Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Know, I Know, I Know...

I haven't exactly been so on target with my blogging goal for this month.  Does it help at all that I spent last weekend wiped out with a headcold?  Then, I had to play catch-up from being totally unproductive for 3 days.  I slept for about 34 hours from Friday night to Monday morning.  Not that being awake would have allowed for much blogging anyway...our electricity took a little sabbatical for most of the weekend.  That means I had limited internet access, since our router requires "lights" as my African friends call electricity. 

I'm not trying to complain about the electricity.  Really, I'm not.  Right now, in Ghana, we're supposed to be experiencing a "load shedding exercise."  That's the Ghana way of saying that the lights are going to go out.  Everyone is supposed to get 24 hours on and 12 hours off.  That seems fair enough, I suppose.  If there's not enough electricity to power the country, I guess that taking turns without makes sense.  Of course, part of my American brain wants to ponder why we can't maintain things in a way that would allow us to not need load shedding, but that's a pointless exercise.

So, Tuesday morning, we were all prepared for our 12 hours without electricity.  Computers were charged.  E-mails were answered.  Mentally I was ready for a day of sweat with no relief in sight.  We were there.  But the electricity never went off.  It's now Thursday night and we're still uninterrupted with our electric.  Which, don't get me wrong...I'm loving it.  But, it bothers me because my African friends are not having the same experience at their house. 

They told me it would be this way.  When the load shedding was announced, I was voicing my lack of enthusiasm and they told me not to worry, that where I live, I won't be experiencing it as severely as other folks.  You see, I live in an area with lots of embassies and ex-pats and other niceties. I logically explained to them that the authorities had announced that everyone was going to be part of it.  We would have to do without too.  They politely agreed, but I knew they weren't convinced.  And now, 96 hours into our "turn" I'm beginning to realize that once again...they were right and I was wrong. 

I don't think I'll ever understand the way things work here.  Why is it okay for the big man to always beat down the little man?  Why is it okay for such obvious discrimination to happen?  My "all mean are created with certain inalienable rights" mentality just doesn't get it.  And the thing is, my African friends totally accept it.  Or at least they seem to.  It's just the way it is and the way it will always be. 

Of course, it can go the other way too.  Today, when my office assistant came to work, she said, "Mom, we have a problem.  The trash people came and they said that the prices will be going up next month.  You will now be paying more.  Here is the letter they left." 

Here's the way it's going to work.  Beginning next week, if we are going to continue with trash collection, we will pay 250% more than we did this week.  Apparently, according to the letter, trash pick-up is divided into 6 categories.  In each of the categories, you pay a different amount per 240 liter can.  So, though you all use the same size can, the cost will vary.  I found out today that I live in "first-class residential."  I will pay 5 times as much for my can as the people living in 3rd class residential.  Of course, if I was an industry, I would pay 10 times as much, for the SAME size can.  And they wonder why they're having a hard time attracting industries to our city?!?

For just a minute, I ranted and raved and gave Charity my exact opinions on why this was absolutely absurd.  She smiled and nodded and gave words of support in all of the appropriate places (just like she did when I assured her that I would share her electricity woes.)  Then I realized that if she were to pay what I am now expected to pay for her trash pick-up, it would be 25% of her monthly salary.  Hmmm, that doesn't seem fair either, does it? 

I don't know what the answer is.  I do know that I just don't get it.  Don't know if I ever will.  And, I'm pretty sure that I'll be slipping my guard an extra 10 cedis a month next week so that he can burn the trash and we can send our 240 liter can to someone who will appreciate it more.  C'est la vie!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Magic Bag

I love birthdays.  I love finding fun ways to celebrate birthdays.  We start our birthday streak this month.  We have one a month for the next 5 months, in our household.  Normally, I would look forward to this.  I confess though, that with the demands of the past year, I haven't had as much energy or enthusiasm as I would like when it comes to those kinds of extras.  Not to mention, we're approaching the end of our term and the party supply box is getting low.  I mean, who wants purple  plates with Spiderman napkins and a Tinkerbell tablecloth?  But then again, a birthday celebration is about celebrating the person, not what kinda plate your cake is served on, right?

Lizzie turned 14 Friday.  When I asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate, she said that she just wanted to have a family movie night... like we do every Friday night.  I tried to talk her into dreaming a bit bigger, but she insisted that was all she needed.  So, we agreed that instead of having our normal pizza, I would make appetizers and red velvet cupcakes and, she would get to pick the movie.  That was it.  She didn't even have much of a wish list as far as a gift went.   This is not a typical Lizzie style birthday, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

I thought it would be fun to try and surprise her with a little something unexpected.  But, I honestly couldn't think of anything.  So, I decided this would just be a basic birthday with nothing special for the memory books.  Until, Ryan and I somehow ended up out shopping together and alone last Saturday.  We were at the place we lovingly refer to as Walmart.  I decided to head down the aisle that most closely resembles a party supply aisle and see if I could find a pack of plates to use.  As I was strolling, I found this little gem...
 A "Hallo" Barbie bag.
Can you see it?  The word "Hallo" written all over the bag.

Lizzie has loved Barbies far longer and far more passionately than your average 14 year old girl.  Though she doesn't spend much time with them these days, she will definitely be remembered as our Barbie lover.  So, even though she is far too old for me to be wrapping her gifts in a Barbie bag, I did it.  I spent the dollar and bought the ugly "Hallo" bag.

I didn't have any gifts that were really spectacular, just a lot of little things that I thought she might like.  We had bought her a basic cover for her Ipad, which is the one thing she had asked for.  Of course, when she saw the bag waiting for her at the breakfast table, she laughed and rolled her eyes at my choice of wrapping.  As if the ugly bag wasn't crazy enough, I decided to tell her it was a Magic "Hallo" Barbie bag.  She dutifully opened the gifts, which had each been wrapped in some lovely, shiny foil paper, the African wrap of choice.  She was very gracious after she finished, but I think she was a bit disappointed that her birthday gifts consisted of things like oreos, microwave popcorn, and hair ties.

We ran to pick up our volunteer teacher, and when we returned, Lizzie took her in to see the ugly Barbie bag, which she'd left on the table.  To her surprise, the bag had been refilled with more wrapped gifts.  I reminded her that, "Hallo!  The bag IS magic!"  I explained that the lady who sold it to me told me that the bag was magic, the items were only to be opened at mealtime, and that the magic ran out at sunset.  Of course, Liz didn't fall for one word of it, but she humored me and played along, especially since it meant more loot for her.  Every time the bag would get mentioned all day long, I would just shout out "Hallo!  It's magic!"  in my very best Made in China accent.  It probably doesn't even sound funny to you, but I cracked myself up and eventually, my kids decided to laugh with (or maybe it was AT) me.

As the day went on, the gifts got a bit better and I think that the two Dr. Peppers really sealed the deal.  Lizzie had a great day and certainly got the idea that we loved her, Nutella and all.  We had a fun time celebrating Lizzie, in spite of our ugly wrapping paper and flimsy plates.  And Hallo, how's she going to forget the "magic" that was her 14th birthday?

Here are Abe and Lizzie with the gifts he gave her.  He came up with a Chick-Fil-A cow watch, some sunflower spectacles, a jewelry box that was already hers, but he added a few random coins he has collected on our travels, and a handmade picture.  He is really into giving gifts and drawing picture to give away right now.  Which makes me very, very happy! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Africa Light?

We live in a big, busy city.  By West African standards, it is also a very developed city.  Nearly all of our roads are paved.  We have a couple of shopping malls and a movie theater.  We have grocery stores that look like American grocery stores (LOOK, not operate NOR stock.)  We even have a couple of chain restaurants, most of them are South or West African, but we do have KFC. 

Our colleagues that live in other parts of West Africa like to remind us that we live in "Africa Light."  Most of the time, we agree with them and we know that we have it easy, comparatively.  But, then there are these days when it doesn't seem so "light"  and I really just want to punch them in the nose and challenge them to come live a few weeks in "Africa Light."  Ummm, I mean, I wouldn't really ever want to punch one of my colleagues in the nose.  Never.  I love them all and we are united in our efforts in perfect harmony.  All of us.  Always.  So no worries there.

I remember when we had only been on the field for a few months, we were Skyping with friends who live in another developed West African city.  We were sitting in our bedroom, in the dark, because the electricity was out.  They had the nerve to explain to us that they thought that we had it easier, with only about 50 percent electricity than they had it, with 95 percent electricity.  According to them, it was more challenging for them because they didn't have back up sources for power like we did.  I thought that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.  Except that now, I am in a 95% city, and I agree with them.  Because, when we lived in a place where power outages were daily occurrences, we did have a generator and solar panels and an invertor system.  Here, we might only lose power a half dozen times a month, but we don't have any back-up systems.  We have candles.  It's simply not worth the financial investment to install any sort of back-up system.  Really, it's not a big deal, unless it's super hot and we need fans.  Or, when I just filled the crockpot for the day.  Or if the school laptop computers are on 15% charge and we have the whole school day ahead of us.  Or, if it's just been a rotten day and I am being a spoiled American who simply wants the lights to be on.

Another thing that I love about "Africa Light" is that the many of the businesses have the appearance of being "shiny" and having high standards.  But really, you'd be better off if you refuse to be deceived by the shine and remember that you're still shopping in West Africa.  Because, quite frankly, many things are just a souped up version of what you could get for half the price in the open air market, if you wanted to battle the traffic and invest 1/2 of your day in finding a parking spot and getting sunburned.  Yes, there is an entire cereal aisle, and it has 6 different kind of cornflakes.  Or one $20 box of stale Rice Krispies.  Take your pick.  There is also a meat counter.  Where you can get chicken.  Sometimes.  Or beef.  Sometimes.  Or goat meat.  All of the time.

It's also fun when you fall for the movie theater online schedule...the one where you look and find that the movie you want to see starts at 2:45.  So, you go on Tuesday afternoon to see a movie that came in last Friday.  Except, after you make the 3 mile/45 minute drive and get there to buy the tickets, they tell you that the movie didn't come in yet.  And when you inquire as to why the website says the movie will be playing at 2:45, they say, "Well, it was supposed to come in on Friday, but it hasn't come yet."  Then you make the mistake of asking why, between Friday and Tuesday, they didn't update the website to indicate that the movie wasn't there, and they look at you like you're an idiot and you decide that you need to just walk away, before you lose it.  Then, you pack your frustrated and/or crying children back into the van and drive the 3 mile/45 minute drive home.  But, you've learned your lesson and the next time, you call before you go.

This summer, we had some friends who worked with us in Nigeria and have now returned to the States, come for a visit.  They brought us lots of treats, including a big quantity of pepperoni.  We sort of had this running joke while they were here that if they had known how developed our city was, they wouldn't have brought us pepperoni...we weren't really suffering enough and we hadn't earned our pepperoni.  All joking aside, by the end of their week, they reassured us that, even if we live in "Africa Light", we still earn our pepperoni.

I know I might sound like a crybaby, and that's not my intent.  I'm thankful for the conveniences that do come with "Africa Light."  Living here has helped me to understand that the old saying, "The grass is always greener on the other side," is definitely true.  I pray that increasingly, I will be able to say, like the Apostle Paul, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."  Lord, may it be so!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This Boy...A Progress Report

This boy.  What a delight he is.  

Today, he and I baked this bread together, as part of his Five in a Row lesson this week.  We're reading When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant and like the grandmother in the story, we decided to make cornbread for our family.  We also made fried taters and chicken in a cast iron skillet, just like our ancestors did in the Appalachian Mountains.  Abe also shook up some homemade butter, which was really a treat on our hot cornbread.  The older kids informed him that he needed to have more school projects like this one.  

It's been about 3 months since we made the decision to allow Abe to start medicine.  In that time, I've heard from many of you with encouragement as well as concern.  For those of you who sent words of caution and concern, please know that we appreciate your input.  We understand there are significant things of which to be aware when using ADHD medications.  We did not make the decision lightly and we are not afraid to stop the use of the meds, if we begin to see concerning side effects.  Thankfully, at this point Abe is still eating and sleeping well and emotionally, he seems stable.

  I will say, that at the 3 months mark, we have ZERO regrets about our choice.  For Abe, at this point, it has been a big, big blessing.  This boy has blossomed in so many ways.  I can't even explain all of them, but I will say that it was very, very quickly that we began to notice the changes.  It was as if, for the first time in his life, he could hear our words among the cacophony of sounds that surround him.  

In the first few days, I have three distinct memories, where I noticed a definite change.  The first was when we were walking into the office of the guest house where we were staying and a lady passing by said, "Good morning! How are you?"  Abe paused, looked up at her, and replied, "I'm good."
Never, never had he EVER done anything like that before.  He heard her, he looked at her, and he replied to her without any prompting from me.  I got these big tears in my eyes, as my jaw hung open.

Later that same day, I got him a snack and a drink and he actually looked at me and told me "Thank you mom!"  Again, I froze in shock and then proceeded to praise him for thanking me.  I honestly don't think he had ever told me thank you before without a threat of punishment, or at least a firm prompting.

The next day, he and I were doing his reading lesson and a man was sweeping just outside our window.  Normally, this would have meant the end of our reading lesson or a very long and painful detour because of the distraction.  However, he looked over his shoulder, saw the man, and then went right back to his reading lesson.  Shock again on my part.

We continue to see progress.  He is able to listen and stay focused much better than ever before.  He is still impulsive, but better able to stop and think before making decisions.  He seeks physical touch and social interaction in a way that he ever did before.  He is beginning to be aware that his actions have the power to hurt people and more and more he cares when he hurts others (we're still working on this one.)  He plays with toys by himself on occasion and he is actually enjoying pretending for the first time in his life as well.  For the last hour, he has been "Chocolate" my imaginary puppy.  He tries to think of ways to be kind...drawing pictures for people, giving little gifts, and sharing of his own free will.  All of this is very, very new.  Overall, he is so much more pleasant.

Of course, I don't credit all of this to the medicine.  I realize that many of you have been praying.  Also,  part of it is us being educated and dealing with him differently.  However, I do think that the medicine has allowed him to hear and focus on our words in a way that was nearly impossible for him before.  It has also given him opportunities for successes that have made him feel better about himself.  I think that one positive choice leads to another.  

It's not a miracle pill.  We still struggle, lots.  But, the high points are more frequent and the periods of success seem to get longer and longer.  He is succeeding in so many ways.   

The bottom line is, with kids who struggle with the things that Abe struggles with, time and attention are two of the best medicines available.  I confess that, we have struggled with this in our current commitments.  We are, without a doubt, in over our heads.  However, I am trying hard to fulfill the commitments that I made until December.  We have talked with our leadership and made some decisions for our second term that will allow me to have less intense responsibilities outside of our family.   We know that ministry to Abe and to our family needs to be my primary responsibility over the next few years.  We are optimistic.

So, to those of you who have prayed, written e-mails of encouragement, checked in on Facebook, and the like, we thank you.  We are so blessed by Abe's presence in our family.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Parenting TCKs

If you've read my blog much, you know that I use the term TCKs when I refer to my kids.  TCK stands for Third Culture Kid and it's the name given to kids who spend a significant part of their childhood outside of their passport country.  It used to be that they were given names like military brats, MKs (missionary kids), or the like.  Now, all of those are lumped together for the common term of TCK.  Apparently, no matter what their parents vocation, these kids share some common traits and similar experiences that contribute to who they are and who they will become.  They tend to identify with those in their passport country... to an extent, those in their host an extent, and then develop their own "third culture." 

I am not a TCK.  I don't know what it is like to grow up as a TCK.  I can't even relate to the experience. I had the same address from my toddler years until the day I married.   But, here I am, parenting 5 TCKs and hoping like crazy that I don't screw them up too badly.  Thank the Lord that I believe his grace is sufficient to cover a whole multitude of my mess. 

I first heard the term TCK when we were preparing to come to the field.  In fact, they recommended that we read this book: 
And I wanted to, I did.  I checked it out from the resource library, cracked it open, and proceeded to read.  I didn't even make it past chapter one.  It wasn't because I didn't find it interesting.  It wasn't because I didn't think I needed the information.  It was because, in the first pages, I got the snot scared out of me!  Let me tell you folks, TCKs can struggle with lots of issues that I wasn't prepared to consider.  So, I had a couple of really restless days, talked with a lady who had raised three kids in Africa about the intense anxiety this book had stirred up in me, and then decided that I would put it back on the shelf.  When she said, "Yes, I've read that book and it's got some great info, but I'm not sure I would encourage you to read it right away,"  I decided I would read it later.  Much later.
Really, at that point, I knew that God was calling us to go. I trusted that he would equip us for the daily-ness, and I knew that I had to just step forward in faith, by His grace at that time.  So, that's what I did.  As ignorant, uneducated, or neglectful as that may sound to some of you, it was the right choice for the time being. 
Now, I've been parenting TCKs for nearly 3 years, and this book is at the top of my reading list for our time in the States.  I really think I'm ready.  Part of the reason I think I'm ready is because we're beginning to see some of the tell-tale characteristics of a TCK beginning to manifest in some of our children.  Well actually, in all of our children, just in different ways. 
Some of these characteristics are fabulous.  They are great at welcoming people of all types.  They quickly go deep in their conversations.  They no longer equate different with bad.  They are generally flexible and fun.  I, for one, think they're pretty great kids.
But, there have been times when we've seen glimpses of the conflict that is so common in TCKs.  We're told that they don't really know where they "belong."  When we were in the States last fall, one of our children, at a particularly stressful time, rolled up into a ball, right in the middle of the staircase, and declared that they just wanted to go home.  We weren't sure what they were referring to, but when we asked them, they told us that they meant Africa, of course!  The exact reply was something like, "To my house, to my bed, to my dog, home!"
This summer, when we were in East Africa for our medical/counseling appointments, our children were terrified that we were going to return to America.  We didn't give them any indication that was a decision that was on the table, but they're smart kids.  They knew.  One of them got nearly hysterical, saying that they did not want us to do that.  They could not leave Africa.  We couldn't do that to them.  To say that we were shocked would be an understatement.  Apparently, this child is fine with America being their "home" but Africa is where they feel like they belong these days.  Except for those times when, well, when they don't feel like they belong. 
I suppose this is why our older children now consider the week that they go to TCK camp to be the absolute highlight of their year.  It trumps Christmas and birthdays, it is what they now look forward to all year long.  When we mentioned possibly extending their stateside time by a few weeks, we were told in no uncertain terms, that they MUST be back in Africa in time for them to go to camp.  I asked if they might like the possibility of going to a camp in the States.  They looked at me as if I was insane and then said something like, "It is the one week all year that we get to be with other people who are like us...people who don't really know where they belong.  No camp in America can provide that."  Okay then, they set me straight!
One of our children came to me a week or two ago and was absolutely distraught about our trip to the States.  What if they don't fit in?  What if they don't like it?  What if no one wants to be their friend?  What if...?  Thirty minutes of wiping tears and trying to give reassuring words helped a little bit, but really, I think the only reason the tears stopped was because sleep came.  Inside, I was dying, just a little bit.
It is hard, as a parent, to see our children wrestle with these issues.  We do question if we've asked too much of them.  We wonder if they're going to be okay.  But then, there are several things that we come back to, again and again.  Firstly, we know that the Lord has asked us to come and we know that Yahweh does not require the sacrifice of our children.  We trust that he is using these things to shape them into the people he desires them to be.  Secondly, these kids are getting some a.m.a.z.i.n.g opportunities.  Don't get me wrong, not every day is full of rich experiences.  But along the way, some really cool things have been experienced, not the least of which is having an opportunity to build relationships with folks who are different from themselves.  Another thing that helps us to think it's going to be okay is that we have the opportunity to interact with adult TCKs who are able to tell us that it is hard, but that as tough as it was, it was usually worth it.  No matter what your story is, growing up is tough.  Most kids have some aspect of their upbringing that is less than ideal, but it is often these things that shape them into the unique individuals they become.  For our kids, being a TCK will be one of those factors.
For now, we are resting in the knowledge that our Father loves our children...more than we do.  We trust him to give us wisdom.  And, umm, we're gonna read that book too.  Soon.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

99 Days

My oldest daughter informed me this morning that, according to the countdown app she's been using, we have 99 days until we land in America.  Ninety-nine days, that's insane!  Part of me wants to giggle with the realization that we're down to the double digits.  Another part of me wants to panic at all that needs to be accomplished in the next 99 days.  But, bottom line is...ready or not, we'll be there.

So, in honor of 99 days until America, I thought I'd share a few of the things I am really looking forward to doing when we get there...

  • Attending our home church.
  • Seeing our family and friends.
  • Showering.  With hot water.  Whenever I want, for however long I want, with the lights on, with no concern that the water is going to run out.  Always.
  • Drinking a fountain soda.  I have never seen one in Africa.  I really like them.
  • Going to a gas station where I pump my own gas and where I can pay at the pump, with a credit card.
  • Taking road trips.  I may drive to random places just because I can.  While using the aforementioned gas stations and drinking a fountain soda.
  • Using climate control.  Central heating and air.
  • Needing central heating.  My, oh my, I do love snow.  Please, please, please let it snow.
  • Having entertainment options... museums, movie theaters, festivals, church functions, redbox, and bookstores.
  • Going grocery shopping.  I can't wait to be able to go to one store and get everything on  my list with only one stop.   Oh, and options...I am so excited about a season of options.  Even though I know they will be overwhelming.
  • Having the option of using of a library.
  • Using unlimited internet.
  • Calling for delivery pizza and using the drive-thru window of a restaurant.
  • Driving for more than a 1/2 mile without seeing someone who is urinating on the roadside when I am looking out the car window. (I am NOT even exaggerating.)  On the one mile drive to work the other day, I counted THREE men.  On my walk this morning, I passed two.  I will never be okay with that. 
  • Which reminds me...I look forward to leaving the house without toilet paper and hand sanitizer because I can expect running water and paper products wherever I go.
  • Celebrating Christmas in the States.  It has certainly been a blessing to have Christmas in a place where it could be simpler and less frenzied.  But, I'm ready to have a first world Christmas.  There will be some dipping of pretzel rods, some baking of cookies using the FULL amount of chocolate chips called for in the recipe, and some viewing of Christmas lights.  Oh and pretty wrapping paper.  An endless supply of pretty Christmas wrapping paper!
  • Going out by myself.  I am totally looking forward to the independence that I regain when we're in America. 
There are lots of other things too, but that's quite enough for now.  I will confess, there are some things I'm dreading leaving behind.  But, that's another list for another day!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

This Man

This man right here, he's my favorite. Tonight he reminded me why. 
You see, I had a rough day.  It started off with an e-mail that bothered me far more than it should have.  I struggled all morning long to stop tears.  I would get it together, get started on a task, play through the e-mail in my mind, and lose it again.  It was ridiculous. 
I mean literally, I'm trying to read about the Ancient Romans to the kids and the tears are streaming down my cheeks, for like the 20th time that morning.   I asked them to excuse me and work independently.  I walk up to the house, thinking that I'll just lay down on my bed for 5 minutes, pray a bit, and get myself together.  But, when I get up to the house, Naomi is in the middle of mopping my bedroom and I don't even have a place to melt down when I need it. 
I made it through the morning and ate a quick lunch, but then I had to head to the guest house.  I knew I was facing another difficult conversation there, which definitely had the potential to be emotional on any normal day, but today, it was like a time bomb. 
After it was over, I called this man and said, "I just want to come home.  There is so much work to do and I should stay and do it, but I just want to come home.  I want to get in the car, drive to a restaurant, and eat food I didn't cook on dishes that I won't have to wash." 
He told me to get in the car and come home.  And, I did.  Then, he drove through an insane amount of traffic to eat roasted chicken that we didn't cook and that we didn't have to clean up...on a weeknight... which we RARELY do in Africa.  When we arrived, I ordered a Coke.  Which I really, really wanted.  I have been limiting my sodas, but today was a Coke kinda day (really it was a TWO Coke kinda day, but I have my boundaries!)
Five minutes after ordering, the waitress says, "We have no Coke.  You will have Fanta or Sprite."  This is common here.  It is unusual to order at a restaurant and find they actually have everything that you requested.  But, today was not a Fanta or Sprite kind of day for me.   No, it was a "Real Thing" kind of day.  It was not a "we don't have what you want" kind of day for me either. 
Before I could stop them, the tears formed in the corner of my eyes.  I was thinking through my options.  And, before I could even formulate a proper response, this man, this water drinking, Coke hating man, stands up and says, "I'm going to find some Coke."  Out the door he waltzes with Lizzie in tow.  Five minutes later, they return with five cold bottles of coke they bought from a lady on a nearby street.  The Coke was good, but the act of love was better.  I felt valued, which was exactly what I needed to feel at that point.
That's really all I wanted to say, that I have a really, really great husband.  But, before I go,  I think you might appreciate this vignette.  We traveled home from the restaurant on a road that was pretty much stop and go traffic.  As often happens at this time of day on busy roads in our city, we were approached by multiple beggars.  We keep coins in our van that we hand out to folks who either have obvious physical deformities or to whom the Holy Spirit prompts us to give to.  We don't generally give money to children, for a variety of reasons which I won't explain here, but we do sometimes give them food.  By the time we got to the last light on that road, we'd rolled the window down and handed out several coins on our journey home.  However, at this light was a little boy who kept touching his mouth like he wanted something to eat, which is a common gesture here.  Abby immediately remembered that we had a bag of  leftover chicken strips from our meal that we had thought we might use for our lunch tomorrow.  She asked if she could give them to the boy and, after getting permission, handed them out the window.  The boy peeked in the bag, smelled it, and then his eyes lit up.  He was grinning from ear to ear and saying, in his sweet little accent, "Thank you, thank you, this is the first meal I've had in a very long time."  All the while he was blowing kisses at our van.  Abe meanwhile, was in shock that we had given away ALL his chicken strips.  He had big tears in his eyes.  This gave us the chance to talk about blessing others, having all we need, and the likewise.  I'm not sure he bought it, but I am sure he won't go hungry tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I'm Gonna Have to Try That...or Not

In our conversations with folks who've done this returning to the States thing lots of times, we've heard some funny stories about the changes that can occur during a few years overseas.  One of our friends told us that she went to the checkout at Walmart and they asked her if she wanted paper or plastic.  She stood there for a minute having no idea what they were talking about and then replied, "Ummm, I'm going to pay with cash, not a credit card" 

Another friend told us about pumping gas for the first time in 3+ years and then trying to shove dollars in the credit card reader, because it seemed like it must be the logical use for that contraption that had appeared on the pump.  Some older friends of ours explained their reaction to the fact that one time when they went home, everyone had suddenly begun having duck probably call them Crocs.

I can't imagine what it would have been like to do this whole ex-pat gig before the internet age.  In some ways, I think it would have been much less complicated.  In many others, I think it would have been so much tougher.  Let's just be honest, Skype and Facebook messaging make the world a much smaller place, they also can steal a lot of your time and attention if not carefully monitored.

One of the things that I think the virtual world helps with is keeping up with the current trends.  It's not that I want to know which celebrity married who or what the latest fashions are this season, but it is nice to be able to keep a teeny tiny pulse on what people are talking about and what's "hip."  Especially when you have teenagers who will soon be re-entering the first world for a bit.  Some of it though, from my far away view can seem a bit silly.  Without giving my opinions on any of it, I would like to say that, based on the FB world, these are a few things that I apparently need to try, if I want to keep up with the Joneses. 
  • Oils- Seems to me like there is one for whatever ails you.  Headache?  There's an oil for that.  Sleeplessness?  There's an oil for that.  Nausea?  Yep, there's one for that too.  I don't even think I'll need to bring my ibuprofen back to Africa with me, not once I get the hang of these miracle oils.
  • I must eat something from a food truck. 
  • For my weight loss woes, it looks like I'll only need to get myself wrapped up 8-10 times to see miraculous results.  Maybe I should just go ahead and have someone send me some?  I'm not sure I can wait until December.
  • A race.  I need to register for a race.  It doesn't have to be long.  A 5K, a 10K, a marathon, it won't matter, as long as I finish.  And, if I can find one where they fling stuff at me, I roll in mud, or I get to eat something crazy in the middle of it, that must make it better, right? 
  • I'm guessing that if I am going to fit in with the culture of my southern friends, I'm gonna need to monogram something OR everything?  And if it has a chevron pattern somewhere on it, that's even better.
  • Colored pants.  Apparently basic denim is not enough these days.  Red, green, or pink pants are what I need!
  • Of course, we'll want to have family photos made.  So, we'll need to find a field  so that we can all walk away from the photographer while looking over our shoulder, as she captures all of our backsides.  Because, that's what I'll want to remember in 20 years.
  • I'm gonna need to take a pair of scissors to my hemlines.  I don't own a single skirt with a high-low hemline.
  • I need to get at least 8 of my closest girlfriends together and we can go somewhere and paint pictures that are nearly identical, but kinda different and then we'll take our photo together of all of us holding up our same but different paintings.
  • If they don't want to do that, we'll just go Zumba together.

I feel confident that my list isn't complete, so you'll have to let me know what other things I've missed. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Sudden Realization

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that surprised me.  It was an ordinary day and I was going through my morning routine when all of the sudden, I had a realization.  I realized, that I wasn't dreading my day...or my week...or my month.

That may sound odd to you, but for me it was a very, very good thing.  It's no secret that life in Africa hasn't come easily for me.  As much as I wanted to be one of those people who just fell in love with the people and the culture and thrive, I wasn't.  I had about 2 solid years of just simply putting one foot in front of the other.  I said to Ryan many, many times that I wondered if there would ever come a day that I would wake up and no longer hate it.  And, I'm not sure when it happened, but I did.

For many months, I endured, just telling myself that I just needed to make it through today.  If I needed to, I could get on a plane and leave tomorrow.  But, for today, I would stay.  So, each day I faced one day.  Some days, I had to take a nap in the middle of it to get through.  Other days, I would count how many days it would be until our term was over in an effort to realize there was an end in sight  (I'm talking when the days were still 750+!)   I beseeched the Lord nearly every day to help me to thrive, to help me learn to love this place and these people.

