Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Something for Everyone

Today we spent the day at SeaWorld in Orlando, and had a great time. First of all, let me say that we have had amazing weather all week! Mid 80s, no rain, in February, who could ask for anything nicer? So, we had sunny skies for a great day of play.
Ryan and the kids had never been to a SeaWorld and the last time I went, I wasn't old enough to have a driver's license. We had very few expectations, but we were all satisfied with our day. They truly had something for everyone. We all enjoyed the animal shows, the animal viewing areas, and the rides. Like usual, Lizzy wanted to try the coasters and the other 4 found ways to entertain themselves while Ryan and I took turns riding with her for a little while. She is such a daredevil, I honestly think she would climb on any ride we would allow her to ride.
The first ride we rode, Journey to Atlantis, was too big for Abe, so Grammy volunteered to stay with him, while the rest of us rode. We almost tricked Pa into the front seat, but he figured it out before we actually climbed into the boat, so Ryan took the brunt of the moisture. He was a good (and soaking wet) sport about the whole thing!
Here's our "after" photo, which does not adequately capture the amount of moisture my husband had in his clothing!
Lily, pretending to be a polar bear in the Arctic display.

Crazy kids trying on hats at a random giftshop. I thought the Campbell's were famous for their soup, not their pizza!
Pa was a good sport and agreed to ride the bouncing fiddler crab ride with Abe the 2nd time around. Abe loved the rides and as we climbed off of each one, he would make sure I knew that he did not think it was scary.

We sat in the "soak" zone for the Shamu show, but thankfully, we didn't get soaked, only splashed. This was a win/win, the kids were happy and so were the grown-ups.

It really is amazing to learn about and see all of the unique animals that God created. While our family may not agree with all of the philosophies about "Mother Earth" and the harmony of nature, we thoroughly enjoyed marveling at the creativity of our amazing Creator all day long. The fact that these killer whales interacted so effectively with their trainers and the crowd was amazing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Discovery Cove

This year for Christmas, we really discouraged the family from buying gifts for our children. Which sorta made sense, since we were in the process of purging 75% of what we owned. So, my parents decided that instead of giving us gifts, they would instead give us a week together in Orlando, FL. Which was, in my opinion, a brilliant idea. The thing is, we didn't want to come the week after Christmas because we didn't want to deal with the crowds. Instead, we're here this week, which is off to a heavenly start.
We knew that we didn't want to spend any time with that infamous mouse on this visit. We had done that scene very thoroughly a couple of years ago. We decided to go the SeaWorld route instead. When I was in the process of researching our ticket options, I ran across a steal of a deal on tickets to SeaWorld's sister park, Discovery Cove, which included 14 days at SeaWorld too. We have really been looking forward to it and today was the day. We had SO MUCH FUN! I highly recommend it for a lot of different reasons including these:
  • They only admit 1,000 people to the park each day, so there are NO crowds.
  • The whole thing focuses on animals and we spent the most relaxing day petting stingrays, feeding tropical birds, and snorkeling with incredibly beautiful fish.
  • The ticket is all inclusive and so our breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the day were all included. Not one time all day did the children ask for something that would cost us money. They ate soft pretzels and drank frozen lemonade to their heart's content, it was great! We also had to pay no parking and we all got to keep our snorkels as souvenirs.
  • The park was incredibly clean- from the front gate to the showers.
Here's the thing, the claim to fame at Discovery Cove is the dolphin swim, but we chose not to do that. It would have cost about $900 more for our family to add that 30 minute option, and we just were not willing to do that. That would have more than doubled our original cost, which was not the right fit for us. We still found plenty to do and we stayed from park opening to closing. And, we did grab a chair near the dolphin lagoon, so we still got to see them flipping, leaping, and kissing folks all throughout the day.
If you are considering a trip to Orlando, I highly recommend considering Discovery Cove. We went on a Monday, in the off season, so we got a very affordable rate. But, it was well worth the money we paid and it was definitely a one of a kind experience!

