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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"There must be something in the staff," said Moses

I have a love-hate relationship with Country music. If you don't remember my last emotional foray into it, you can catch up here. Country songs can be so great--they tell the story so much better than other genres. Or at least, more clearly. You can follow the plot--as opposed to, say, U2.

I love U2's Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World, because it resonates with me, in theory. But honestly--tell that story. You've been working all night; you're tired and beaten; you're far from home; (I'm right there with you, Bono.) Then you dream of the Dali Lama at a grocery store hugging a woman and driving a car through a needle (an updated reference to the rich getting into heaven? I don't know!) Then you gotta make your faith see (ok) and a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bike (I've had that thought before, but...nope, you lost me).

So back to Country music, where the lyrics may be depressing but at least they make sense! To Chad's relief, we don't have access to country music here in Kenya. Except that I just found iTunes radio!!!!!  The first song to come on was Carrie Underwood's Something in the Water.

I'm a fan of believers invading secular space with truth, and I'm impressed she was able to make this song a hit, played on all the stations, and there's a lot of truth in it. But...

I want to tell you another story. I'm going to summarize for you, but you can read it all in Numbers 20: 2-13, and Deuteronomy 32:48-52. Basically, the people have fled captivity in Egypt, they're wandering aimlessly in the desert, and they're thirsty. Time and time again, God has provided for the needs of His people, and yet still they "quarrel" with Moses and think back to Egypt as the "good ole' days." But this is not about the sin of the Israelites. Moses takes the quarrel to God, and God says, (listen carefully) "Take your staff...and tell the rock to yield its water." So Moses "takes his staff  as (God) commanded him," goes to the rock, and says, "Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" and strikes the rock...and out comes life-saving water.

But Moses is confronted by God, who says, 'Because you did not trust me enough to honor me as holy..." and after 40 years of wandering, Moses doesn't get to cross into the Promised Land. In Deut. 32, God reminds Moses that his punishment is for "breaking faith with me."

I always thought that Moses' sin was claiming credit for the water ("shall we"), and that's still probably part of it. It's never a good idea to take credit for God's action! But now I've lived in Africa for some years, and I have a new understanding.

So here's what Africa has taught me: it's really easy for us, weak-minded humans longing to cling to the physically seen, to put the power in things created. Like the staff--which clearly God had used to transmit His power. It turned into a snake, parted the sea, brought water from the rock the time before (when God TOLD him to strike the rock with it), made the battle go in Israel's seemed to be a pretty powerful tool! There must be something in the staff, Moses might have thought. So when the people needed water, and God told him to take his staff and speak, he just got confused as to where the power really came from. And so he "didn't trust God enough to honor HIM as holy."

We see this all the time in Africa, where traditional religion has long-taught that physical objects can be imbued with power. We of the Western mind might be tempted to smile or chuckle at the thought that ground-up geckos hidden in a husband's food will keep him "close to the home" (ie--not cheating), or that a ritual performance would empower a stone necklace to keep a child from getting sick. But...

There must be something in the water.

Is our popular form of Christianity so different? Don't we hear implied that the special formula of the "sinner's prayer" saves? That ritualistic church attendance on Sundays is enough? That claiming a promise of God with enough faith can force God to bless us in the ways we define blessings? That only some versions of the Scriptures can impart truth? That the method of baptism is so important that some ways are valid and some aren't?

Is one dunk enough? Or does it have to be 3? Does it have to be backwards or is frontwards also salvational? Is an ocean baptism ok? What if the pool is so shallow there's a spot of dry left? What if it's in a place as unholy as a bathtub? What if culture prevents men and women touching, so the one doing the baptism is a...gasp...woman!

Is there something in the water?            Or is there something in the Giver of water?
Something in the method?                     Or is it the Way Himself?
Something in the performance?            Or is it the Lord of the dance?

Let's be careful that we trust God enough to honor Him as holy. Him--not our cultures or our practices or our rituals.  They're all good, but they're not God.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Single Story

I think my favorite blogger right now is a woman named Rachel Pieh Jones, writing at Djibouti Jones. I don't know her, but I resonate with her, struggling with expatriate issues and acculturation with deep authenticity. She has a great post called, When Rich Westerners Don't Know They are Being Rich Westerners that every cross-cultural worker and every short-term mission team should read as a pre-visa requirement!

I read that blog while on Stateside, and somehow with it I also discovered an amazing TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie  regarding the Dangers of a Single Story. It's worth every one of the 17 minutes to listen to her!

Both hit me in the gut, at a time we were regularly telling the story of our past 4 years in Malawi and Kenya to churches and small groups and the few individuals who asked and then actually stayed around to hear the answer to "What was it like..." I immediately went back to our slide-show and watched it through my new lens. Was I telling only one story? Was I selling Africa short by continuing the single-narrative of poverty and ignorance and tragedy? By showing all we had done to "save" it? I removed a few slides, added a few others, edited what I said. Became, in general, more aware of telling the full story. The victories of our Kenyan friends along with their challenges. The strengths of our Malawian friends, not just their obstacles. This was an issue I had always struggled with, these very thoughts nagging from the back of my brain since my days as an kid in Ethiopia, but never able to be coherently expressed. These women nailed it.

