A new slower journey (plus a bonus adoption update!)

My dad is a story teller.  His fish are big, his journeys are long, and they are always uphill.

There is one story I vividly remember him telling me as a girl.  I have no idea if this is an original or true story – I just know it made an impression.

His story started with him being a lad on the farm with a chore to complete.  (I am sure he used the word “lad!”) His dad gave him a metal bucket to fill with water from the drudge ditch and bring to the big barn. It was a warm afternoon and as he carried the bucket he was enjoying the walk through the golden fields under the blue cloud filled sky.  To his dismay, when he arrived at the barn the once full bucket was empty.  He set out to try again aiming to please his father.  He went faster the second time around, but the pail still did not hold the water from the ditch to the barn…since it had a hole in the bottom.  Trying to get his chore done he tried many solutions: running, patching the hole with mud, and a few more that slip my mind.  (My dad is a better story teller than I.)

I recently thought of this story during a visit to a guest house in January.  It had been a long, hard, but very good semester.  Honestly, I think we could safely say the hardest semester we have had living overseas.  But, I also wouldn’t be lying if I said that I have learned more in this hard season than in the previous 10 years as an expat.  Maybe some day I will be able to tell the story of this semester, but for now you can just imagine me as a lad on a farm running hard trying to get my work done.

My natural reaction to a hard season…work harder, try harder, run faster.  The thing is, a bucket with a hole in it won’t carry water no matter how fast you run or how hard you try.

When I took time to slow down, reflect and get real with Jesus – well, the crazy thing is – I think rest is what He wanted to give me.  I don’t think He wants me to try harder or work faster.  I think He would be pleased if I simply would ABIDE.

I am not good at abiding.

Sabbath.  What?!

In general, I am not a disciplined person.  But when it comes to the spiritual disciplines, this is the one I am worst at.  I blame it on being a perfectionist.  I rationalize it away by saying that hard work is good for the soul.  I have small children how can I rest?  What will others say when they find out I had to take a break?

Really, it is pride.  All excuses that keep me from making space to abide.

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We took a much needed break.  Some very generous souls took over my responsibilities for several weeks to give us a rest and to allow us to attend a training conference.  I sat on the beach.  I went to bed early.  The dear folks who run the guest house for “workers” like us did our laundry, cooked all our meals and just gave us space to rest.  We made memories as a family and I read some great books (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta and  In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Both so very good.  Read them.  You won’t regret it.) We took space to prepare for the next season, got more training, and fell on our faces before our Creator.

Through it all, I felt a still small voice in my heart asking me to abide – to stop trying harder and just trust Him.

I needed it.

We are now back home and starting a new semester.  Not just any old semester, but one that holds many demands, high stakes and a new baby (to us) as well.

Isn’t God so good to give me the generous gift of a break right before another busy season?

As we start classes again, put together a toddler bed, dive back into our homeschool books, soak beans for dinner, and pack for an adoption trip….I keep coming back to the idea that I don’t need to try harder.

We leave to go get our new son in one week…maybe two.  Ekkk!  (Did you read that little adoption update in this long, ranting, personal growth blog post?!  We also have a name for our new sweet guy.  Call me.  I will tell you!  A hint: his middle name is after that story telling grandfather.) With a new little one on his way, life isn’t going to slow down any.  I need to slow down my soul.  I am taking deep breaths.  Going to bed earlier.  Reading a few phrases of my book.  Smiling. Walking. Trusting.

Abiding.

I am on a new slower journey.  Tell me how you abide.  I could use some tips!

 

My Crazy Life – December edition

December is just one of those months.  Every year I get so homesick for my extended family and Christmas traditions that I could burst into tears at any given moment.  But, every year we have the privilege of celebrating Christmas cross-culturally, I am filled with joy at the opportunities to experience the true meaning of Advent.  I could explode over the wonder of it all.  My crazy life.

