Monday, March 17, 2014

Lego Loving

We returned from our homeschool conference on Friday afternoon.  Ryan had also been out of the country and he returned just before bedtime.  I had promised my birthday boy some sort of party.  One with guests besides his siblings.  He hadn't had one of those since his 9th birthday.  The complication was that the friends we'd traveled with were his first choice of guests and they were leaving on Sunday AM to return to their home city.  That gave me a 24 hour window to pull together a party plan.

Never in my pre-Africa days would this have happened.  I would have ordered my themed items from Birthday Party Express at least a month in advance.  But you know what?  I live in Africa now, and well, it happened.  But, guess what?   We pulled off a party...without Michael's, Party City, or Dollar Tree.    Though, I did use Pinterest.  Thank you Jesus for Pinterest ( I mean that with all sincerity.)

The kids and I had lost a night of sleep going to the conference and most of a night of sleep coming back.  So, on Friday while we dumped our luggage in the middle of the floor, I had Naomi fix us some Ramen noodles (known as Indomie where we live).  Over that gourmet meal, I broached the birthday party subject with Isaac.  I was secretly chanting something like, "Please say you just want friends and ice cream sundaes, please say you don't care."  But, I created some crazy birthday party expectations in my other life and they came back to bite my butt once again.

He wanted Legos.  And no he didn't want a giant cookie.  He wanted a real decorated cake, like I used to make.  That's what he said.  "Mom, remember how you used to make us those cool, fancy cakes?"  Seriously?  Don't even get me started on why elaborate buttercream and the equator don't go together.

Anyway, after realizing he was serious, I decided the best next step was to sleep.  So, I left the suitcases in the floor,  made sure my kids were all accounted for, and I found a bed.   That was the best thing I could have done.  Then, after adding a couple of hours to my sleep total, I was ready to go Lego crazy.   I can tell you that one of the great things about having older kids is that they can make significant contributions to things like 24 hour birthday party preparations.  We worked together and when we hit the sack on Saturday night, we were exhausted, but Isaac had been celebrated and he was satisfied.

Some of the fun included...
 A Lego Memory game.  How many could you remember?

 Lego Bingo and a Lego Car Race.  The winning car is pictured above and below.
 Isaac and Lily custom-made our fork holder.

 The kids enjoyed turning two of the dads into Ninjagos

 We gave all of the food a Lego movie themed name.  For example, we had Emmet's Empanadas and Unikitties Colorful Kabobs.  We also made homemade potato chips, corndogs, punch, and lego pizzas.  You don't even wanna know how much we had to pay for those grapes.  But, oh, they were yummy!

 Here's the birthday boy with his Lego man cake.
Ryan and Abby threw in a little Lego style decor with this fun banner.  I am so thankful for a husband who is willing to help out with these kind of details!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

One Year Ago Today

That's when it happened.  St. Patrick's Day 2013.  That's a day that I will forever remember as a game changer...not just for me, but for my whole family.  My children have asked me to skip St. Patrick's Day this year.  They specifically ordered me not to make green pancakes or eggs and ESPECIALLY no doughnuts.

Doughnuts.  That's what we had for breakfast that morning.  It was the first and only time I have made doughnuts in Africa.  They were a special St. Patrick's Day treat.  We enjoyed them.  Until the phone rang and the confusion began.  I didn't get to clean up the mess.  The counters were covered with flour. The pan of oil sat on the stove.  It didn't matter.  All that mattered in those moments was getting out, getting to safety.  I don't think I'll ever forget that 90 minutes between the time I took the last bite of my doughnut and the time that our van exited that compound.  How can you forget the sensation of handing your child a suitcase and telling them to fill it up with whatever they think they'll need, being unable to assure them that they can come back and get their special things another time?  How do you forget their frenzied hugs to their dogs and their new kitten.  You don't forget.  And neither do they.

Looking back, I'm not sure we would have done it the same way.  But then, I think we would have.  We had one option and that was to call our security contact.  He told us to go and to go quickly.  We did.  I really think it was as calm and as orderly and as faith-relying as a moment like that can be.  But it was still terrifying.