We've been back in Kenya for just over a year. Now that the issue has moved from the primal but unspoken brain into the forefront, I notice more often when people are telling a single story. And I realize it deeper when I'm suddenly faced with my own 1-dimensional biases.

I have always felt incredibly blessed to have been born an American. Through no merit of my own, I was born in a rural, run-down hospital; brought into the world on a cold metal gurney in a place with no back-up generator, nursing call-lights, or any sort of neonatal care, like the majority of the world. And yet I thrived, and I was awarded a blue passport, like the minority. It was my duty, it seemed, to be grateful for this gift. And I took up that duty with zealous compassion and humility--so much opportunity. So much responsibility.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I ran into a series of old friends from my days in Kenyan boarding school. Kenyans and Ethiopians, mind you. And I heard them tell their stories since high school...of world travel, of top-notch higher education. Of International awards, and earth-changing innovations. Of their estates and their staff and their vacations. And I realized, all along I had thought of myself as the lucky one, even next to them. Because I had the American passport. Yet I assure's not them with the envy!

And again, our church announced a fund-raising effort to fix the leaking roof and pave the parking lot and help with local ministries. It's a good-sized community, with a great mix of social classes and few expats. The pastor challenged us to think of what we could give above and beyond our tithe, and I found myself just a little bit proud that I thought we could donate 80,000KSH (roughly $1000) from funds we've set aside to use to help. I didn't mean to feel proud, but it was there anyway, an uninvited and mostly invisible guest until the pastor went on to announce that one church member had pledged to give 1,000,000KSH. Before some of you glaze over the numbers, or others bring up your calculators, let me help. That's $12,500. Twelve.thousand.five.hundred.dollars. And since I know the other 2 expat families in the church, I know for a fact it was none of us!!!! No, that was a Kenyan family, pledging to give the church $12,500 over the next year, and I identified that unwanted guest called pride when it was thrown back in my face.

I've also been trying to keep up with world news better, trying to pray through each 'top story' each day. But I'm in Kenya, so I'm international enough to get my news through Al-Jazeera, and American enough to have felt a little weird about that at first! But it's opening my eyes to bigger pictures, to fuller stories. And I'd like to think I'm better for it.

Not perfect, but faster to see my prejudices and my biases; faster to repent for believing a single story could ever sum up a people or a position. So I challenge you to look for the full stories; among the 55 different countries of Africa, among the suffering of Muslims at the hands of Jihadists, among the political parties of America, within the vaccine war. It takes more time, sure. You might have to think more. But aren't we as people, as ALL of us equally created in the image of God, worth it?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Life's a Dance

My dear husband made the sweetest offer.

"Go sit. Relax. Read a book. Drink something warm. I'll put the kids to bed tonight."

He's been gone a lot so far in 2015--away from Nairobi for something like 17 days of the first 31. It was all really important stuff, and I was happy to hold down the fort while he was gone, but I'm tired. Particularly tired of my nemesis, otherwise known as bedtime. My heart swelled at his offer.

I had been pondering several blog ideas throughout the day. Moses and his staff were on my mind. As was a scene in a great movie called Instinct. Swirlings of thought I figured might come together nicely with a hot cup of apple cider, my hair up, and my door closed against the bedtime routine of 4 happy, hyper children.

I got the cider made and the hair up, but just as I sat

Sometimes life comes in the form of an unexpected visitor, since we live at the guesthouse. Often it's a phone call. At times it's all forms of new-under-the-sun crazy from the kids. Tonight it was a combination. Chad's phone rang (one of his main student leaders) at the same time one child had sudden, explosive diarrhea...and didn't make it to the toilet in time.

Dearest Chad. He had the best intentions of letting me put my feet up and eat bonbons for once, but it was not to be. Just the phone call? No problem. But I couldn't leave him stranded in the middle of a code brown!

Flowers and Buffalo Poo
It was right for Chad to offer me a break after an intensive few weeks solo. It was right, and I accept its intention for all the love it was offered with. But it was also right for me to roll up my sleeves without being hair was already up, remember? help with the messiness of life when everything (literally) exploded.

So I guess that's the dance of marriage--both knowing when to offer grace, and knowing when to accept it. When it works the way it's supposed to, what a beautiful flow it has! We've stepped on each others toes aplenty these 16 years, but it's a dance I long to get right.

So my deep and ponderous blog didn't get written, and my cider cooled down. But my kids are clean and unashamed and resting up for another day. And Chad and I both feel loved and supported in this life, despite never knowing exactly when or where the poop may fall--all because he showed his love by making an offer I couldn't refuse; and I refused it anyway.