Ready to start the day!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
Grammy and Pa are suited up and ready to go.
Lily showing her stellar snorkeling skills- on land. Though, she quickly got the hang of it in the water and could keep up with any of us, at any depth.

The kids loved the wetsuits, I opted for the swim vest. It's my personal opinion that women who have birthed 4 children and have an affection for chocolate should avoid form fitting wet suits.
One of the many water options we played in.
Abe had a blast!
Isaac too!

All of us enjoyed the birds that were everywhere. The aviary was such a treat and we have decided that Ryan is the "bird whisperer" since they all wanted to sit on his head and back. Here are Lily and Abe checking out the birds. On top of all of the birds and marine life, we also got to meet and pet a two-toed sloth and an armadillo. Very cool!

Tired at the end of a fun and fabulous day.


On our way to the Sunshine State, we stopped over in one of my favorite cities. Ryan and I spent our honeymoon here, which was a totally random choice, that we literally made by closing our eyes and pointing to a US road map. Our first attempt landed in Kansas and we decided to try again, that's how we first discovered Savannah, GA.
We were very blessed that the Lord allowed us to live here for almost a year when our children were younger. The months we spent on the staff of First Baptist Church of the Islands in Savannah are very fondly remembered. But, God clearly called us away from this beautiful place when we weren't even looking to leave, and we know that our invitation to come to our current church was definitely the correct choice for us.
While we love where we are, we have often commented that we miss Savannah and the beauty there. So we both knew, when we planned our trip to FL, that we wanted to stop by and visit our beloved Savannah. I mean, what's not to love about this amazing city? Who wouldn't love...

a walk down historic River Street,

a visit to Savannah Sweets,

including those amazing pralines,

those gorgeous Savannah squares,

and those remarkable live oak trees with that gorgeous Spanish moss?

And if the city is not your thing, simply drive the 20 minutes out to Tybee Island and enjoy the view from the sand.

Of course, the whole experience is greatly enhanced if you bring your favorite people with you.

Abe made us all laugh as we were leaving the beach when he very seriously said, "Mommy, can the ocean come home with us?"

Our visit to Savannah ended on a high note when we got to worship with old friends at FBCI. The church has changed and grown very beautifully since we left 6 years ago and it was a blessing to worship there before finishing hitting the road, headed south again.

Valentine's Day

I love holidays and I love making them fun. It's one of my favorite parts about being a mommy. Some holidays have rock solid traditions we've established, others are flexible. Valentine's Day is one of those flexible ones. We always do something small to celebrate, but it changes from year to year.
This year, the kids woke up to some Valentine's treats at the breakfast table and then we had a fun breakfast of heart shaped French toast and bacon. Normally, these are breakfast favorites at our house, but there didn't seem to be much of an appetite.
By dinner, it was obvious that all of the girls in our house were sick with the flu, so Ryan chose to show his affection by making runs to the Dr. and the pharmacy. I had planned that we might have some fun food and a family game night, but none of us had the energy, so instead, we sacked out on the couch together and watched "Secretariat" while sharing pieces of the giant heart cookie I had baked the night before, when I felt better.
One fun thing we did was go around the table and each of us shared one thing that we each loved about one another. It was neat to see each child choosing to affirm their siblings and it was fun to hear what they came up with. It was especially fun to see each child beam when it was there turn to be commented on. I am so blessed to have such a loving family.
We couldn't help but wonder what our Valentine's Day might look like next year. I'm not sure if it will be something that is celebrated where we're going, but even if it's not, I expect they'll be something pink or red or heart-shaped at our house!

Valentine's breakfast
One sick 12 year old. It's been a long time since she's asked Daddy to hold her like that! She was pitiful.
Yummy heart boxes of chocolate- just the right size for these little guys!
The dinner table, complete with roses that Ryan purchased on a Tamiflu run. We've already given away all of our vases, but this jar was a great stand-in.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Confessions of a Wannabe

I don't consider myself to be a high maintenance woman. I own a blow dryer, but I rarely use it. My limited cosmetic bag contents come from Walmart, purchased with coupons. I haven't paid for a manicure in five years and I HATE to spend money on getting my hair cut. (But for those of you who have seen my consistent ponytail bush these last few weeks, I do have an appointment to get my "wig busted" this week.) Most of my clothes are purchased at deeply discounted prices and that's the way I like it. It's not that I don't love myself or that I don't want to look presentable, it's just that I prefer to spend my time and money on other things.
But, even with my low maintenance style, I'll confess that there is one thing that I'm kind of dreading about our move. I am sure it won't be a big deal when I get there, and it makes me feel really worldly that I even care, but I'm being honest here. So, I'll tell you, I am really dreading the whole skirt thing. In my new home, I will wear skirts ALL of the time. All of the time as in, any time I leave my house or anytime I have a house helper or anytime there is a guest in my house. I mean all the time, as in, I have been advised to keep a wrapper by the front door if I'm not wearing a skirt so that if someone knocks, I can quickly slip it on before opening the door. And, I'm not talking about the millions of trendy knee length skirts that I can currently find at places like the Gap and H&M. I'm talking mid-calf to ankle length skirts, every day, for as long as I live there. And, often, I get to wear a matching head covering to go with it. Wow, gives a whole new slant to the concept of accessories.
So, Ryan and I talked about it, and we decided that, while I would probably have the bulk of my skirts made once we arrived in West Africa, I should go ahead and purchase a few here. This was for a couple of reasons, the first is simply because I want to arrive with at least a few days worth of clothing to get me through until we can get settled and establish a more appropriate wardrobe. Secondly, and I know this sounds really carnal, but we thought it just might be good for me to have a few pieces that made me feel comfortable and "normal," although, it won't be normal there, so that's really probably an idiotic thought. But, I'm thinking that having a favorite khaki with an Eddie Bauer tag in it might be the thing that keeps me from heading over the edge on a particularly tough transition day. But, I'm not sure because frankly, I've never done this before.
The last few weeks, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for some lovely ankle length skirts to add to my wardrobe. Um, friends, have you tried to find any ankle length skirts lately? They aren't out there or at least not at a price that I want to pay. I mean J Jill has a cute one for $89. Or there was the pretty linen one I found at the Eddie Bauer outlet for $45, which would require a slip. A SLIP, in West Africa. No, not on my watch. Seriously, I don't own a slip, and there is a reason for that. I hate them.
So, I have a favor to ask you. If you're out shopping in the next few months, and you run into a good deal on a bunch of pretty long skirts that don't require slips, let me know. Because, I'm definitely in the market for some.
I am sure that right now, if any of my friends who already serve there are reading this, they are laughing at me. And I understand that in 5 years, I will probably laugh at some newbie who is working toward this transition. I know that giving up my jeans is a small price to pay for this amazing opportunity to advance the gospel. That's why I'm completely willing to do it. But I'll be honest, personally, I'm struggling a little bit. I think that most of my friends would too, if they were being honest about it.
I'll admit, I have tried to find the silver lining in this whole thing. Like, I don't think I'll be as tempted to overspend on the wardrobe. I won't have to worry as much about battling the whole modesty thing with my girls through the teenage years (yes, they will be wearing skirts too!) I won't have to put too much thought into what to wear when I go out. And, I'm guessing skirts are much cooler than boot cut jeans on a warm West African afternoon. So, on that happy note, I'll close.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Boy and His Daddy

