Friday, March 20, 2015

Teen #3!

March 5th, we celebrated Isaac’s 13th birthday!  It is hard to believe that I now have 3 teenagers.  THREE!  Oh time, please, please slow down! 

Anyway, his birthday came during the same week that Ryan’s final school projects were due.  Not to mention, we had some really lousy weather that week.  So, we convinced him to just do a nice dinner and cake on his birthday, with the promise of something fun the next week.  Being the easy-going kid that he is, he agreed.  We found Groupons for a local fun park that he really likes and he invited a friend to go with us for an afternoon the following week. 

Unfortunately, Lily got a bad, bad tummy bug that landed her in the ER.  Thank the Lord, it stopped with only one child.  I can’t even tell you how much Clorox and Lysol were used, but 10 days later, no one else has gotten it, thank you Jesus!

Lily’s illness, combined with our travel commitments, means that Isaac’s fun birthday excursion will not take place until almost 3 weeks after his actual birthday.   At least his birthday fun just goes on and on, right?

Here he is on his actual birthday with his cake of choice, a chocolate chip cheesecake.  I was thrilled that some soul had left a springform pan in the mission house kitchen.  It is so much easier to pull these things off in the USA!  Oh Philadelphia, how I love thee!

Fun story about the Lego box behind dad called a few days before Isaac's birthday to see what I thought he might want.  Isaac is a Lego lover and I knew that he likely had his eye on something.  When I dug around I discovered that his current wish list was anything Ultra Agent.  So, I let my dad know that was his top pick and since he didn't have any in that series yet, dad couldn't go wrong.  Now, my dad is a bargain hunter.  And he's frugal.  So, the fact that he even indulges Isaac with Legos lets you know how great of a grandpa he is.  Anyway, on the day he went to buy the set, he picked one out in the price range he was willing to pay and headed toward the register.  On the way, he noticed a clearance table with a much larger set in the same series, without a price.  He inquired and was informed that it had been opened, making it a clearance item.  Long story short, after some inquiries and checking in with the manager, Dad was able to get the 1000+ piece set, which retails for double the set he had in his hand, for the same price as the first set.  Isaac was delighted to have the much larger set... the largest he's ever had.  Pa was excited that he'd found a great deal and relieved when Isaac took it apart and confirmed that not a single one of the bags had been unsealed...the set was 100% complete.  I was just happy to see God's little blessing in something so insignificant, and yet so special.  It never ceases to amaze me how He provides blessings in the most unexpected ways.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Time Flies...

It's hard to believe we're more than 1/2 way through our stateside time.  It is flying by and at the same time, it seems like we're getting a good amount of rest and family time.  We're passing the days in a variety of ways.  Some of the things we've been up to over the first half of our time here have included:

  • Medical appointments.  I would say that we have averaged about 4 a week, during our weeks in NC.  In order to return to the field, each and every one of us has to be cleared medically.  We are very thankful for the good medical care we've received and the fact that our organization wants to make sure that we are in a place where our medical needs are met.  But, that requires following up on every issue that might be an issue of any sort.  That means seeing all sort of specialists depending on any concerns and they vary from individual to individual.  But, you can imagine, one little issue with each person, one slightly elevated blood number or asthma plan update, or unusual looking something can lead to a variety of follow-up appointments and lab checks.  It has been a bit overwhelming, but we are hopeful that we are nearing the end of those.  So far, we only have one of us officially cleared, with 6 still to go.  We're hopeful that the other clearances will come before our desired departure in mid-May
  • Ryan finished his required school!  Two eight week intensives had him working very hard, but he's done now and I think we all feel like we won a prize when he submitted the last project.  By the way, he managed to get As in both of his classes!
  • We have been homeschooling whenever we aren't traveling.  I'm gonna be really honest here and tell you that I am pushing much harder in the subjects that require heavy textbooks than the ones that don't.  It is my goal to leave all those weighty textbooks behind.   Just kidding...sort of!  But honestly, we're on track to have most of our school finished before we head back.  Although Math, our constant summer companion, will be going with us.
  • Sharing about our work.  We have had the opportunity to share with about seven groups so far and we have at least six more on the schedule.  It's great to visit with folks who have been so faithful in praying for us.  It's also a joy to get to share stories about what God has been doing in our corner of the world.  Every time we share, we get more excited about going back.  
  • Taking it all in.  When we're traveling, we're trying to give our kids as many experiences as possible.  We have hiked, bowled, biked, ridden roller coasters, shopped, picnicked, been to ball games, visited museums, and taken in every experience we can fit into our calendar and budget and we've had a blast doing it.   It's been lots of fun too. 
We are so thankful for this time of rest and renewal.  It has been a good thing for our family and I am beginning to think that at the end of our time here, we are going to be chomping at the bit to get back to work in West Africa.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Sunshine State

For years, Ryan's aunt and uncle have been inviting us to come and visit them, down in the Tampa Bay area.  We finally decided that this winter would be a good time to take them up on it, so in late February, we headed down the coast.  We have had some down time available and we were missing the West African sunshine, so a week in Florida seemed like the perfect solution.  Ryan's parents joined us and they slept in the rather large RV that his uncle has, while Ryan and I enjoyed the main house.  They were happy with the arrangement and hey, we didn't mind missing bedtime duty for a few days!

Unfortunately, the weather has not been especially cooperative for us.  We really wanted the kids to experience one good snow during our time in the States.  However, it seems that every place we've visited has had their biggest snow of the season 5-7 days AFTER we leave.  Then, we head to FL where it was rainy and foggy most of the week, while they got 7-8 inches of snow back at the mission house where we're staying.  Apparently, this wasn't our year for snow.

Fortunately, FL has fun to offer, even with less than ideal weather and we found some fun things to do.  We enjoyed visiting with Ryan's family and we did find a few sunny times to explore.  Here are some highlights of our time together:

Many, many times, we've passed the famous South of the Border establishment on I 95 without stopping.   But on this trip, our gas tank was nearly empty and we didn't want to pay the more expensive NC gas prices, so we pushed just across the SC border for a visit with Pedro.  It is a hoot how well they've themed every inch of that place!

Our first two days in FL were the finest, weather-wise.  On Saturday, they took us to the sponge docks in Tarpin Springs.  Steeped in Greek culture, we were able to see the wide variety of sponges that are harvested just off of the coast, eat Greek food, and enjoy some amazing Greek pastries.  It was a great afternoon.

That is one big sponge!

One of many boats at the docks.

Sunday we met up with some old friends we made about 8-10 years ago.  Our paths have crossed often over the last decade and they recently moved to Tampa.  We were able to share a great lunch in the Ybor City area.  It was great catching up with them.

Monday, we thought we'd go to the beach.  It was a bit cloudy, but the forecast called for a clearing later on.  Ummm, the forecast was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  The fog stayed and actually got much worse at times.  I have never seen anything like it.  We were right on the water's edge and the visibility was horrible.  The crazy thing was, it was a fairly cool Monday in February and yet Clearwater Beach was so crowded, we had to spend nearly 30 minutes looking for a parking spot.  It wasn't a very good beach day, but it made for some great laughs.  All I can say is, based on the crowd that day, you won't be seeing me down there in June or July!

Abe enjoyed the water, despite the chill and fog.

Making the best of a cloudy day!

One of the highlights of the week for us was when we drove over to Orlando and spent a night.  We had been gifted with free Universal tickets by a friend of a friend who worked there.  The crazy thing is, we didn't ask for them or anything, they just asked if we could use them.  It was such a gift as our family of 7 did not have had the budget to spend a day at the parks this year.  We had contemplated it when we knew we were going to FL and we just couldn't justify the 800+ dollars it would cost us to spend one day at any of the major parks.  What a treat when we were given the opportunity and all we had to pay was parking and food!  We had never been to Universal and we had a fabulous time.  We opened and closed the parks and still didn't get to enjoy all the fun things that were there.  But, we had a great time with all that we did get to do.