Were we really in any imminent danger?  I don't know.  How can we know?  We had reason to believe we were.  We were counseled to respond as if we were.  And we did.   Could we still be living safely in that same compound today, further invested in the work and the relationships that we'd planted?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It's not for me to know.

Those days that followed, those long, painful days were some of the most relieving and exhausting and confusing days I've known.  The decision to move wasn't a given for us.  Of the four families that chose not to return, I think we probably held out the longest in letting it go.  Not because we loved the people more, not because we're tougher, not because we love God or want to serve him any more than they do.  I don't know why, but it was a painful and difficult decision.  As much as I had sensed the Spirit stirring my heart with the reality that this insecure place may not work for us, even in the weeks before the evacuation, it was still a great and painful loss.  The decision to leave and start over did not come lightly.  Honestly, we still wrestle with it.

And I'm not gonna lie, this year, it's been a tough one.  Not everyone has been supportive.  Not everyone understands.  Don't get me wrong, our parents and other folks who read BBC Africa and love us, they exhaled in a major way.  Our leadership has been very supportive.  But people who love that place...not so much.  I guess I can understand.  We're the wimps.  We're the ones who couldn't cut it.  We're the ones that don't have enough faith.  We're the quitters.  At least, those are the voices that we're sometimes tempted to listen to.  And sickeningly enough, there are human beings who love Jesus who have told us those very things.

When I look back on what I've learned as I've lived out this year, I think there are two major takeaways for me.  The first, I think, has been the understanding that I need to extend grace.  Loads of it.  Because I understand, now more than ever, that every person, every family has to walk their own unique journey with God.  No one can do it for them.  No one can put their face to the ground and cry out to God for my family like I can.  No one can tune their heart to sense God's call for my family like I can.  At the end of the day, I am the person best equipped to advocate for my family.  Just as you are the best person to advocate for yours.  I realize that God is so, so unconventional.  He will do what He does in the way He wants to do it according to His perfect plans.  His plan for my family will likely look nothing like His plan for your family.  And shame on me if I think it ought to.

So, I think that I am equipped with a compassion and a grace that I didn't have a year ago.  I understand that there are still standards and best practices by which we should live out our faith.  We have God's word to guide us as we go and no decision we make should contradict that.  But beyond that, there is so much freedom.  There are so many opportunities to serve well and love well and to do it in a way that is healthy for you and the people God has entrusted to you.

My second major takeaway has been an understanding of grief.  The loss of our country was hard.  I don't think anyone who has not been through an evacuation can understand how unsettling it is.  It was so much more than a move.  Our home, our relationships, our sense of security, our work...they were taken from us.  So many people just assumed that because we were going to a place with shinier stores, better electricity, and a more secure environment, that we must be thrilled.  But the grief and the loss were great.  We were simply reeling and our children were too... especially in those early months.  I pray that God will redeem that pain and that I will be able to empathize and encourage others in a way that I couldn't have before the heavy losses of the past year came my way.

Today we still feel the loss, and honestly, Ryan and I dream that someday we will have the privilege of serving in Nigeria again.  Yet, we are confident that we are in the right place for our family for this season.  Our kids have begun to blossom again, in ways that were lost to us for a time.  They no longer tremble when a truck on the road hits a speed bump and makes a loud boom.  We can stay out after dark and we no longer have panic.  They are talking less and less about their fears and more about their dreams.  We know that this is a good place for us to be. We are thankful that God clearly led us to a place where we can be both effective and healthy.

A Week Away

The first week in March, the kids and I traveled to East Africa for a homeschool conference.  I was a bit nervous flying with all of the kids and no husband.  However, there was another mom who lives in my country traveling too and we decided that if we stuck together, we would likely be okay.  As is typical with African travel, there were a few snags along the way.  The first one came when we arrived at our local airport.  Immediately, my friend was told that our plane had been downsized and we were being bumped off until the next day's flight.  Refusing to take her word for it, I decided to be hard headed and I marched up to the counter determined to plead our case.  I didn't get very far.  I was told, "In the month when you bought your ticket, we were flying a bigger plane."  Say what?  I basically said something like, "Well, in the four months since we bought our tickets, someone should have contacted us with that information."    