After 2 years at home, we often find ourselves getting questions about Abe and how he is doing. The answer is, he is doing really well. In the last few months, we have seen some great improvements in his behavior and his level of trust. He loves many things including big sticks (they instantly become guns), outside play time, being read to, and anything that could be called candy (don't worry, we monitor that.) He has finally decided that the potty is not his enemy and uses it almost exclusively now, which makes me very happy. He loves to help me, especially with unloading the dishwasher and rotating the laundry.
He still has his own ideas about how things should be done (what 3 year old doesn't?) He can take or leave his siblings, depending on the circumstances and his disposition at any given moment. And his language, oh my. Let's just say he's mastered it, maybe too well. So, for all of those that were worried about his language acquisition at any point, worry no more. I think he could probably match any child born in an English speaking country in any test of vocabulary, sentence structure, or story telling. He makes us laugh, often.
He clearly considers us his family, though he did surprise us recently by announcing to one of our friends that he has two mommies, one here and one in Africa. I had mentioned that to him a few times when we looked at photos or when he had questions, but it didn't seem to matter to him. Though, clearly, he got the big idea. I'm not sure what is the best way to discuss this, but we are trying to just answer questions as they come and to always be open and transparent about the whole thing, while always reminding him how very glad we are that he is in our family. I've told him about how we prayed and prayed for him and we were so excited when God gave him to our family and how happy we are that we get to be his mommy and daddy. Hopefully a generous assurance of our love will eliminate the need for large quantities of therapy later, who knows?
One thing he is totally sold on is his daddy. The boy loves, LOVES, loves his daddy. The man can do no wrong. Abe truly thinks he hung the moon and Ryan is the best. Abe willingly takes a nap most everyday because he knows that when he wakes up, his daddy will be coming home. He even told one of our friends recently that all I do is exercise and bake cookies. Ryan, apparently does all of the cooking, cleaning, ironing, and other household responsibilities. Needless to say, Ryan and I got a big kick out of that (although, I do confess, I don't iron.)
Recently, he was at a friend's house and her teenage son, who is quite the gymnast, walked a good distance across the house on his hands. She looked at Abe and asked him if he could do that. He paused thoughtfully for a moment and then replied enthusiastically, "No, but my daddy can!"
If Abe was my first child, I might be a little paranoid about our relationship. After all, I'm the one who reads to him every day. I launder his clothes and prepare his meals. I bake his birthday cakes. But, I've been around the block enough to know that kids go through these phases and it's natural. I'm thankful that he thinks so highly of Ryan, especially since Ryan can be the one who is the stricter disciplinarian. Apparently, Abe thrives on that and needs those boundaries. I know that a boy needs a beloved daddy in his world.
Overall, we're just very grateful that we get to parent this little guy. He brings all of us so much joy. He certainly has humbled Ryan and I, who subconsciously thought we had so much of this parenting thing figured out. Abe has definitely reminded us of our dependance on the Lord in that area.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Decade

A decade. 10 years. That's how long it's been. A decade ago I was living in an apartment directly across the street from where I live right now. We had come to the Carolinas so that my husband could finish school on the campus of Southeastern. I don't think I'll ever forget that February day when he came into our apartment and announced that he had found a church staff position that he'd like to apply for. My response was both hasty and selfish. I told him in no uncertain terms that church people were mean and that he had not brought me to a seminary 10 hours from home so that he could go to work at a church. I said my peace, and that settled it.

Until the next morning when I opened my Bible and God clearly showed me my disobedient spirit. I called Ryan and explained to him that if he wanted to apply, I would support it. I convinced myself that it would be a neat way to pay the bills for a while, until he finished school and we could then pursue our real future in international missions. We interviewed, accepted our first church staff position, and began full time work in children's ministry.

That was 10 years ago. 10 wonderful, fun-filled, incredible years ago. I never could have guessed that God would allow us to serve 10 years in this capacity, but He has. And it has been the ride of a lifetime. For 10 years, I have had the privilege of investing in families alongside my husband and it has been such a blessing. We became so comfortable and content in this role, that when we sensed a change in our call, we were initially hesitant to consider international missions again.

