Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Senior Madness

It is really, really hard for me to believe, but my firstborn is 25% of the way finished with her senior year.  We are a mere 8 months from graduation.  How can this be?  I try not to think about it too much as rocking in a corner is not the best way to spend my time.  I know it is the natural progression of things, but I am not looking forward to the time when I am on one side of the Atlantic and she is attending university on the other side.  For now, I've just determined to try and enjoy as  much of her senior year as I can.  

As I've shared before, there are many things about our decision to enroll the kids in school that I have struggled with.  The awesome community they've found there is not on of them.  I love that Abby has such great classmates and that they are able to share this last year of school together.  The school the kids attend helps the students work towards having a senior trip each year.  Basically, every year of high school, each class holds 2-3 fundraising type events and the money is banked until the last part of their senior year.  Whatever they make over the four years is the class budget for the trip.  

It really is a win/win situation.  Because there are so few recreational opportunities in our city/country, people typically come out in droves to support the events.  Most people are thrilled to pay for a meal they don't have to cook and the entertainment that typically accompanies the meal is highly anticipated, especially by their fellow students.  The kids learn to work together, as well as some basic budget and business principles.  Of course, the parents are also involved at some level, especially on the day of the actual event.  You can imagine, with three high schoolers this year, we have lots of opportunities to be involved!

The seniors have the most rigorous fund-raising duties and two of the events are back to back, only about 3 weeks apart.  I am really sad that I missed the big one they had in October, where they run a concession stand all weekend long for an annual softball tournament in our city.  I would have loved to have been there, but instead I have been trying to keep from losing my mind here in South Africa.  

Fortunately, I did get to be a part of the first fundraiser of the year the weekend before I left.  The seniors chose a western theme and they initiated the school's new outdoor pavilion with a giant square dance.  They served dinner and held a pie auction with 20+ pies.   Because I had taught our house helper how to make corn dogs, they hired him to make 400 corn dogs the week of the event.  Honestly, I smelled like a diner waitress all week long from living in a corn dog factory.  But, they were a hit, as were the other yummy foods that they pulled together.  It was a fun time and I am so glad I got to stick around and be a part of it!

All of the seniors, getting ready to kick of "The Barn" event.

They may have had to improvise a bit on the "hay" but the kids still loved the hayride!

Just a few of the yummy pies!

Swing your partner round and round.  Never mind that it's 90+ degrees as the sun goes down!

 Who knew that our brilliant school music teacher could double as a square dance caller?

Notice I have no pictures of my boys dancing?

My favorite senior!  Time flies when you're having fun!

Monday, October 3, 2016

I've Been Thinking...

I've had some free time on my hands this week and I've been thinking.  As I type this, I am sitting in a guest house at the bottom of Africa.  It's cold here for my little West African body, so I rest in a recliner next to the space heater that is surely keeping my toes from frostbite.   I'm not complaining because it's been many months since I've been cold and I know it's 100+ back at my house.  

This week, I am in a waiting pattern. You see, I started having these crazy swollen lymph nodes and after about 10 weeks of them, I decided I'd better visit a doctor and ask if they were anything I needed to be worried about.  The doctor confirmed that they were a bit worrisome, so after a bit of an exam and a few follow-up tests, we had no answer for the issue. Because of the very limited healthcare options available there, we had run out of diagnostic options.  So, I was sent down south where the medical care is far better in the hopes that we could get a diagnosis.  I have a test in a few days which we are hoping will give us some answers.  For now, we wait.  I wait here and my family waits back in West Africa.  

I'm gonna be honest, the waiting stinks.  I am tempted to feel sorry for myself and the fact that saying yes to my call to Africa means that I am navigating a scary time like this without my husband and family by my side.  But, I am trying hard to take captive every thought instead and think on things to be grateful for.  Things like good healthcare, the fact that I work for an extraordinary organization through whom I get to live a really cool life, children who love me and long to be with me, a husband who has been so kind and whose sweet daily e-mails I will treasure for years to come.  I am thankful for the spring weather and flowers I am experiencing.  Not to mention, after eating out only 5 times in the last 6 months, I have now eaten out 5 times in the last week.  Hooray for no cooking!  Most of all I am thankful that no matter what comes through that biopsy needle on Weds., I know that my future is secure and nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing is a surprise to my Lord.  I am thankful for the hope I have in Christ!