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This year was like the others, busy with open houses for students, story telling, cookie baking, Christmas art projects, frosting and sprinkles.  It has been breath taking…and so very fun.  I really think that this month will go down in the books as one of the best Christmas seasons ever.  It wasn’t perfect.  I burnt cookies, got overwhelmed by the number of guests that came through our home, and Little Man picked his nose through his debut in the Christmas play.  (Friend, that could be a post on its own.  My son dressed as a wiseman digging for treasure up his nose.  Yes, he saw me give him the “momma stink eye.”  Then says to me FROM STAGE,  “Just a second, I almost have it!” He then pulled it out and flung it.  True story.  Sigh.)

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So it wasn’t perfect, but there were moments that I will treasure for years to come.  I was able to be the first one to share the Christmas story with a student.  How perfect is that?  Decorating sugar cookies with all of my art students who called the frosting paint and couldn’t keep themselves from licking everything…Okay, a little gross, but oh so priceless.  My children hosting and helping.  I think that treasure is the one I will ponder the most.  Soccer Dude pushing a wheel chair and breaking off bits of cookies to put in the lips of children who are paralyzed.  That is a gift.

 

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There are many days that I long for Christmas of the past when I was at home with my parents and eating western food and attending a Christmas eve service.  But honestly, if next Christmas would find us back in the States, I would miss what I have here.  My crazy life.  True story.

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Back at it

IMG_1355If you don’t hear from me for the next 12 years it is because I am now homeschooling 4 children and it is kicking my tail!  I have now done Kindergarten several times and really thought it would be no big deal to add it to our daily school business.   Well reality has hit but we haven’t hit our stride.

All joking aside, we are working hard to get into a rhythm for the semester.  Hubby has two weeks of classes under his belt (they are mostly literature classes again with a fun grad class to boot) and I have enjoyed two art projects with my special students at the orphanage.  Play-dough and dot markers are a great way to start the fall.

On the home front we are tackling Kindergarten along with 3rd, 6th and 8th grades.  Little Man was thrilled at first to have his own shelf of books and to be a “real” student.  Three days in he was asking how many days we needed to do this school thing!  Reality hits.  The girls and I are digging in a bit deeper this year and exploring some creative elements in art and writing that have been over looked in the past.  Hoping we can keep up the fun.  Soccer Dude is testing the waters with online schooling and enjoying it even though there is a learning curve.  Never a dull moment when a notice is posted on the apartment complex door that we will have no electricity when we were scheduled for a Skype meeting with his teacher and he was to do an online math test.  In the end, we packed all the kids up and took the excuse to explore a newly opened Starbucks in our city.  The kids joked that they felt like they were going to school in the States!  I guess we don’t live in the backwoods any more if we are able to order a frappuccino!

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All in all – we might not have hit a stride for the fall, but we are slipping back into routine and slowly recovering from our crazy summer.   Soccer Dude even let me take his picture at Starbucks.  He is looking good (thank you to the plastic surgeon in Detroit!) and all of his stitches have fallen out making eating so much easier.  Now, if only we could find an allergy medication to help him with the hives he’s had since the dog bite.

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Many have also asked how Little Man is doing.  I sometimes forget he had such a major surgery at the beginning of the summer.  He is back to his old self running around so much that there already is a crack forming at the toes of his prosthetic.  I wonder if there has ever been a package shipped internationally with “foot” marked as it contents.  We might ask our team of doctors in Florida to give it a try before we have toes fall off again!

Thanks again for all of your support and prayers as we have transitioned into the fall.  His grace has been so real to us over the last few months and we know it will continue to carry us.

Out With the Old and In With the New

The smell of rancid meat is a great welcome home.  Oh. Yes. We. Did.  Our careful selves unplugged the power bar under the desk to keep our $20 printer safe from a power surge in our absence.  Well played except that we forgot that our extra fridge also uses that plug.  If you can skip the weird factor that our extra fridge is in our bedroom next to our desk/office space that is also in our master bedroom, you can go straight to the fact that this extra fridge was left to us by previous teachers.  This used fridge was a welcome gift since tracking down ground meat in this city can be a treasure hunt and when I find it, I stock pile.