God has used this time to teach us so much. We have learned much about our sinful nature and our desperate need for Him. We have come to know that we are totally incapable of navigating the worlds of parenting, marriage, or ministry without total reliance on him. We have had an amazing level of accountability as we've lived our lives in a very public arena within our little community. We're a little scared about leaving that behind.

While Ryan and I are very excited that God has called us TO this new journey, we are also very sad about what God is calling us AWAY from. We will genuinely miss the opportunities we've had to invest in hundreds of kiddos. We will miss the opportunities to counsel families on everything from talking with your children about salvation to how to navigate temper tantrums to choosing schooling options to, well, you name it. We've pretty much heard it all and through all of it, we've found that Jesus is always enough and pursuing His standard is always the best way to solve every kind of problem.

We will miss the fact that our calendars have pivoted around events such as VBS, Baby dedication, and Egg Hunts. That's what we have known for so long, and that's all that our children have ever known. And it's a little bit exciting and a lot frightening.

There are these moments, when we wonder if we're crazy. Aside from the reality of leaving behind our beloved America where everything is familiar and comfortable, we also struggle a bit with the shift in ministry. Ryan has loved what he has done. And, if I may brag on him for a moment, he's pretty darn good at it. We know that there would be many opportunities for him to "advance" by American church standards. In fact, the week before we went for our interviews in Kansas City, he received 3 unsolicited requests for his resume, one of which would have been a big "step up." Tempting, yes.

But, here is where we landed after praying hard. We know, that we know, that we know, that this is what our next step is supposed to be. God has clearly affirmed it time after time. When we hear disturbing news coming out of our future home, we know. When we compare the salaries side by side, we know. When we have to give away beloved possessions, we know. When the families we've built relationships with ask us why we have to go, we know. And that's really what matters. When we were facing our adoption with Abe, God gave me this verse as an answer to those who questioned our decision, and He has reminded me of it many times during this process. James 4:17 says, " If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." For us, we know that this is the good we ought to do.

So, as I reflect on the past decade, I can't even process all of the emotions I feel. I am so grateful to God for the amazing decade He's given us. I'm humbled by the many families who have trusted us to lead their children, pray for the needs, and keep their secrets. I'm sad because I am losing this ministry platform that God has allowed us to have. Yet, I'm excited to see what comes next. I am thankful to be given this amazing opportunity. I'm overwhelmed with love for a people I've yet to meet. I'm burdened for the lost walking in darkness in West Africa. I am eager to support the work of those who are already on the ground. I am scared of the unknown and yet ready for the challenge.

On the 27th of March, exactly 10 years to the weekend that we started this "church staff" journey, we'll step down. I can't imagine all of the emotions that will come that day, but I am excited to see what the next decade will hold. If it's anything like the last one, I say, "Bring it on!"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

Origami bunnies, everywhere!

I'm going to go bragging on my homeschool curriculum again. In case you didn't know, I love, LOVE, love, the Tapestry of Grace curriculum that we use for our schooling. I love the literature, I love the church history, I love the world history, and I love all of the great ideas we do in our co-op. I wish I had been allowed to learn the way that my children are learning.

This is our fourth year using it and this is the final year of the cycle. Every year, we've touched on Asian countries in the context of history. Anyway, the last few weeks we've been learning about Asia again, through the lens of post WWII and the Korean War. So, the kiddos have read some neat stuff about India, China, and Korea. I've learned a lot too!

When a co-op friend suggested a visit to the Chinese New Year Festival at the state fairgrounds, I thought it was perfect timing. So, on Saturday, we went down and explored the festivities that went into The Year of the Rabbit. It gave us an opportunity to be surrounded by folks of a different culture and to experience some unique things. We had fun watching the various folk dances, seeing the different foods, and hearing some different languages. It was a neat experience.

This young man made the origami rabbits look easy, so we thought we'd try.
Being instructed with origami by a not so patient instructor!

Abby finally finished her rabbit!

Lizzy, trying to smile in spite of the dragon's breath!

Practicing with chopsticks.