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!

 

She squats

Once upon a time, a crazy American art teacher was super thirsty and downed a whole bottle of water before class began.  Half way through the class she had the desperate need to use the bathroom.  Usually she does not leave her dear art students in the middle of a messy paint project, but nature called.

At the orphanage the bathrooms are not private.  There are four squatty stalls with no doors.  On the first floor you can find an adult bathroom with more privacy, but the art teacher was on the 4th floor.  She wanted to be quick.  Other teachers have done it before.  So, she took her cue from those local teachers and slipped into the public bathroom, locking the outer door.

She heard the lock click.  All was good, until she heard a different class in the hallway.

She tried to hurry not wanting the kiddos to wait.  That should have been the least of her worries as the door began to rattle – then open.

“Someone is in here!”

The joy of teaching this group of special kids comes due to their innocence and curiosity.  That was not in Art Teacher’s favor when trying to keep the kids out of the bathroom.  Before she knew it, there was a mixed audience of 8 children as she struggled to finish with dignity.

They stood there and watched like good, curious, Chinese children.  One of the more observant fellows mentioned to the others, “Foreigners pee too!”  To which his friend replied, “Did you know Teacher could squat?” Thankfully none of the other teachers came in to witness the grand event of foreign teacher squatting.

Just a day in the life of an art teacher at an orphanage.  The children learned how to paint leaves on fall trees, and they learned that even their foreign teacher squats.

The end.

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Saying Goodbye

IMG_6016There was a well worn path in the dirt road from our house to my grandmother’s two bedroom home.  I could make it there on my purple bike with the plastic streamers coming out of the handle bars in five minutes flat if the red-winged black birds in the oak tree at the corner didn’t take me out.  Grandma knew I was scared of those birds.  I told her everything.

 

On one of my visits, she proudly pulled out a large pinwheel.  I was confused when I first saw it. Then she told me I should hold it over my head as I rode to her house.  The pinwheel whistled as I rode my bike and scared those stupid birds.  Nothing would keep us from our afternoon visits.

I’m not really sure how we filled all of the hours we spent together.

She helped me with my homework.  I always was up for a ride to “the city” to help her buy groceries.  We ate red licorice together and painted our nails….always with clear polish.  I watched hours of Gospel Sing TV with her, and she attended every band concert, play, and art show.  She taught me to drive and took me on my first airplane ride to visit the cousins in Florida.  When I was all grown up and traveling on my own, she wrote to me weekly on her old typewriter and mailed me phone cards.

When I was a self-conscious middle schooler, she taught me to sew.  She had this way of making me feel like the most talented kid while at the same time telling me truth without sugar coating.  Her words still ring in my ears: “You don’t have to be perfect.  It will all iron out.”  What seemed like a lesson in stitching a seam on my latest 4-H project, really was so much more.  She knew me and my struggles.

This week, I lost part of my heart.  Alzheimers (what I now call the cruelest of all diseases) has slowly been stealing her from me.  Robbing us of any new memories.  But, I guess I am still the little girl on that purple bike….hoping to race faster than the black birds.  Every time I was able to sit next to her on the couch in her nursing home, I was hoping for one more moment.   We had always been good at sitting together and not doing to much.  I could take in her smell, feel her presence, and pretend we were just watching the Gaithers together.

Even that is now gone.

I have gone back and forth about writing this blog post.  I usually save this space for stories about living and teaching cross-culturally and how that affects raising my family.  I wasn’t sure if writing about the death of my grandmother fit that.

This week, as I have cried over her death, the miles between my childhood home and Asia have felt even longer. I wanted to stand at her graveside.  I wanted to cry with my family, who would understand why I am 40 but a weeping mess over losing my grandmother friend.

 

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But, it is even more than that.

Some of my tears this week are over my mother and my own children.  I am crying because my kids can’t ride their bikes down the road and eat licorice with a grandparent who loves them with extravagance.  In my grief, I question the stolen moments that might shape my own children.

Living cross-culturally, it is what we are called to, but man, sometimes the cost is high.  I want to write and say it is all worth it.  But, honestly, I am not sure if I will ever know if it is or not.

What is worth something…following Jesus and trusting him with my heart.  I guess that means I should trust him with the heart of my kiddos and be thankful for video chats.  So much easier to write that then to truly live it out.

Years ago, Dr. Kinlaw gave a sermon at a summer camp that included a story of a young single woman who was living cross-culturally.  She was asked if she was scared of living so far from home in a strange land by herself.  Her response.  “I am more scared of NOT living where God wants me to be.”  I can’t remember the rest of that sermon. Actually, I am pretty proud of myself for remembering anything from 20 years ago!  Funny, the things that come to mind as you are grieving.  The simple answer that young woman gave….I want it to be my answer as well.  With all my heart, I want to be where God calls us.

