normal, small square cubbies and he went fetal inside one for 90 minutes.

The school has tried a 504 plan to help, and it hasn't helped. Legally, ideally...sure. The school should be able to accommodate him. But in the process, our son is suffering, and I can't watch it happen any longer.

So with lots of talk, lots of prayer, and lots of wise counsel from numerous sources, we're about to join the Home-school Club. And the irony is not lost on me...the "ram" of Nairobi--what I thought was letting me off of my promise to do whatever God asked me to do--is calling that promise due.

But here's the thing. I love my son. I love my job too, and I'm going to have to make some changes in it, going to have to let some things go. I'm going to have to say goodbye to the gym for now, and I love the gym. I love my flexible time between 7:30 and 4:30 when they're in school. But I love my son.

I believe that God has given us...all of us...some irrevocable callings. I'm a follower of Jesus, and that's irrevocable. A wife and a mother, and those are irrevocable. I live a missional, surrendered life, and that's irrevocable. But the rest????

I'm a medical coordinator, and I love my job. I live in Kenya, and I love that on most days. We plan on living here for a good long time. But my job could change. He could tell us to move. Because I'm not called to live forever and ever in Nairobi doing this job. It's not irrevocable. It's time-limited. God's time for sure, but limited none-the-less.

But protecting my son and his fragile heart and even more fragile sense of worth? Irrevocable. I'm called to do that until the day I take my last breath.

So...home-schooling might cause me to take my last breath sooner than I had anticipated. No, I know I'm being overly-dramatic. But no, really. It might. I'm a little terrified at times.

But the thing is, all those earlier platitudes are, in fact, truer than true. They do not mean God gives us whatever we want. Or that God makes life easy for those He loves. Or that if you stick with God you'll be healthy, wealthy, and wise. But they do mean God is Sovereign. So I will choose to let go and let God. I will choose to believe that He has a plan for my son's life that involves hope. I will choose to rest in the fact that God won't give me more than I can bear, because with Him, I can bear anything.

And He's ready for me to call those promises due.