We were gone for three weeks.  It was a fantastic time filled with great training, renewal, and rest.   Nothing like pulling out for a few weeks to give you a fresh perspective.  I am sure you will hear more about our trip in the next couple of posts.  We came home armed with new resources and a vision to embrace our new semester with boldness and innovation.

Kinda funny how you can be so ready for something new and be hit with the smell of the old as soon as you walk in the door.  Actually, we could smell it in the hall of our apartment.  So sorry neighbors!

A freezer filled with meat that had thawed and sat in my bedroom for three weeks…Wow!  Actually it was the two bags of chocolate chips and the 3 lb bag of coffee that I was saving in that same freezer that brought me to tears…and I never cry.  (Okay, that is a lie.  I cry a lot, but these tears I am blaming on our late evening arrival and my crazy love of both chocolate and coffee.  Oh, Ld deliver me!)

My sweet husband rolled up his sleeves and began to scrub.

It has been two days and you can not believe the smell that lingers.  We have tried everything, but due to the “excellent” design of the freezer that has a seam at its back that leads to a 2 inch compartment….well, let’s just say we push on the bottom of the freezer and we see red foam.  Crazy.

Today, I gave in.  I think we might just need perform surgery on the freezer and saw out the bottom or throw it out.

Not that I am over thinking this rancid meat as I come home thing….but, it really feels so ironic.  Sometimes all you can do is throw in the sponge.

Hubby starts his classes today.   He again has been assigned the literature classes with the added bonus of being asked to teach more freshmen on a second campus.  My classes start tomorrow.  No new students for me….the same sweet kids will be eagerly greeting me as I enter the orphanage halls.  So, what is my new?  Oh, that I could put into words what is taking place in my heart.  I guess all I can say is that I have new depths in my heart.  I am being broken so that I can love even more deeply.

I also might be shopping for a new freezer.

 

I can’t forget

Sitting here in my pj pants sipping strong coffee reflecting on the week.  Oh, what a week.  The first week of the semester always is a bit overwhelming, I must admit it and should be prepared for it.   But I can safely say this week was more intense than most.  Yes, Hubby had his first week of teaching with all the new student and textbook craziness.  We did start homeschooling and jumped into figuring out Chinese classes for the girls at the international school and I was at the orphanage setting up what my art classes will be.  All of that but more.

Trying to decide what to share and what should be left between me and my coffee.

But if I don’t share their stories…..

I had a few key meetings this week at the orphanage to plan our involvement for the semester.  So many opportunities have been mentioned and we really needed clarity and wisdom over what we should do.  Unfortunately, the need is just greater than OUR time and resources.  But, we happen to know the ONE who has no limits.  That was my comfort and peace as I was given a unique invitation to tour a facility outside our city with a special education director.

Let me back up a bit.

Children who grow up in the orphanage have two paths their lives might go down….1. to be adopted and set in a family  2. to grow up in the system and at age 18 they are released to be on their own — or sent to an adult institution.

(Can I just say again….please adopt!)

Three of my older students turned 18 and were sent to the adult facility this summer.  Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  When I was told they were moving to the adult institution I literally thought I was going to throw up.  I have heard stories and my heart couldn’t handle the thought of those horrors being a part of the future for my friends.  In that moment I clearly heard the voice of THE FATHER speak to me.  “They are not yours.  They are mine.”

This week, I was able to visit my three students in their new home….a facility for people with no place in society.  As I walked up to the compound that has bars on the windows, my heart hurt for the kids — kids who not only never have known the love of a family, but now are living like prisoners.

A non-profit organization, CA, has built a special unit at the facility for the teens coming from our orphanage.  The rooms are nicer with a private bathroom, there is a main living room and dinning area where the residents are able to eat together.  But life still is hard.  Our kids are used to classes, art and music, games to play, books to read, a caring staff and an area outside to walk. Now at the new facility, they have none of these things.  Without these, the days living within the barren walls of the unit must seem endless.