Lord, help me in my weakness. Help me when the days are hard and my tears fall in abundance.

Often, when I sat next to Grandma at church, tears would gently slip from one eye.  She joked with me that she had a leaky eye and not to worry.  The one time I really remember seeing Grandma cry was when she said good-bye to me as I was leaving for college.  She sobbed – deep heart wrenching cries as we hugged in the driveway.

Now, I am the one sobbing as I have to say good-bye to her.  There are no promises about Christmas and spring breaks….but I am thankful to know there is the promise of eternity.

 

And then he did a face plant…

My first mistake was telling Little Man he could ride his tricycle to the market.  An unseasonably warm day made me unusually optimistic on how much I could carry with a kindergartener and a tricycle in tow.  Lesson learned.

A box in one arm, several days’ veggies and fruit in a bag on the other with the tricycle slung over my shoulder, Little Man and I started crossing the road to start the trek home.  He was holding the hem of my jacket as we stepped off the curb.  I am not really sure what happened next.  It all went so fast and slow at the same time.  We had plenty of time to cross the road in front of the white car that suddenly seemed to be barreling down on us when Little Man’s leg came off.  Velocity taking over, his body kept going and he landed hard on the pavement near the other side of the road.

 

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You know those moments?  The moments when you are standing in the road deciding if you should let the car run over your son’s leg or scoop him up and comfort him — all the while trying to untangle yourself from a bag of broccoli, apples and tomatoes.  AND while doing all this, you are thinking in the back of your mind….”Wow, I guess his leg really isn’t fitting that great these days!”  See what I mean?  Never in my life did I think there would be such a moment.  I chose wiping tears and checking for broken bones and blood.  Little Man was not happy with that choice, and he began screaming even louder that his leg was about to be road kill.

In enters a stranger.

Just a little cultural context.  It is not common to help strangers.  Friends and family, absolutely. Strangers, no. It is culturally common to stop and watch, but not to help.  Let’s just say, in all of my years living in Asia I have been stared at A LOT more than I have been helped.

Wednesday was different.

A man stepped out into the road, rescued Little Man’s leg, retrieved the roll away tricycle and was at my side helping me steady a weeping boy.  He held a little hand while I checked for wounds (there were none) and slid an intact prosthetic leg back in place. When I finally had enough wits to look up at the man, I said.  “You are a very nice man.”  His reply was with typical Asian modesty, “No, not at all.”

And he walked away.

We made it back home with a story to tell over dinner.  All of the kids marveled at the nice man who stopped to help.  “I want to be a nice Chinese man like that.” Little Man exclaimed.  It truly is amazing how a few moments of help can make a deep impression on those around us.  It reminds me of a statement our pastor in Michigan used to say often, “Small things done with great love make a big difference.”  Okay, rescuing a prosthetic leg from being run over by a car actually was kinda a big thing.  But, the few minutes he took to help us…well that was a small moment from his life and I am very thankful.  It made a big difference to us.

I want to be that type of person…willing to stop for a moment and help.  We can make grand plans on how to live out our faith and how to love those around us, but if we aren’t able to slow down and embrace the unexpected moments – well, it is worthless.  I am striving to live a life of service that will encourage those around me and I am so thankful when the blessing is turned my way.

 

 

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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Against the Norm – Leg Update

We live in a city where you often see adults with limb differences lying on street corners.  They might be playing an instrument, singing, or painting characters with a paintbrush between their teeth.  What they all have in common is a metal bowl sitting next to them to collect small bills.  They beg for a living.  People stand around and stare.

IMG_0961Our family gets stared at a fair amount, but it has intensified the past few weeks.  People just don’t know what to do with us…we don’t all look the same and we go against the cultural norm.  (Where we live, staring is not considered impolite.  When you don’t know what to do with something, you just stare at it.)  Usually, I take the stares in a stride.  It is part of living here.  I hate to admit that the past few weeks have been harder for me.  The momma bear in me raises her ugly head when it is my son’s leg that is being stared at.

We were out for an evening walk in our loaner stroller  (High five to a great expat community who is coming to our aid and helping us with our needs!) when we came past two grannies sitting on a bench.  They live in our apartment complex and I have seen them a few times.  I knew right away that they wanted to talk about Little Man’s leg.  I started to bristle until my sweet four year old reached his hand over to the woman.  They held hands as we talked.

“What happened to his leg?” she asked, and I answered with our standard reply, “He was born this way.”