Somehow, at some point, I've begun to move from surviving to really enjoying life here.  I actually feel like I have a rhythm and a purpose to my days.  I enjoy the nationals that I work with.  I look forward to my work and many days, I feel like I have the hang of life here.  It was an exciting realization.

I guess, looking back, there were moments when I realized that I was making progress.  Like, when it was time for us to come back to Africa after my mom's death last fall and I realized that I wasn't dreading it.  In fact, I was anxious to get back.  Another one was when we were in Kenya this summer.  The counselors really challenged us to think very hard about whether or not Africa was the right fit for our family and gave us full permission to pack it up and head home.  And man, we did wrestle through it.  We prayed and talked more seriously about that decision than I think we ever have about any other decision, ever.   When we talked earnestly about leaving the field, every time, I wanted to vomit.  Literally, it made me sick to think of leaving Africa and walking away from these early efforts we've made to learn how to live here and love well here.  At the end of the time, I walked away far more resolute  that God was not finished with me here in Africa and that while I, in my earthly mind, consider myself far more effective in the first world, He has me here for so much more than I can see.  My measuring stick and his don't line up very well.

Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments when I long for "home" and the familiar things there.  Often, I wish we could share a basketball game or hike or holiday with the parents.  There are days when I desperately desire to worship with our home church family.  Not to mention, there are definitely Saturdays where I wish we could go to an American mall and eat a cheeseburger and then stop by Cookout for a milkshake on the way home.  But, those days and those aches are fewer and farther between and they don't hurt nearly so badly.

My honesty may sound terrible to you.  I think that if I were sitting in America, eating my Target grapes and reading this blog while my KLove played in the background, I might be tempted to think I was a mess. Or, maybe if I was one of those who stepped off the plane and was a cross-cultural whiz, learning my language in 6 months and starting churches in 6 more, I would feel the same way.  I don't blame you.

But, I am realizing more and more, that even in my "ineffectiveness," even in my struggles, even in my step by step, moment by moment days, I can glorify him.  I know that there are others who might be encouraged by my honesty and may need to know that the cross-cultural life doesn't fit everyone just like your favorite pair of flip-flops.  Sometimes it's more like those ugly Birkenstocks that have to be broken in.  They're not gonna get comfy if you don't just put them on and walk awhile.

So, as we head up the home stretch to the end of term number 1, I am so thankful for the progress that I see.  I am excited to see what term 2 will hold for us, Lord willing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Thirty Days Hath September

With a little over 3 months left in our term, I am finding myself tempted to lose focus on the here and now.  I am really tempted to just collapse on the couch after dinner every night because the required stuff is enough.  But, I know there are some things I could accomplish during those evening hours.  So, in an attempt to keep some focus and use that time profitably, I've set three goals for September and I thought I would share them here, for my own accountability.  They aren't too lofty and in a different season, they might seem just plain lame.  But, they are challenging enough for me at this point.  So, without further ado, here they are:
  1. Language review at least 4 times a week.  Because, I should, I just should.
  2. 750 minutes of exercise-this may seem like a random number, but I did give some thought to it.   It's enough that it will take some focused effort on my part, but should be doable.  I'm just gonna tell you, I've never loved exercise and I think it's a million times harder to get motivated in Africa.  There are a lot of things stacked against you.  Like tonight, I literally was going to put my shoes on and the electricity went out, making a video a difficult option.  Even if I had done it on my laptop, it would have been by candlelight, without any kind of fan or AC.  The sun was already down, so walking outside our compound was not an option.  I figured out a way to get 30 miserable minutes in, but it was not according to my plan.  I've gotta get it on though... I'm not getting any younger and I'd like my ticker to stay strong.  If Jesus doesn't come back first, I'd like to hold some grandbabies someday.  Not to mention, what woman doesn't want to lose 10 or 30 or 50 pounds? Furthermore, I'm pretty confident America won't be doing me any favors in the self-control department, might as well get a head start on damage control now. 
  3. Some sort of blog post every day.  It's not for you, it's for me. Writing is good for my mental health and when I'm blogging I tend to see the beauty around me more.  If you wanna read it, that's great.  If you're just not that interested in the details of my world, I'm surely not surprised. 
Maybe putting them out there for all of you to see will give me a smidgeon of the accountability that is tough to find when you live in West Africa without weekly staff meetings or Sunday School classes. You'll be able to judge for yourself how well I keep up with goal # 3, but I'll have to let you know in 30 days how I did on the other two!