Twice a week two social workers from CA are now going out there to teach the residence life skill classes.  During our visit I got to see one of the classes.  It is a start.

I was thankful to see my former students, their new home and reassure them that they have not been forgotten.  But in a way I kinda do wish I could forget.  I didn’t even know this place existed a few days ago.  Now I have seen it and know the dear ones locked behind its walls.  One resident followed us around and with tears begged for attention.  That place, those people, they are burned in my mind.

CA has asked me to teach art classes at this facility once a week.  I am at a loss….feeling my heart moved and yet not knowing how to make it all work.  This facility is a 2 hour one way bus ride from where we live and is to far for a taxi driver to want to take me there.  On top of the issue of transportation, there is no help.  At the orphanage the nannies/teachers help me with the classes.  I provide the projects and they help with paintbrushes, scissors, tape….whatever I need help with.  At this facility there are no nannies or teachers to help.  I can not do this alone.

So that is what I am talking to Gd about over my coffee this morning.  Since I can’t forget they are out there needing help….I need a Chinese drivers license, a car, and a helper….and maybe a few more hours in my days.  That might just about cover it. Okay, I also could use a good dose of Gdly courage.

This is a Gd sized job so we are waiting to see how He comes through.  For now, we are buying books, paper, markers, DVDs and other items to send to the residence to use.  It is a start.

Not really sure where to go from here or how to close this post.  I guess if you will indulge me let me say it one more time…please adopt.  Anyone who is able – adopt.  If you can’t add a child to your family then donate toward the adoption of a child.  If you can’t donate then tell the stories of children who need families and spread the word.  

Dear Gd may you find families for these kids before they ever need to be move to adult institutions.

 

 

 

Kicking Tail

IMG_7394The last two weeks we have been in the full swing of things….and it is kicking our tails.  We just can’t seem to catch the rhythm of everything.  Hubby and I are both teaching, homeschooling, open houses with English students and just day to day living here (which takes more work.) When I type it out it doesn’t seem so much, but we are feeling it at the moment.

Yesterday, after scrambling to get all the homeschooling done in time to pick up the paper I needed for art class at the orphanage, I forgot to make bread and hang up the laundry.  Crazy how forgetting one day of wash (when you don’t have a dryer) can really get you behind.  Breakfast with no bread wasn’t pretty either, I might add.  This isn’t even mentioning that I totally had to wing art class because I had forgotten that my class was changed to Monday from Tuesday.  Sigh.  At least I had bought the paint paper!

It’s times like these that I switch into Super Woman mode.  I pretend to have it all together even when I know that life is kicking my tail.  Maybe if I would run from the kitchen to the laundry I would be able to squeeze in the spelling test I need to give Roo.  When it doesn’t work – when my hurried steps don’t get me anywhere faster….then I want to throw up my hands and say I just can’t do it all.  {DUH!}

So I have been thinking a lot over the past week – how do I hit a rhythm.  Where do I dig when I need an extra something something to do what I am called to do.  That’s when I read a simple sentence that made me pause.  A coincidence that this verse was the next in my daily reading.  Totally not.

“He must become greater; I must become less.”  Jn 3:30

I stopped dead in my tracks as the words sunk deeply into my soul.

John the bapt!st was asked how he felt about JC bapt!zing and everyone now following him.  I can almost picture him not missing a beat and explaining that “a man can only receive what is given him from heaven.”  He explains that his JOY is complete because he has seen JC come and JC is to be greater and himself become less.

I know it doesn’t totally apply to our crazy semester – but then again it does.

How, did John have that attitude about his min and life.  I so want that!

In my busy season would that my heart say, ” GREAT.  BRING IT ON.  I only have what has been given me from heaven and may HE become greater.”

Yup, this semester is kicking our tails – may it be that He is greater as I walk through it.