“Oh, you are such a good person.”  Again, I have a standard response for this common statement.  “No.  He is a good person and I am happy to have him in our family.”

“He is your son?”

“Yes, we have four children.”

This is where the conversation took a twist.  Usually the conversation turns to how crazy I am to have so many children and how tired I must be!  HA!  I have a standard reply for that conversation too!  Instead, my son, interrupted.

“Want to see my booboo?  I can walk, but I am hurt right now.”  I guess the English word booboo translates into Chinese because she understood! 🙂 He pulled up his pant leg and stuck out his residual limb to this unsuspecting granny.  I felt myself cringe and I prepared my heart for the look of horror that would most likely come across her face.  I had seen it so many times as folks stood around staring at us, staring at his missing leg.

That granny….she leaned down looked at his leg and while holding his hand said, “I am sorry you are hurt.”

Tears sprang to my eyes at the sweet, gentle nature of this old woman.  To add to the healing power her words had on my soul, she looked up at me and said, “This boy will bring so much music to your home.”

I laughed as she told my son to be thankful he had a home to play music in and he would never play music on the street. Only a Chinese granny can be sweet and then fuss at you in the same sentence!

We live in a city where limb difference is equated with life on a street corner.  To the man who helped me carry the large stroller off the bus, to the mom at the bus stop who told her son not to stare, to the granny who held my son’s hand…thank you.  Thank you for going against the cultural norm.

 


 

Update: Little Man is doing much better.

The sore on his leg is finally starting to heal and this momma is breathing easier after two phone calls to our team of doctors in the States.  I can’t say enough about Shriner’s Hospital in Tampa.  They are just amazing!  We still are unsure what the next month will hold, but we are confident that Little Man will have the best of care.  This coming week the surgeon is reviewing x-rays that we sent to him from here.  High five to technology!

The antibiotics are done, the pain has subsided, now the hardest part for our little guy…not being able to wear his prosthetic!  It is hard for such an active guy to be slowed down.  Thank you to everyone who is pr.ying for him!

Not an Issue

IMG_0893Having a child with a limb difference is a total non-issue, except when there is an issue.  I mean, I often forget that Little Man only has one leg.  In the morning he puts on an extra sock, a limb sleeve and a plastic leg.  I don’t think about it again until bed time when we take it all off.  We would never call him disabled and most of our neighbors, until recently, had no idea that he was any different than the other children who play around campus.

 

… and then a sore appears.

 

The last few weeks we have struggled with what seem to be minor sores on Little Man’s residual limb.  Even a tiny sore can keep him from being able to wear his prosthetic and an infection in a sore becomes a concern.  This really is the first time we have dealt with any of this, which doesn’t help.  We are new at this, trying to figure out the best way to care for our boy with our doctors living on the other side of the globe.

We are thankful for the American doctors who live in our city who have helped us keep the infection at bay.  We are also very thankful that we had planned a trip to the States to see his medical team.

We are not sure what those doctor appointments will lead to.  Right now the sore is not getting worse, but not healing which might be the result of many different things – his need for surgery or that his prosthetic hasn’t been fitting well.

So our summer plans are shaping up a bit differently than we had planned, but it is a small road bump.  We know it will all go back to a non-issue soon.  Until then, we would appreciate your pr@yers for extra grace, wisdom to make decisions about his care, and a speedy recovery.

For now we are struggling with an active pre-schooler who is suddenly immobile, which creates for some interesting moments and some challenging decisions.

IMG_0927We have begun the quest to find a stroller for a heavy, growing, pre-schooler with on leg.  A new stroller is a must on our shopping list for the States because our cheap umbrella stroller just isn’t cutting it any longer.  Who knew there were so many types of strollers!  And, I am pretty sure they cost more than my first car!  Okay, maybe not that much, but it sure feels like it!  Wisdom.  I truly need stroller wisdom!  We are pr@ying the wheel of our stroller stays on for the next three weeks till we get to the States to buy a new one, and in the mean time Little Man is enjoying many piggyback rides.  He calls himself “Agent W” because he “flies” around on our backs!  Can you believe that Little Monkey can carry him?

We also need wisdom and grace as we interact with our neighbors and friends.  Out on our family walk after dinner we had a woman stop us and with utter shock tell us that our son had lost his leg! We laughed so hard!  We just couldn’t help it.  We have had many folks ask us what happened to his leg, but never had anyone tell us it was missing!  🙂  We know it is gone and we love him the way he is.  We would appreciate your thoughts as we strive to communicate that to those around us.

We will keep you posted on how his leg is healing, our next steps for his care and the funny stories that come up as we go along!  Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts!