Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Difficult Decision

Because our children attend a school where some of the students board from other cities and countries, the Christmas break is quite lengthy.  We really needed and enjoyed it.  However, after nearly 4 weeks off, we were all ready for a return to routine.  Just a couple of weeks before the break, we made the decision to bring our two middle schoolers back home for the majority of the school day.  We really, really wrestled with the decision, but now that we are two weeks into our new routine, I am thoroughly convinced it was the right choice for our family.

I know there are lots of different "takes" on school.  When Ryan and I worked in children's ministry,   each year, beginning about December, moms of the upcoming kinders would come with questions about what might be the best choice for their family.  We lived in an area of the States where there were many great options...public, charter, private, and a myriad of homeschool support options.  Of course, we couldn't tell any family what was the best choice for them and we simply encouraged them to pray, examine their options in light of the needs of their children and family, and then be willing to follow where the Lord directed.  There were families who we respected very much and whose children we loved using every conceivable option for educating their children.  We did not believe there was a right way to educate children.

However, we knew that homeschooling was the right choice for our children, and I loved it.  It became my hobby and I loved exploring new curriculums, methods, and ways to meet the needs of my children.  It was how we did life.  So, when we made the decision to send our kids to school this year, I really, really mourned the change.  

I knew that my oldest two were ready and I felt strongly that the right option for them, in light of our life here, was school.  For my youngest, I also knew that it was the right choice for him.  He NEEDS structure.  He NEEDS people.  He is thriving in many, many ways.  But our middle schoolers...I had my doubts.  The doubts stemmed largely from the fact that they are middle schoolers, which is the time when I feel the benefits of traditional school are least likely to outweigh the cons.  It's a hard age for anyone (raise your hand if you would like to do middle school again....no hands right?!?) I had other concerns, knowing the individual strengths, needs, and personalities of my children.  But, they wanted to try, I knew I needed time to learn French, and I knew that they would be very isolated if we didn't try it.  So, with much fear and trembling...I sent them into middle school.

And, let's just say... all of my fears were confirmed.  It was not a good fit in many, many ways.  A combination of the personalities of my children, the schedule/program/philosophies of the middle school department, and my ideals of what should happen during the middle school years weren't meshing very successfully.  But, each night, after helping them with their 3-4 hours of homework, I would talk myself off the ledge, remind myself of the benefits I did see, and I'd convince myself we could make it another day.

There were lots of tears involved.  Mine and theirs.  It was no fun.  But then, life isn't always about fun, is it?  So we kept on for the entire semester, dreading Mondays and embracing Fridays.  I continued to have significant concerns about the needs of my individual children and how well this schooling choice was or was not meeting their needs.   I just kept telling myself that this was the only choice we had for this season.

Then one day, about 3 weeks before Christmas break a series of things happened that made me realize that we didn't really have to finish out the year in the same fashion and that maybe it wasn't even the right thing to do.  But then I realized that we would be oddballs if we didn't.  We function in a very tight community that centers largely around the school and I knew that a decision to pull them home would make us all strange, and that's no fun.  Not to mention, it would make my schedule really tight.  It would complicate everything.  And it might create waves or insult people or..._______________(fill in the blank with a dozen other reasons.)

Ryan and I decided that we needed to pray and honestly seek the Lord's direction.  As uncomfortable as I was with making a change, I was also very certain it would be the right choice for our kids.  So, I made some phone calls and appointments to get it all approved.  We talked to the kids, who were far more willing to make the change than I thought they would be.  I spent much of Christmas break planning and setting goals, desiring to use this season back at home as strategically as possible.

In the end, we decided the kids would stay at school for French, PE, and their elective.  So, I take them in the AM and I exercise and have French class at the school while they do their classes.  Then we come home and tackle the rest of their content before the others come home.  It has been a very positive change.  Our evenings are so much more peaceful.  They feel so much more successful.  I feel like I am seeing the happy side of my children again.  Not to mention, we have more time to focus on the character building that is so key during the middle school years, while still focusing on their individual academic needs.  

I have no idea what next year will bring.  Isaac, who will move into the high school department next year, will likely go back for the bulk of his classes.  Lily and I may just be school buddies until she moves into the high school years, or beyond.  There is uncertainty, but I just know that I am thankful for this unexpected season, even if it is just a few months, that we have to focus on a few goals.   I don't want to raise quitters, but I do want to raise children who are introspective and not afraid to do what is most effective and best positions them to grow and serve well.    It is my hope and prayer that this little decision will help to teach them that.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Celebrating with Friends


Earlier this month, we got to experience another African first.  Ryan’s assistant had his first baby boy, a very handsome fellow.  As is the custom in this part of the world, they hosted a baby naming ceremony, which we were happy to attend.  We began by attending his church, one Sunday about 2 weeks after the baby was born.  A portion of the Sunday service was set aside to allow he and his wife to share, sing, and announce the baby’s name.  For many folks, this is the first time they share the name with anyone.  


Our friends are actually transplants from Nigeria, which is obvious from their outfits in this photo.



After the service we went back to the family’s house, where they had a big meal prepared to share.  Our friends had at least 70 guests.  We were invited to sit inside the house to eat, but most folks sat just outside the house under a giant tent.  I didn’t mind sitting inside for a little while because that meant I got to hold that beautiful baby while the family was busy greeting guests and making sure everyone was getting food and drink.  


Isn't he the cutest?



The inside of the house was a bit small for the crowd that was weaving in and out, so the kids quickly made their way outside.  Our hosts had invited drummers who were kind enough to drum us from the car to the door of the house with great eagerness.  After the kids piled back outside, they found the drummers quite entertaining.



It was a pleasure to spend a few hours helping our friends celebrate the birth of their first baby boy and it was fun getting to experience a different aspect of the culture here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Spirit

This year, we celebrate our first Christmas in Niger.  It is our 5th Christmas in a row celebrating in  different country.  Five years, five countries... that's a lot of change.  Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, America, and Niger...each year has definitely had distinct memories, with specific highlights.  We are hopeful that this Christmas will be the first of many in this place and that we'll begin a series of Christmases that could actually run together with "what year was that?" kinds of similarities.  We shall see!


We have had a really great Christmas.  One of the things we really like about this place is that we can enjoy the simplicity of Christmas in Africa, while still having a great community.  Of course, we really miss our family and friends in the States as well as the hope of snow and all of the lights and glitter.  However, we are thankful for lots of new friends and a mission family that we have been able to share lots of new traditions and fellowship with this year.

We have enjoyed Christmas music concerts at the school, caroling by candlelight in worship, hosting a movie night with 20ish high school girls and teachers, caroling around our neighborhood with other friends and then gathering for cookies and cocoa back at our house, a cookie exchange at the US Ambassador's house, a Christmas Bazaar, a Christmas festival, a party for members of our mission.  We've baked and shared 40+ dozen cookies and candies over the last 4 weeks, and had the pleasure of sharing rice and beans with some of the less fortunate folks we have met around our city.  We've had lots of fun, gotten to know many folks, and had just enough activity to keep ourselves busy, but without the frenzied pace that sometimes comes with this time of year.  It's really been a lovely holiday season.

We shared Christmas Eve with a few friends and then we have had a quiet Christmas Day at home...just us.  We are thankful for such a sweet celebration of our Savior's birth.  Here are a few pictures from this Christmas season.





Lily helped with a silly skit in the Christmas Assembly at school.  She was a lamb and she's sitting beside her friend, Rudolph, waiting for their turn on stage.
Abe enjoyed decorating cookies...especially with sprinkles.


Lots of reading and relaxing going on over Christmas Break!

The girls enjoyed getting dressed up for a Christmas tea with friends.

Abby made 25 bottles of rice and beans to deliver with a friend to folks around town.  Here they are on delivery day.



Getting ready to go to a Christmas Eve gathering.

The whole family sharing Christmas Eve fun with friends.
Excited about Christmas morning goodies.








Friday, November 27, 2015

Grateful


Every year, I watch the 30 days of thankfulness posts on Facebook and think about how I would like to participate too.  However, I know myself well enough to know that I would likely make it to about day 4 and then I would lose steam.  So, this year I decided that I would record some of my thankful thoughts in one swoop, on my blog, on Thanksgiving Day.  Except that I was so exhausted when our 50ish guests left last night, that I crawled into the bed at 9:15, without recording my thankfulness.  The good news is, I am awake early this AM and still have a heart full of gratitude.  Since Black Friday shopping isn’t an option, I can use this time to share my thoughts.  Here are some of the things I am most thankful for in this current season of life...

  • An incredible husband who loves me so very much and shows me in lots of little ways that aren’t bouquets of roses or fancy date nights, but that suit me so much better.  Heavens, I love that man.  Marriage takes WORK, no matter how delightful your mate, but I think we are as “made for each other” as two sinners saved by grace can possibly be.
  • I am thankful for 5 of the greatest kids on the planet.  I have been so, so proud of them these last 6 months as we’ve transitioned to a new place and a new school routine.  They have hit some bumps, but I have consistently seen them respond in ways that make me smile or at least to be willing to learn from the times they didn’t.  They make me laugh and they bless me in too many ways to count.
  • My extended family.  My mama was one of 11 and I was blessed to grow up in a family chock full of cousins and aunts and uncles.  I don’t complain about having to sit at the kid’s table on Thanksgiving when I was growing up because I didn’t stop long enough to sit down.  There was so much fun to be had, I just grabbed a roll on the run.  I married into an extended family that was just as big as mine. Between the ones I share blood with and the ones I married into, there are some pretty amazing individuals that I call family! 
  • Technology!  Doing what I do is so much easier because of Skype, Facebook, and e-mail.  I fully acknowledge that I am living overseas at a time when these advantages make staying connected so much easier.
  • School, and the fact that we have choices about how to educate our children.  I’m thankful for the resources offered to us and the fact that I have options to meet each child’s needs as they come.  I know that many parents around the world would give their all to have that luxury.
  • Africa, and the fact that I am learning to appreciate it more and more as time goes by.  One day this week, I was stopped by a friendly police officer.  I really think he wanted to practice English more than anything.  We made a brief smile-filled exchange, partly in French, partly in English.  He didn’t ask to see my license or my papers...just asked where I was going and why.  After wishing each other the best, I pulled away and thought, “Two years ago, that exchange would have made me want to hop a plane home.  Now, I am laughing about it and thinking about how I have a good dinner table story to tell tonight.”  And as I was thinking that, I glanced out the window and noticed that I was passing a trader with a camel and a woman in a burka and then I thought, “Thank you Lord for this really cool life I lead!  What a privilege to be in this place a this time!”
  • My slowly growing French.  Progress, little by little, in French.  I’m thankful for it.  Not so much because I want to learn French, but for the opportunities it gives me.  Like Wednesday afternoon, on the way home from school, this orphan boy that I sometimes buy fruit from, flags me down as I’m sitting in traffic and asks me if I want to buy some bananas today.  Knowing I’m about to move, I decline.  Then he says, in French, “You will come next time and tell me another story?”  And I smile and say, “Yes, I will come again soon and tell you another story!”  And then I think about how this means that I now have to kick it into high gear and get my next Bible story down better because the Demon-Possessed Man is the only one I know well enough to tell to others yet.  
  • My American passport and all that it represents.  The fact that I have the opportunity for education, a career, to choose a loving spouse, to worship freely as I desire, to travel, to have 5 children, to pursue financial gain, and a host of other things, is not lost to me.  When you live in a country where women marry as teenagers, live behind a veil, and often have to accept their role as wife number 2, 3, or 4, you can’t help but be thankful for the rights that come with American birth.  I don’t know why God had me be born to a family living in a split level in suburban USA instead of a mud hut in West Africa.  Or why I was given the opportunity to become an educator rather than selling handmade soap off a tray that I carry on my head.  I just hope and pray that I will use the opportunities I’ve been given in a way that honors Christ and not to take for granted the responsibility that comes with those rights.
  • Churches in the States who give generously to allow us the privilege of serving here without having to worry about if there will be enough money this month.  I am also thankful for the ones who love us individually in little ways like packages or an entire suitcase of goodies that they send with volunteers for us to use for game prizes at Thanksgiving.  It was a lot of fun to get to give out chocolate chips, candy canes, and pepperoni to our colleagues because a church wanted to bless them!
  • The assurance that I have that when I die, I will spend eternity in heaven.  That means more to me now that my mama is gone than it ever did before.  I have no fear when it comes to facing eternity, only longing for a time when there will be no more striving, no more tears, and I will cast off the cares of this old world.  Last Sunday in church, a man here sang a song in English.  The church has very few English speakers, and he is not one of the few they have.  He obviously had learned this song in English just well enough to share it.  It was an old gospel song about heaven.  If I hadn’t heard the song before, I would have struggled to understand much of what he was saying.  But, knowing the chorus, I followed along and thoroughly enjoyed his efforts, singing along on the parts that I could.  When he got to the lines that say “I have a precious mother up in Glory Land, I don’t expect to stop until I clasp her hand, for me she’s waiting now at heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore,”  I nearly ugly cried.  In African church.  Where I was the only white woman and no one else even understood what the man was saying.  Yes, I am thankful for my eternal future in Glory Land!
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there.  I imagine that in 5 years, when I go back and read this post from a very different season of life...3 out of high school and 1 more nearly there, I will smile and appreciate the place I was in at this time.


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Little Things


In the last couple of weeks, here are a few things that have happened in with our family:

  • I was included in a text from a friend alerting me she’d seen french-fried onions at a local grocery store, just in time for American Thanksgiving.
  • A volunteer team staying at our guesthouse brought in packages for us from people who love us back in the States.
  • We bought medicine for a pregnant woman who had a stomach infection.
  • I listened to my language helper tell me a story of how he nearly had his motorcycle impounded on his way to our class.
  • We worked in the kitchen at school serving up nachos and tacos and washing dishes from a movie night fundraiser for Lizzie’s class.
  • A friend came by and asked us to pray for him as he was on his way to a meeting with a chief over an important property dispute.
  • I spent a Saturday afternoon laundering lots of towels and bedding from a sleepover.
  • My house helper shared photos from his phone of a decapitated giraffe just outside our city, taken by one of his friends who was on the bus that hit said giraffe.
  • We had dinner at a friend’s house.
  • We’ve traded carpool favors at least a half dozen times.
  • I’ve been asked to bake a quiche for a Christmas event coming up soon.
  • I sent out invitations for an American Thanksgiving party at our house.
  • Ryan bought a work-related airline ticket from a travel agent friend we’ve made at our French speaking church.
  • We surprised a friend with a birthday cake, a week after her birthday, since we missed it on the day it actually happened.
  • I committed to pray for my regular check-out clerk at the grocery store, after she shared with me that she has been married for 5 years and has not yet conceived a child, though she desperately wants to.
  • Ryan was approached by one of our mission workers, asking for a loan to buy a goat because his wife’s milk had dried up and he needed a milk source for their small baby.
  • I was surprised when a store employee was shouting wildly at me, trying to get my attention, across a parking lot, in Hausa, because, even though I operate primarily in French now, she remembers that I “hear” some Hausa and really wanted to greet me properly.
Why am I telling you all of this?  Because to me, all of these things are teeny tiny indications of community!  We have desperately longed to find community here in our new city.  We've asked many of you to pray with us about our relationships here and slowly, but surely, we're seeing those prayers answered in lots of little ways.  So, thank you to those of you who have prayed.  We are thankful to so many of you who share this journey with us through the gift of prayer and encouragement.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Break in Routine


In October, the kids had a week long break from school.  I am not gonna lie, I was counting down.  We were exhausted and really needed some “fun” by the time it came along.  Because we did a good bit of traveling during our time in the States and we are trying hard to save money this term (that whole, we’re sending one off to college in 18 months thing!) we aren’t planning to take a traveling vacation during this 2 year term.  There really aren’t many travel options in our country and plane tickets and/or visas to another country are just more than we wanna spend this term.  

However, not “vacationing” doesn’t mean that we don’t see the value of spending time together as a family.  So, we decided that we would take a week of vacation from work while the kids were on Fall Break and tried to have some R & R together.  We slept late nearly every day, which was heavenly.  Just not having a tight schedule was a treat.

The break started off with a big softball tournament that the kid's school hosts each year.  We spent one day at the ball fields, cheering on their friends and enjoying the company of other families.

One day, we went to a local hotel and swam in the pool.  We had it nearly to ourselves, since it was just an average Monday.  To our surprise, they let us carry in a picnic, so we sat poolside and ate lunch, purchasing only our sodas on site.  It was a nice afternoon together.  

Another day we stayed home and played games all day long, while we ate assorted junk food that we don't have too often here.  We watched movies together on several evenings, with no one saying they needed to bow out to do homework.

Towards the end of the week, we went out to some large sand dunes which sit about 60 minutes outside of the city.  We joined with 3 other families to share a sunset picnic and a climb together.  Because it was a hot time of year, we couldn't go out during the prime of the day, but we hope to return sometime during cool season so we can enjoy them before the sunsets!

Here's Lily enjoying the view from her perch on the dunes.


Abe, climbing higher

The beautiful view!

Little man was less than thrilled that we wouldn't let him run off with the high school boys.


We hosted two birthday parties that week, one for Abe and another for one of Abby's good friends.  She really, really wanted to give her a surprise party and so she planned, plotted, and crafted to make it happen.  She invited all of the girls from the Junior class and they had a nice evening in our backyard, with a bit of a beach theme.  







SURPRISE!

A few of the party-goers!

We had a pleasant week and we were ready to start back and tackle quarter number 2.  I have to say that our second quarter of school has gone much better so far than our first did.  I'm not sure if it's because we knew what to expect this time or if it's because we now realize that it's possible to just survive it for 9 weeks and then another break will roll around quickly.  We are also learning to appreciate the good parts and endure the not so good parts.   When we've done it 4 times, we'll have a year in the books!  Needless to say, we're already looking forward to Christmas Break in just 5 more weeks!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pop, Fizzle, Bang!

Let me just start off this post by saying that Abe LOVES school.  I knew that he would.  He is an extremely social kid who thrives on routine, both of which school provide for him.  He also has a really good teacher, who has lots of experience in the classroom.  It has been a great year for Abe and of all of our kids, he is the only one that I have no concerns about whether or not traditional school was a good idea.  It clearly suits him well.

So this year, when his birthday rolled around, we knew it was a good year to let him have a "friend" party.   That's what we call them at our house... those years when the kids are allowed to have guests other than our family over to celebrate.  Abe's birthday fell on a Saturday and so we thought it would be a good idea to have the party on his actual birthday.  Except that it was also the Saturday of the big (we didn't realize HOW big) annual softball tournament that the kid's school hosts AND another girl in Abe's class scheduled her party for the same day and time.  At the last minute, we decided we would move it by a few days, which resulted in some of his friends actually being able to attend.  And, I'm pretty sure he had a good time.

He decided he wanted a science theme, which came together pretty nicely with the help of Pinterest, a few websites, and a kindly Science teacher at school who loaned me a few test tubes and such.  I will say that planning a birthday party in Africa can be a bit frustrating because for every 5 cool ideas I read, I can usually find 1 that can be pulled off with the supplies I can find here.  Let's just say that for this theme, baking soda and vinegar were my friends.  

There are lots of things that are different about hosting a party here.  One of them is that RSVPing seems to be unfashionable.  Which may or may not lead to underestimating your numbers.  Not that it really matters in the end, but let’s consider it a lesson learned.   Another is that you shouldn’t naturally assume that the kids are gonna speak proficient English.  At one point, I was trying to speak in French to these two sweet Italian brothers, because my French certainly exceeds my Italian and my English seemed to be confusing them.  I turned to another little boy, who I assumed to be a French speaker since he had an accent, and asked him in English for help with a certain word in French.  The little boy looked at me and said, “How should I know?  I speak Portuguese!”  It gave me a good laugh in the midst of a bit of chaos.

Overall, it was a success and I think Abe felt celebrated.  The kiddos seemed to have a good time, and that was my main goal!
Here is Abe with his family cake, on his actual birthday.

Here's the table, all ready for guests.  

Abe readily agreed to my idea of having the kids each decorate their own cupcakes.  Score one for mom not having to assemble marshmallow fondue decorations in hot Africa!

The kids started out their time together by trying to build the tallest tower out of toothpicks and jelly beans.  Most of them loved either the building or the sneaking of jelly beans, so that was a hit.

My older 4 were a big help with the younger crowd.  I ought to hire them out as birthday party helpers!

We made and played with Ooblek.  I wanted to make slime.  But, after making a substitute recipe for liquid starch and another for corn syrup and having an epic fail in my trial runs, we went with Ooblek instead!  My corn syrup fail did result in some pretty decent hard candy though!

Everyone was gathered around for the fun.

There was much excitement as we exploded ziploc bags.

And of course, we could not have a "science" party without the obligatory Coke and Mentos explosion.