During all of the waiting, I have been indulging in lots of chick flicks, which I haven't done in years.  Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and their friends have been keeping me company each evening.  One of my girlfriends back in Niger was kind enough to pack me up a case full of DVDs and I have laughed and cried through lots of romantic comedies over the last week.  But, as much as I have enjoyed many of them, they have me wondering, why do they all end at the wedding?  A few go so far as to show the "One Year Later" scene where the happy couple is shown in a cozy scene with the bride sporting a baby bump or holding a baby or the like.  But nothing beyond that.  

Well Sandra and Julia, I'm here to tell you...I'm 40 something now and I'm searching for a story that's a bit different.  Where are the romantic comedies about the couples who were wed 20 years ago and are knee deep in parenting and college applications and trying to keep the "spark" alive while driving their SUVs?  That's the story I want to see.  The one where the bump on their waistline is not from a baby on the horizon, but is leftover from the babies that are about to graduate from high school.  I want to see the romantic comedy where the magical date looks like actually getting to have a complete conversation that doesn't involve work or children and instead it focuses on remembering why they  chose one another all those years ago.   Or how about a story where a "tropical getaway" involves recruiting grandparents, leaving meals in the freezer, two weeks of coordinating carpool solutions, and more than likely a meltdown in the swimsuit department before boarding the plane.  What about the stories where romance involves cellulite and wrinkles and reading glasses and the fact that sometimes the best kind of love is the one that's endured a whole lotta mess and yet still chooses to be committed and electric after all that time?   Where are those stories?  

Because, I've been thinking, that's the one I wanna see.

Monday, August 29, 2016


People often ask us what is the hardest thing about living where we live.  Honestly, it varies day by day and season by season.  Sometimes it feels like such an overwhelming privilege that it's hard to answer at all.  Other days, we could give a list longer than Santa's on December 23rd.  There are a few that are always hard...missing our American family and friends is usually at the top.   Sometimes though, there are other things that just feel too difficult to endure.

Saturday morning, I had one of those moments.  I needed to do some grocery shopping and I was trying to bring in enough for two weeks worth of meals and lunchbox goodies.  For me, that usually means at least two stores, often three.  Now, you have to understand that our biggest grocery store is not much bigger than a Sheetz or 7-11.  I have one store where I prefer to buy my beef and cheese, another where I tend to buy "snacks," one that I prefer to use for dairy, and another where I get chicken and most of my pantry type items.  Some of those things overlap, depending on where I go, but I tend to go to one or two of them where I stock up on the kinds of things I buy there and then rotate where I go every couple of weeks.

It's generally not a fun experience for many reasons.  For one thing, the availability of goods varies greatly and no sooner do I think I have meals planned out than something that is often available goes missing completely and can't be found anywhere in town.  Or, on the flip side, something brand new or rare appears on the scene and there is this tension on how many to buy or how far to exceed the budget because you don't know when you'll see it again.

Secondly, food is expensive here.  Even with eating a lot less meat and dairy, we spend about twice as much on groceries here as we do in the States.  That is partly our fault because we haven't switched to the beans and starch type diet that most Nigeriens eat and we chose to buy imported items like apples, cheese, and butter.  There is a constant tension between the budget and the bellies of 5 kids, 4 of whom are teens or nearly teens.  I really miss things like weekly specials and coupons, because that was a big part of how we managed our budget in the States.  Those options are non-existent here. We are blessed with a fair and steady income and we make it work, but it takes a good bit of vigilance and self-disipline (as in, "I know there are Doritos on that shelf today, but they are $4 for a small bag...walk away!")

Another reason it can be tough is simply that the realities of this culture are very, ummm, real on grocery shopping day.  Yesterday, that was what pushed my buttons.  You see, anytime I go to the grocery, I encounter beggars.  Really, any time I leave my house, I encounter beggars, but they seem to bother me most on grocery shopping day.  I think it's because I know that the money I spend for the groceries that I load into my car while walking past their outstretched hands would likely feed their families for 2-3 months or more.

There is a constant tension between the fact that my family needs to eat and the reality that these people are hungry...genuinely hungry, sometimes on the brink of starvation.  They often have disabilities that make finding a job impossible, especially in a country where there aren't nearly enough jobs for the healthy people.  They weren't born in a country where their inability to see or hear or walk allows them to receive benefits that will insure survival.  They depend on the alms they receive from their neighbors, who have been taught that they can move along the path to paradise by throwing a few coins in the begging bowls.

My Bible talks about things like having mercy and giving a cup of water in Jesus name and a host of other vignettes about compassion and generosity and I desperately want to show the love of Christ.  Yet, I feel like I am walking along a sea shore filled with sand dollars, throwing them back one at a time, just like the little story you see on the flea market posters.