Anyway, we called our husbands and they came to pick us up.  We all agreed that we weren't going to leave the airport until we had something in our hands that assured us a seat on the next night's flight.  However, we got nowhere with getting that imaginary document.  We waited and we waited and we waited.  With 7 children, 2 husbands, and about 10 suitcases, we waited.  Ryan followed one of the employees around like a puppy, certain that he had the power to do something for us.  We were determined that we were getting to our conference ASAP.  Finally, after about 2 hours of waiting, after we'd watched lots of people be accepted and lots of people go home with the promise of a seat the next night, Ryan called me up to the counter.  Amazingly, they had decided to let us board the plane.  

That's when the real fun began!  With less than 30 minutes until take-off, we had boarding passes in hand.  The problem was, we still had immigration and security to clear.  Let's just say we pulled out our best African manners and went for it.  The mom I was traveling with grew up in West Africa and she is so, so much better at pushing the rules than I am.  She actually understands that rules here are very flexible.  So, I stepped back and followed her lead.  We marched past a gazillion people waiting in immigration and she began pleading our case to one of the immigration officers.  I'm not sure if it would have worked  if we hadn't had 2 six year old boys jumping up and down and saying, "Please, please sir, we really need to get on that plane."  He tried hard to keep his stern face, but he finally couldn't resist and with a big laugh, he led us directly to an immigration window. 

That dumped us into the longest security line we've ever seen at our airport.  Again, my friend wiggled to the front and begged for mercy.  Again we were waved through, this time with some really grumpy faces.  We didn't care.  We just put our shoes back on and took off running.  We made it to the gate, but not a single passenger was left.  We weren't sure they were going to let us on, but miraculously, they called a bus and drove us out to the plane.  I think I literally heard the door shut behind us.  You should have seen the smiles of some of the folks on the plane who were cheering us on and hoping we'd make it.  

Our week away was good.  I was exhausted when it was over.  Keeping up with 5 kids at a conference center all week long is a bit tiresome.  But, it was time well spent.  I learned some things, I was reminded of some things, and I was challenged too.  I'm glad we went.

Most of the kids did Iowa testing each morning and then they spent the afternoons with a variety of volunteers who taught them all sorts of enrichment type things.  They did things like quilt square math and creative writing and insect investigations and such.  

The week had a super hero theme and in preparation for our time there, the students were asked to choose a hero and do a project on them.  They all had to have a costume and a prop to represent their hero.  In addition, the four oldest wrote an essay about their person.  Each night, kids of a certain age group shared about their hero to all of the other children and parents.  The kids did a great job and it was nice that they had the challenge of preparing something to share.  It's a healthy sort of stress that I am not able to provide them with very often in our current environment.  I definitely have some who love the stage and others who would rather just write an essay.   

Here are some pictures of our week.

Abe and his good friend, the two who won the hearts of the immigration officer.  Abe chose to be Orville Wright. 
Here we have Lottie Moon and Eric Liddel.

Here's Eric's medal 

Lottie's sugar cookies (and no, they definitely were not edible!)

The two oldest chose Molly Pitcher and Irena Sendler

 Here's a representation of Irena's jar of names, where she hid the names of all of the children she rescued out of the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII.

 Finally, here's Molly's cannon.  Made out of Sculpey clay that one of you likely mailed to us!


Here's Isaac on his 12th birthday, which happened while we were away.  He made me promise not to tell everyone it was his birthday.  However, the organizers had ordered a giant cake for all of those who had a birthday that week to share.  The cake was brought out on Isaac's actual birthday, which was mid-week.  At first, he thought I was behind it, but I pled innocence and he got cake, it worked out perfectly!