Perhaps I'll get my quiet time tomorrow. Or not, knowing life. Sometimes it really is the thought that counts!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Advanced Parenting: the Shame Shift

Confessions of a not-so-secret nerd: I've always loved school. Fresh notebooks? An excuse to buy pens? Life was great with a book bag and studying and learning new things every day. Even now I see my friends from Grad school on Facebook heading back for PhDs, and...I know, I shouldn't admit it, but I do--I feel a twinge of jealousy!

Funny I didn't have that same reaction when our counselor said we were incredibly blessed to have a child who would help us go beyond 'Parenting 101' into 'Advanced Parenting'. I was quite content being a 'good-enough-parent' know the kind? Nothing stupendous or miraculous, making my share of mistakes and learning as I go, but well-intentioned and full of love and always providing basic needs. No one is perfect; good enough seemed a reasonable goal.

Except that I forgot one thing. Being full of love and communicating love are two different things. There's this pesky little thing in communication called the other person! Drat!!!

See, I thought I understood about shame and kids. Remember...good enough! I wasn't saying, "You're a rotten kid!" "Why can't you do anything right?" "Why can't you be like..." or "What's wrong with you?" Ok, that last one might have slipped out once or twice, but I knew it was wrong and I felt terrible, and that's part of what led us to realize that good enough wasn't good enough anymore!

What I was saying most days was, "Because you made that very poor decision, you've lost the ipad for today" or "Because you just deliberately disobeyed my instructions you'll have to go to bed early" or sometimes just, "Arrrrrggggggg! What is going ON with you????" It was all a combination of honest bewilderment and what I thought was clear communication of consequences. I swear it was in that Basic Parenting 101 text they don't give us new parents upon discharge!

What we didn't know was that our son was hearing only one real word in all of it..."you" along with sensing the mounting frustration and stress in all the unspoken communication.

We really had to come to grips with the difference between guilt and shame. I had never pondered that one, to be honest. Seemed like semantics. But guilt is good--guilt says, "I've done something wrong" and it leads to repentance and reparation. Shame says "I am bad" and what's a little boy to do to fix that?

Even now I tear up at the thought of what that must have felt like to him; the hopelessness of feeling innately bad. It certainly didn't lead him to making "healthier decisions," which frustrated us, which heaped up more burning shame upon his head. You get the picture.

And yet he makes some really poor decisions--ones a good parent can't ignore. For weeks we felt trapped in no-man's land between loosing all the 101 tools and yet not really understanding Advanced Parenting-ese.

But slowly, I was able to get my head around what the counselor and the books meant when they talked about looking for the meaning behind the behavior. So now I try to say, "Wow. That ipad has really made you hyper! To help you make better choices, I'm going to put it away for the rest of the day." Or "Yikes--watching a movie right before bedtime makes it really hard for your brain and body to settle down. Since sleep is so important for you, I'm going to make sure you get enough sleep by not having us watch movies before bed again." Because I'm the parent and I'm going to make the hard choices that he doesn't have the maturity to make. Not as punishment, but in love, because that's what he needs.

When I'm really in a good place, I can say, "Hmmm. You're flat-out refusing to do homework. You must be really scared or overwhelmed about something," because why else would a smart kid refuse to do 5 math problems????

When he forgets the family rules and climbs on the coffee table and jumps to the couch and back while watching Spiderman...yes, he's breaking my rules AGAIN. And yes, I've told him a million times. And yes, it drives me crazy and I feel ignored and disrespected. But I'm working to see that his disobedience and hyperactivity is a symptom, not the disease. He's reacting to the stress and excitement of the movie, and Spiderman literally makes him climb the walls!

I try to focus on being tuned in to what is triggering the behaviors or the bad choices, and addressing that rather than punishing him. Half the time he's only fractionally aware of what he's just done anyway! So we talk about how his brain makes him do impulsive things sometimes--not to remove his guilt. Never to disregard his responsibility. No--to remove his shame, so that he's empowered to know that he CAN do something to control it. To give him hope for growth and maturity.

And slowly by slowly, it's working. It hasn't stopped the behaviors necessarily, but it gives us the language to talk about them in a way for him to take ownership of them rather than recoil in powerlessness.

We're not ready to teach the course on Advanced Parenting by any means. And I'm a little slow up on the uptake, clearly, since we have FOUR children, and I've been a parent for THIRTEEN years and I'm only just now realizing how severely I'm getting my butt kicked. I mean, I knew parenting was hard. But it's H.A.R.D. Like--days where I would push the panic button and get off the ride if I could-hard.

I won't wax poetic about how it's worth it in the end. I don't doubt it will be, someday, and those who have gone before me and survived confirm that it is. But it's not enough for me in the trenches of today. It seems too far away to push through today based on the hopes for mature and well-adjusted adult children. But what I can fight for here and now and every day, in the battle for my children's hearts, is love.

Love that is not just communicated by me, but is felt by them. Because "there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 1John 4:17-18.