Every day, I have to make multiple decisions about how to deal with each person who calls out to me, begging for a coin or two. Sometimes it's okay and other times, it is just so draining.  Too often, I am so envious of my friends who live in America who are heading to Target or Starbucks or to grandma's house, oblivious to the gaunt faces that I encounter everywhere I go.  I get angry that I feel guilty for buying a bag of pretzels or a box of milk as a treat for my children instead of settling for the cheaper popcorn kernels and powdered milk.

Most often, when asked for money, I smile, give a kind word, and put my hands together as if I am going to pray, which is the symbol used here to communicate, "God Bless You, but I'm not going to give you money."  Sometimes, something stirs in my heart and I give a coin or two.  Other times, especially if they are children, I give them a piece of fruit or maybe a small pack of cookies or nuts.  I really just try to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as I go about my errands.

Yesterday, I was headed to my last stop, which was a produce stand next to a small grocery store that I had just exited.  A blind man with two small boys, maybe 4 and 6 years, approached me and walked alongside me.  His glazed eyes stared off into the distance as he chanted some standard Arabic greetings.  His little boys just stared at me and waited for me to purchase my items, likely hoping that I would give them my coins after the transaction.  I gathered all of my produce and decided to add some oranges and bananas to give to them.  However, the man that was helping me got delayed and it took a long time to get everything weighed and bagged and purchased.

By the time I was finished, they had given up and walked away and I had this urgency that I needed to give this fruit to them.  The rains had come during the night and the street was flooded, so I didn't relish the idea of chasing them down.  Instead, I decided to follow them in my car, but by the time I was loaded up and pulling away they were out of sight.  I was running late, heading to a birthday party, and yet I knew that I HAD to hand off the fruit.  For some reason, I was feeling nearly frantic so I passed the road where I would normally turn off to head home in an effort to find them.  Finally I spotted them up ahead, so I pulled over, rolled down my window, and handed the older boy the bag of fruit.  He smiled and thanked me, and I pulled away.

A quick glance in my rearview showed them digging into the bag to see what it was.  And for some reason, I just started sobbing.  Sobbing because it wasn't enough.  It wasn't enough for them.  It wasn't enough for all of the other hungry people.  It wasn't enough of a sacrifice and yet no amount of sacrifice would begin to make a dent in the overwhelming poverty in my city or even in my little corner of my city.  I sobbed because it is so hard to reconcile my life with the life of these people or my faith with this kind of suffering.  And yet, I know that even beyond the hunger, even beyond the horrible medical care and education systems, these people face a terrible poverty of the soul and no matter what I do, it will never.ever.be enough for all of them.

Facing that every day can be really, really exhausting my friends.  If you've ever wondered why missionaries get to come home for 6 month "vacations" every few years, this is one reason you can add to the list.  What does one do with this kind of reality?  How does one process it and live with it every single day?  I have only one coping mechanism.  For me it comes from the words I find in John 15.  He is the vine.  I am the branches.  I try to abide in him and I trust that HE, not me, will bear much fruit.  I have to trust him.  That's it.  That is all I can do.  Beg him for the strength and the wisdom and the courage to face today and to lead me as to how to respond to the needs I see.  Then tomorrow, we'll face it again, together.

Often, I wonder if it will ever get any easier.  Sometimes I think that would be nice.  Other times the thought terrifies me.  Oh Lord, may I never, ever, not be bothered by this kind of human need and suffering.  May it always make my chest tight and may the tears always be near to the soul.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back to School Fun

I have this friend here in Niamey who is always full of fun ideas and energy.   She never meets a stranger and has this ease with the culture here that I admire.  This year our families are carpooling together for school, which is great for both of us.  She does one way and I do the other and it helps both of our schedules.

The week before school started, she suggested that we take the kids out for some back to school photos.  She scouted out the location, which was right outside the city, in the middle of a field.  She picked it partly because they were constructing a new school just down from it and there was a pile of desks outside that she thought would make a good prop for our photos.

When we arrived, in her normal fashion, she just stopped the car and boldly asked if the gentlemen working on the school would mind if we used some desks and then she paid them a little bit to carry them over to the field, which they were happy to do.  In fact, they even offered to sell them to her!  We became quite the spectacle and had a small crowd by the time all of the photos were taken.

We laughed and laughed getting the pictures, partly because we felt like animals in the zoo, and partly because it was just a hoot to be sitting next to a hut, in borrowed desks, in the middle of a field taking photos.  

Her photos are much better than mine, as she is quite the photographer, but I can't remember to take a USB and get them from her.  So, these are just a few of the ones that I took.
 Here is the whole crew!
It is hard for me to believe this guy is a 3rd grader!