Abby had discovered a destination that she wanted to visit just about 15 miles from the house where we were staying.  We tried to make it there a few different times during the week, but the weather wouldn't  cooperate.  So, finally, at the end of our time there, we finally made our way to Weeki Wachee State Park.  It's a pretty vintage site that hosts a variety of interesting attractions, the most famous of which are the Weeki Wachee mermaids.  For 50+ years they've been entertaining crowds with their underwater show.  While it wasn't exactly "modern," it was pretty impressive and definitely very unique.  

Here are the mermaids, putting on their show.

The boys are thoroughly unimpressed with all of this mermaid business!

Watch out Ariel, the Campbell mermaids are on the loose!

The park also provided a wildlife show, which the boys found far more impressive than the mermaids!  What boy doesn't want to pet a reptile?

All in all, we had a great and relaxing week in the Sunshine State.  Our host and hostess were so kind and loving.  They spoiled the kids rotten and I'm pretty sure they had their sugar intake for the month in that one week.  But, fun was had by all and we're so thankful for the visit we were able to make.  Thanks, Uncle Jim and Aunt Sue!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Go Big Blue!

After leaving Atlanta, we headed up to Kentucky for a visit.  We met up with the grandparents, who had a surprise planned for the kids.  

The first morning, they woke up to this table and the news that we were all going to a UK game that night.  As you can imagine, tickets to a Wildcats game aren't too easy to procure.  But, Ryan's parents were determined to take us all.  So, though we were scattered into pairs across Rupp Arena, we were all there and we had a great time.  

Getting ready to see the Cats take on the Georgia Bulldogs!

March Madness is one of the many things we'll appreciate more than ever this year.  Last year, we listened to the tournament games on our laptops in the middle of the night.  I feel confident that our night guard thought we were crazy as we were yelling at a computer screen in the middle of the night.   This year, we look forward to watching the games at a reasonable hour.  And, it goes without saying, it's a good year to be a Wildcat fan!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Big Peach

Last weekend, after our visit to North Greenville, we decided to spend a few days in Atlanta.  One of our friends that we worked with in Nigeria is now living there, and our volunteer teacher from those days lives a few hours away.  We all met up in the big city and had a great weekend catching up with one another.  It's amazing what kind of bond forms between people who share the kind of community that we shared with our experiences in Nigeria.  Even though we're at very different stages of life, we consider them dear friends and always to look forward to time together.

Some of the highlights of our weekend included a visit to MLK's childhood home, which is a great National Park site.  

Playing around in the visitor's center

 Posing in front of an MLK mural

Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK grew up

Dr. King's tomb

MLK's childhood home on Auburn Street.  We didn't get to go inside because the tours for the day were full, but we still enjoyed the other park options.

After our visit to Auburn Street, we enjoyed lunch at the classic Varsity restaurant.  Actually, I can't say that it was one of my favorites.  The lines were crazy, as was the seating and service.  The food was so-so.  But, I will say the experience was one of a kind and I'm glad we got to try it.

In the evenings we enjoyed making meals together.  I made a silly assumption that our single friend would own a cheese grater.  My mistake meant we had a few laughs "grating cheese" with a knife.  Truth be told, we ended up eating more than we put on our tacos, but we all appreciated the fact that the cheese was plentiful enough to just eat freely.  Africa will do that for you.

On Sunday, we enjoyed worship at Passion City Church.  We were surprised when the music started and the worship leader for the day was Matt Redmon.  That was a fun surprise, as he's a favorite among several in our family.

After church, we headed over to Stone Mountain where we enjoyed a wet afternoon tubing in the rain. The positive side of being soggy and wet is that there were no lines.   As fast as we can get from the bottom of the hill to the top, we could ride again.  We had a fun time, even if it took us a while to dry out.

No lines, no crowds!

Riding the conveyor belt back up to the top.  See General Jackson behind the girls?

Fun was had by all!

Monday morning, we visited a large Atlanta church which operates a missionary care center.  It was a bit like a nice thrift shop, except that all of the items were free.  We had a great time and we were blessed by all kinds of goodies from clothing to kitchen goods to accessories like backpacks and purses.  It was a great experience and we were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity we met there.  We did look a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies as we pulled away with a van which was very, very full of our suitcases + all of our new stuff.

Poor Ryan, he didn't get to join in all of the fun.  He is trying to finish up an education requirement which must be completed before we can return to Africa.  He is taking two classes, which last for 8 weeks.  He had two papers due last Sunday night, so he spend about 1/3 of his time in Atlanta sequestered in the hotel with a laptop.  We are very thankful that he is nearly 1/2 way through.  We will ALL be thankful when he is finished in 4 more weeks.  Your prayers are appreciated as he pushes through.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Life in These United States

Well, time here in the States is absolutely flying by.  The weeks have been so full of a variety of activities and experiences, with attempts at rest thrown in the quiet places.  We continue to enjoy so many little things, finding little joys we'd forgotten or in some cases, very fondly remembered.  It's been a nice start to our time here.

We continue to struggle through so many little things too, realizing how much Africa has changed us.  The wastefulness and excess that was so much a part of us, now makes us recoil.  Our kids have noticed it and pointed it out, even without our prompting.  They commonly voice questions as to why people they love spend so much money on things that have no eternal value or why they need to be entertained in such glitzy/expensive ways.  We didn't realize how simple we had become and sometimes we feel like a square peg in a round hole.  We often find that we would much rather be at home with a good book than have to go through the torture of a shopping mall.

Processing all of that has been hard for us, especially as we're trying to provide them with some of those same types of opportunities, experiences, and purchases that we would normally have over a typical 3 year period, all in a few months.  We don't want them to be critical or cynical of this great nation and the people they love here.  But, we also want them to be unafraid to lay the customs and common practices of any culture alongside God's word and their convictions and ask themselves, how do I respond to this practice/desire/etc?  We keep going back to the idea of moderation, in everything.

I know that probably sounds so self-righteous and, believe me, that's not my intent.  We realize that there are many, many ways that we are being challenged by so many of our American friends and family. I have fully recognized many habits/patterns that we have developed that need to be adjusted.  We are thankful for folks who are taking the time to speak truth into our lives.  We do not think that we have arrived or that we are better than anyone.  It's simply that we realize that there are aspects of American culture that we simply accepted and bought into our entire lives, that we no longer do.    Learning to live with a piece of your heart in both places requires a certain amount of grace.  Thankfully, my God has an endless supply of that, which we're trying to cling to, day by day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How Can This Be?

I"m not sure how or when it happened, but apparently I'm old enough to have a child making college visits.  Just yesterday the very same child was drinking out of sippy cups and begging to watch Big Bird.  How can this be?

But alas, it is true.  And, honestly, I know that when it's time for her to go, she's going to do great things.  I'm excited to see what paths she pursues and where the Lord leads her.  For now, I'm trying to embrace each moment and just enjoy her last couple of years at home.  Lord willing, the next time we come to the States, it will be to get her settled in for college and I know it's going to come far too quickly for this mama!

We did have a great visit last week at North Greenville University.  Abby is pretty certain she knows where she wants to go to school, without doing visits.  However, I felt strongly that she needs to visit several campuses, just to be sure.  We chose this one because they give pretty significant scholarships to people who work for our organization and we've heard great things about it.  Abby was convinced it wouldn't be the school for her, but she was willing to go have a look.  In the end, she was really impressed by everything she saw and with everyone she met.  It definitely is on her radar as a significant possibility at this point.  However, with the current major she's considering, it's not the strongest time will tell.

I have to say, I felt so OLD visiting campus.  As we ate in the cafeteria, walked through the dorms and class buildings, etc.,  I was very aware of the fact that I am definitely not a college student anymore.  I mean that's obvious to everyone else, but I think in my brain, I'll always be 20.  I had some great college years and experiences, it was a sweet season in my life. However, time marches on, doesn't it?  And so it should!

So for now I guess my season is to help pray, prepare, and launch a few young'uns for their own sweet seasons of university years.  Did I mention this whole parenting gig is going far too fast?!?