 Never were there such devoted sisters.  Unless there is one cookie left on the counter.  Then it's every man for himself!
 This boy...eating constantly.  My friend brought an apple as a prop and before we could blink, Isaac had eaten it!
 Hey, hey we're the Monkees.
 or maybe the Von Trapp children?
 These random cows didn't mind our presence.
 CD cover
 This was their "No Abby, don't go!" pose.  I cannot believe that we only  have this school year left before she spreads her wings and heads to university.
This girl.  She is such a joy in our family.  They all are though!

Friday, June 10, 2016


I am a planner.  I LOVE to plan.  If my world is crazy and I feel like I can’t take it anymore, I get out my extra fine point sharpies and make a list.  Or I open my Pages application and start a chart of some sort, nailing something down in my world.  If I have to go too long without planning something out, I go a bit crazy.  Give me a birthday party, a holiday event, a trip to a new city, a curriculum map, or something to pace out.  I love it.

Because of this, I have this habit.  Every weekend, generally on Sunday afternoons, I sit down and write out my to-do list for the week.  I know that for some people, that might be a chore, but for me, it is actually a very Sabbath-y habit.  It settles the swirl of upcoming things in my mind and helps me to feel like I can breathe a little deeper.  It allows me a chance to think through how I can prioritize for the week and what I need to just say no to.  

Actually, at the end of each month, I write a list of goals/things that I hope or need to accomplish in the coming month in a little composition book that my mom sent over at some point.  I typically jot a little number next to them, indicating which week they would best be accomplished, based on what they are and what my demands for the coming month are.   Then, each Sunday, I open up that little 99 cent composition book and look at what is slated for the upcoming week.  I add the events of the week ahead, and divide them up by days.  

The thing is, I know that the whole planning/goal setting industry has exploded in the last decade, since I was a young mom.  Now you can find all sorts of planners and list pads for every area of your life, at every price point imaginable.  I see on Facebook that some of you go to fancy, sold-out conferences for these sorts of things and I’m not gonna lie, I might get a little bit jealous.  Though, part of me thinks that I’m dangerous enough with the little basic system I’ve developed for myself and that it’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t armed with all of that gear back when I had 4 young’uns, age 5 and under.  The Lord knows our limits, doesn’t He?

Some of you just read those four paragraphs and pictured yourself in prison, right?  Why in the world would someone micro-manage their life like that.  I can assure you that when I have a conversation with a friend who doesn't have a plan for XYZ that is coming up in 6 days, I feel the same kind of walls closing in.  I am so glad that God made us such diverse creatures.  I am also glad that I have learned to appreciate diversity in other women more and more as I have entered my  40s.  

Generally, my little weekly system works pretty well,  even when written on plain old college ruled-loose leaf paper that was left behind by some retiring missionaries.  I honestly believe that, for me, I get way more accomplished with that little bit of time invested in planning, than I would without it.  I also think that I am ultimately less stressed, because I can clearly see what I need to do and what can wait.

But, there is one thing that keeps getting put at the bottom of the list.  Every week, and I mean EVERY week, I put “Blog” on the list.  Why do I put it there?  Because I love to do it.  After list-making, it’s one of my favorite ways to decompress.  Yet, week after week, it goes undone.  It doesn’t really stress me out, because I don’t “need” to blog.  It just makes me a bit sad that I am not better about attending to the things I enjoy.  

I look back to the times when I was blogging regularly and wonder how I did it.  Then I remember, "Oh yeah, I had a dishwasher, naptimes instead of taxi duty, a mom who took the kids one morning a week, fast food restaurants, convenience grocery options, produce that didn't have to be bleached before eating, and steady electricity, internet, and water...just to name a few things!  So, it is understandable that I just don't have as much "me" time.  And yet, I still need to have some things that keep my feeling like a human being with a soul that delights in things which I find beautiful,  and not just a workhorse. 

That’s a hard concept for me.  I am not good about caring for my own self.  I am quick to meet the needs of others, and, when I take the time to, I often feel so guilty.  Why is that?  I know I’m a better wife and mom when I create some space for the things I love and yet I rarely do it.  It seems the “me” things are  always the thing that can wait.  It’s something I am working on.  Something I am trying to find a better rhythm with.  At the rate I’m going, I’ll have it figured out by the time our nest is empty and it’s just the two of us again.

Speaking of which, one of the things I would have blogged about if I was better about making time for it, is the fact that my college sweetheart and I celebrated 21 years of wedded bliss a few weeks ago.  Since we married at the tender age of 21, that means we have now been married for 1/2 of our lives!  I’m not gonna lie, there have been some hard times walking this road together.  There have been a few seasons where the single life had a whole lotta luster for me.  But, in the end, with lots of prayer and re-focusing, and just good-old fashioned commitment, we always get to the point where we find the other one to be “our favorite” again.  God led me well when it came to choosing a spouse and I am so, so thankful.  

Here’s a little picture of us, headed out to dinner on our anniversary.  Moms of young children, be assured, there will come a day when your little ones will be able to take post-worth photos.  However, I can’t guarantee that by the time that happens the wrinkles won’t be coming on fast!  Embrace them, they are likely hard-earned! 

Sunday, May 1, 2016


If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together.
African Proverb

I never had a dog growing up.  I am sure that I asked for a puppy at some point, but my parents never got a dog...until about 10 days after I left for college.  I like to joke that my mom replaced me with a mutt.  I came home for Labor Day weekend my freshman year and my mom took me to the pound to help her pick out a dog, apparently she was lonely.  That stupid puppy chewed through the strap of my new Jansport backpack on my next visit home and when I complained to my mom, she explained that I should have kept it off of the ground because puppies chew on everything.  I resisted the urge to remind her that I would have known that if I had EVER been allowed to have a dog.

Needless to say, I don't claim to be a dog lover.  In fact, when we moved to Africa and everyone told us we should get a dog, I wasn't thrilled.  I didn't yield quickly to a puppy search.  But, when Snickers showed up in our yard, a tiny, terrified little thing, I caved.  I may not love dogs, but I do have a thing for underdogs and at that time, Snickers certainly was pitiful enough to win me over.  It was no time before he and I were good friends.  

That dog really, really loved us.  Maybe I am naive, but I feel like he had an overwhelming sense of gratitude and loyalty because he had known loneliness and hunger.  I feel like he appreciated every feeding and every stroking and every play time in the back yard.  Sometimes, when he would look at me, I sensed that he just wanted me to know how thankful he was to be one of us.  It was like he just could not take our family, HIS family, for granted.  I know all of you non-dog people out there think I'm crazy, but I am being real here.  Leaving him behind was really, really hard.

I feel a little like that dog.  You see, when Ryan and I served on church staff, we did lots of reading about the importance of building community in your church and your ministry.  We developed an understanding that people are created for community and we tried to live our lives and develop our ministry programming with that in mind.  Even with 500+ kids in our program, we wanted each of them to have adults at church who knew their names, prayed for them, and cared if they didn't show up for several weeks in a row.  We encouraged the adults in our ministry to develop a real community in their small groups and we made an effort to live in community ourselves.  We fully recognized that Jesus modeled community during his time on earth.  His circle of 12 went on to change history.

Then, we moved to Africa.  Our first term was, without a doubt, the hardest 3 years of our lives.  Our circumstances were difficult, our daily demands were often overwhelming, and our grief became an almost constant companion.  I firmly believe that all of it was magnified and compounded by the fact that we were nearly community-less, especially after our evacuation from Nigeria.  During our time in Ghana, I literally felt like I was dying on the vine.  There were a variety of things that compounded the problem.  Our mission family was small and the layout of our city and country meant that our time together was limited, the urban-ness of our city and the direction of our work made it difficult for us to build relationships and the traffic made it nearly impossible to cultivate friendships with other missionaries, Ryan's work had him out of the country too much, and we found it nearly impossible to find a church the worked for us.  We were really, really alone.  

By God's grace, we recognized that it was not a good or sustainable way to live, especially with the ages of our children.  We prayed and explored options, believing that it could be possible for us to continue in our call, while still meeting the needs of our family and having a healthy community.  The Lord led us to our new home.  Ryan still does the same type of work, but with far less travel, in a city where we have many, many options for relationships.  We haven't even been here for a year, but we are so much healthier and happier.  We truly believe that we could live here for many years, should the Lord allow that.  

Kinda like dishwashers, air conditioning, fast food drive-thrus, and butter in pre-measured sticks, I do not think I will ever take community for granted again.  Seriously y'all, it hits me and I become a crying mess at the most ordinary times these days.  Things like birthday party invitations, having my kitchen full of other people's kids, or seeing my children sing or play or serve alongside other children is sure to produce a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes because I am so, so aware of the gift that we have been given.  My gratitude for the gift of friendship is real and sometimes I feel a bit like Snickers, just full of thankfulness that we get to experience this season of togetherness.

Doing life with other people can be messy.  It yields plenty of opportunities to be inconvenienced or annoyed or frustrated.  But it also yields many lovely fruits like accountability, encouragement, help, and companionship.  For as long as we find ourselves in this season of abundant community, I desire to be filled with gratitude for the gift of friendship and prayerful for my co-laborers who find themselves in lonely places or seasons.   God was faithful to meet me and sustain me there and I know that our season of loneliness was not without purpose and I know that I may find myself there again.  But for today, and for as many tomorrows as He allows, I hope to appreciate the perks of doing life alongside others.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

First Quarter Highlights

I thought that I would have all of this time to catch up on my blogging while I was in the States where photos upload quickly and I wouldn't have the responsibilities of feeding and corralling kids all the live-long day.  But alas, here I sit, in the Paris airport, headed home, without that having happened.  I was too busy shopping and filling up 7 suitcases, spending time with my dad, and lunching with good friends who make time for me when I am in the country.   I am so thankful to have ladies that I call friend on both sides of the ocean.

Anyway, I thought I'd take this little layover window and do a quick catch-up on some of the events of the first quarter of 2016.  Nothing epic, just a chance to chronicle some highlights.

January brought Lily's 12th birthday.  She has 9 of the sweetest girls in her grade at school.  Seriously, they are just precious, which isn't necessarily a word you typically use for sixth grade girls.  I had the privilege of teaching their Bible class at school first semester and I fell in love with them.  When it came time for Lily to have her birthday party, we couldn't pick just 4 or 5 to invite.  So, we invited them all and to our delight, they all came.  We did an art themed party and it was so much fun!
 The girls played a silly game that involved painting this picture, using only their feet.

 We had lots of colorful foods
Lily and I had planned to do a canvas painting, using a how-to video we found online.  It seemed to work fine when we previewed it, but when party day came, there was no way the internet was going to accommodate a video.  We made a last minute change of plans and had the girls paint little chalkboard instead.  It was a real blessing, the way it worked out.  I had canvases made by a man who sells little paintings outside of a grocery story I often shop at.  Ryan had found chalkboard paint at the market and bought it, just because, why not?  When we hit a roadblock with the video, I was so thankful that he'd grabbed it.  Let's just say that I am very thankful it worked out that way, because this project proved to be complicated enough!

Abby participated in an outreach trip with school.  They drove about 8 hours out of our city to work alongside some other folks for about 4-5 days.  She had a great time, but came back pretty exhausted.

In February, the kids participated in the annual field day for their school, which was held at the National Stadium.  Everyone in our family was dreading it, except who always has boundless energy!  We imagined all day in the heat and sun, doing a myriad of events would be a bit of a pain, but we were wrong.  The kids had so much fun, as did we, cheering them on.  It was great.

February also brought the school banquet, which is the school's equivalent to prom.  Only the oldest two decided to go, but we hosted 12 girls at our house before hand to get ready.  That proved to be quite exciting with a few dramatic moments, but in the end, all of the girls left looking beautiful and ready for a night of fun!

We had some other highlights, of which I don't have photos on this computer.  We hosted the dorm kids for the salad portion of a progressive dinner, that was fun!  Isaac celebrated his 14th birthday with swimming, a giant cookie, and the Pan movie.  We also hosted 40+ people for Easter.  Ryan made a trip out east to look for a house for one of the families that we work with who is finishing up their language study and is ready to move closer to their people group.  

Of course then there is the everyday fun...language class, homeschooling the two middle schoolers, the logistic work which is technically our "job," and I have been blessed to start working with a literacy ministry one day each week.  We are staying busy and seeking the Lord on how to best use our time. We are slowly gaining skills in language and culture as well as building relationships.  We are thankful for all that the Lord is doing and had done in our lives during this first year in our new city!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Just Because

When I was a kid, the majority of my Sundays were spent visiting my Grandma McCane in her home, about an hour from ours.  She lived in Bracken County, KY, on the 85 acre farm where my dad had been born and raised.  Grandma wasn't a complicated woman.  She was a survivor of the depression and wore that truth well.  By the time my memories of my grandmother began, she was retired from a long teaching career, but she was still an educator to the core of her being.  She wasn't a particularly warm and fuzzy woman, in fact, she could be pretty harsh.  She had opinions on nearly everything and she wasn't afraid to share them, even when it was hurtful.  But, for all of her tough exterior, I never doubted that she loved me and wanted the very best for me.  She certainly didn't demonstrate it in the way that my children have experienced with their grandparents, but she was integral in shaping me into the person I am today.  

One of my favorite childhood possessions to this day is a version of a tic, tac, toe game that she created which combined trivia questions that she wrote with ordinary tic, tac, toe.  Grandma McCane believed that everything came with hard work, and so even with tic, tac, toe, you had to answer the question before you could get the opportunity to place an X or O on the board.  The questions were basic things that she believed every child should know,  literary and Bible references,  basic science and history principles, that sort of thing.  It's because of her that I can finish nearly any nursery rhyme with the correct words, figure out sale percentages with ease, and have a love for reading.  She invested in my life, one Sunday afternoon at a time.

Because my Grandmother could be a little harsh with her words, my mom did not usually accompany us for our Sunday visits.  It was sort of best for everyone if their relationship was contained to graduations and a very occasional major holiday.  It's likely not ideal, but it worked well for our family.  My mom used her Sunday afternoon to sew and garden while my dad spent Sunday after Sunday visiting his mama.  It was their best attempt at a win/win.  

In many ways, I suppose our Sunday visits were pretty mundane.  My dad usually spent some time doing chores that my grandmother needed help with, much of that time was in the garden.  After my grandfather died of a heart attack in my preschool years, they began to lease out much of the acreage for livestock and tobacco.  However, they still kept a large vegetable garden behind the house, far more than my grandmother and her family could eat.  I think it was what they knew and loved and it just made sense.  It was something they shared.  Every Sunday during the growing season we would leave with an enormous bundle of produce, which we would eat on all week long, until we would return to gather another.  To this day, I can't picture her house without being able to taste the buttery, sweet corn in my mouth.  

At the end of our visits, we generally shared a meal.  My grandmother was a terrible cook.  Well, maybe not terrible, but definitely not gifted.  That didn't stop us from gathering around her table and eating the fruit of her labor, much of it from the garden.  Then we would drive the hour home to face another week of routine.

I could go on and on with memories of my grandmother...her delicious homemade grape juice, my annual summer visits which stretched from one Sunday to the next, the smell of the tobacco barn, the sunset visits on her porch swing, and Little Bit, the chicken chasing farm dog that graced her front porch.  But, in all of those memories, I have very few distinct memories of specific events.  Twice, I remember my dad taking my grandmother off of the farm to do something together. Once we went to the big city of Maysville to buy a new blue Ford tractor.  Another time I remember us heading off to the annual Germantown fair.  Other than that, it was Sunday after ordinary Sunday, all of which bleed together in one beautiful picture of family and duty and routine.  

So today, in the pattern that my daddy modeled for me, I've come to the USA for an ordinary little visit.  I write this from the extra bedroom of my parent's home, where I'll be spending the next two weeks.  After lots of prayer and prompting by the Holy Spirit, Ryan and I made the decision that we would spend a little money and rearrange our personal family rhythms long enough for me to pay a visit to my daddy...just because.  He's not sick or in failing health.  He's not in trouble.  His not on the verge of some major life change.  He didn't beg me to come.  In fact, he was rather surprised when I asked him if he was up for a visitor.  But, I honestly have no ulterior motive other than just to pay my daddy a visit.

We don't have anything spectacular planned for my time here.  Last night we ate grilled cheese together while watching Wheel of Fortune.  Today, we're planning to go through his coupon stockpile stash and I'll pick out what I want to carry back with me when I leave in a couple of weeks. Then I'll make a list of what's left to buy.  After that, he'll insist I go through his coupons and see which ones I can use.  This weekend, we'll cheer for the best of what's left in the Final Four.  Nothing extraordinary, just some ordinary moments spent together.

My daddy's pretty old-school.  There are lots of things about how we see the world that vary greatly.  We don't always find a ton of common topics to dialogue about and our passions and pursuits are vastly different, but we still enjoy visiting.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves me and he has always been faithful to demonstrate that in his own way.  He is 77 now, and he is as active and healthy as I could hope for him to be.  I believe he could live another decade or two and  I would love that.  But, there are no guarantees and I want to have no regrets about the choices I have made concerning my dad and our relationship.  Two years is a long time to go without a visit...especially with a man who refuses to enter the electronic age, despite my best efforts to tutor him in e-mail and Skype!  Without my mom here to be another set of eyes and ears in his world, I simply wanted to come and tarry for a bit.  This is simply because I understand that relationships aren't always built on extraordinary events.  Often they come one ordinary moment at a time.  That's why I'm here... just because.

Pa and his Campbell grands

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Today didn’t go like I’d expected.  Let’s be honest, they rarely do.  I awoke this morning after a restless night.  Our youngest came home yesterday complaining of a headache.  He was weepy and increasingly lethargic as the evening wore on.   I was headed to a Bible study I attend, so I gave him a bit of children’s Tylenol from our dwindling supply and headed next door.  Ryan and I made a game plan that he would push the fluids and put him to bed an hour early.  When I arrived home two hours later, Ryan reported that he’d gone to bed without a fight and all was well.

I visited with my older kids for a bit and was headed to bed when I had an urgency in my spirit that I needed to check on my little guy.  As soon as I placed my hand on his body, I knew he was feverish.  The thermometer quickly confirmed my suspicions with a reading of 103.1.  Realizing we weren’t at the four hour mark for Tylenol and knowing I had used the last of the Children’ Ibuprofen last week, I decided to wait a bit and see what happened.  Forty-five minutes later, I checked again and the thermometer immediately shot up to 104.4.  We made an apologetic 10PM phone call to some colleagues who agreed to let us use a bottle of Children’s ibuprofen so that we could begin to rotate the two.  When I woke Abe for the medicine, he begged me to let him sleep, telling me his head hurt too bad to wake up.  I tried not to panic, but immediately, I began to wonder if we might be dealing with malaria...the serious kind.  

We washed him in cool water and made the decision to start malaria treatment, even though we didn’t have a positive test. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but I do know that high fever and severe headache in a country where people regularly die from cerebral malaria, is something I don’t want to mess with.  I’ve heard again and again that early treatment is the key to beating it, and so we treated. After moving his mattress into our room and setting alarms on our phones for the next doses of meds, we decided to try to sleep.  I was up and down checking on him until finally, around midnight, after getting his temp down to 101.7, I drifted off to sleep.  Two hours later, we were up and down as he battled tummy troubles.  It was a rough night.

Of course, the morning came early, but even so, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the gifts it brought.  I had the realization that I had some way to access every medicine my boy needed, as soon as he got sick.  I didn’t have to go and beg for money from my neighbors to buy a single tablet.  We have a vehicle to go to multiple pharmacies to find the remaining treatment that we need.   I have the education to read the pamphlet in the anti-malarial insert.  I have a scale on which to weigh my son for proper dosing and I have abundant food options for him to choose from when his appetite comes back.  When my eyes couldn’t stay open any longer, I was able to put a DVD in my TV and allow my son to watch a video while I slept to the strains of Baloo the Bear singing, “I’ve Wanna Be Like You.”  This happened in my home with my ceiling fan and my soft mattress.  These blessings are so very apparent to me.

Especially today.  Because today, in between moments of caring for my son, I experienced another of my “firsts” in Africa.  This wasn’t a wedding or a baby naming ceremony or a new holiday.  Today was a burial.  It was a small ceremony, held on the corner of the property where I live.  The attendants were just Ryan, 3 of our colleagues, and I, alongside the two gardeners who dug the hole.  The grave was tiny, made for a little bitty baby who was born just a few hours earlier.  There was no casket and no headstone, just a tiny baby girl wrapped in a length of colorful African cloth, laid to rest on the African soil.

Her mother couldn’t be there. She was back in the hospital, having barely escaped with her life.  We pray that she will gain strength and overcome the challenges still ahead regarding her healing.  One of our colleagues had been advocating for her to have much needed pre-natal care since November.  It had become apparent at that time that the baby was not formed in a way that she would be able to survive in this world, but maybe, maybe with the proper care the mama would.  I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say the stories of medical care here, and especially of this mama make me angry and discouraged and disgusted, all at the same time.  But at this moment, beside this tiny grave, that was irrelevant.  

There were a few things that struck me in that moment.  First of all, the sorrow of the whole story...a sick mama with empty arms, a baby girl who will never know life this side of heaven, the unfairness of the lack of medical care in this place.  Secondly, I was struck by the commitment and dedication of my colleagues.  One woman who has invested 30ish years of her life showing the love of Christ in West Africa through her medical wisdom and had asked Ryan and I to join them as they gathered to lay this little one to rest.  She’s seen countless babies born and helped bury far too many of those, she’s advocated for those who need care, she’s showed compassion and care in village after village, and she has consistently done what she could to help others.  I stood beside her as she and the other couple decided on a name for this special baby girl, in a language they have spent decades learning and living in.  I learned from them as they navigated the nuances of the moment and I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever have the depth of language, culture, and relationships that they have.   I shed tears alongside them and I was privileged to stand among them and offer up my prayers for this precious family.  

So, on what should have been an average Wednesday, I found my schedule adjusted to care for a sick boy and to celebrate the life of one extraordinary baby girl.  

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.