Home.

Home. What a complicated word. I always thought I would call northwest Arkansas home, and in many ways it is. But it doesn’t feel the same as it did. It’s not a bad feeling, just different. In many ways it is freeing, because I don’t feel so dependent on my location anymore. Now that I have experienced home being somewhere far from this place, it helps me realize that the location of home is not essential anymore. And I think that is good. I think that we need a widening in our view of home. If we belong to the kingdom of God, than we need to realize that his kingdom exists all around the world, full of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. I hope that my heart will only continue to realize this wider view of my home.

imageBut in practical terms, we obviously have to live somewhere. And we are very much still influenced by beautiful, comfortable surroundings. This house that God provided for us has the atmosphere that makes us feel at home. It’s old and has its little quirks, but we like that. It’s even more special since my aunt, uncle and cousins lived here several years ago, so the house itself is almost like family.

We are very much still in transition. As we sort out details for jobs to meet our daily needs and discuss long range dreams and plans, we are thankful for all the little and big ways that people have helped us get settled here. Despite the uncertainty of the future, it is wonderful to have the basic necessities and a few extras so that we can settle in and feel at home. We have been loaned and given much of the furniture we need, with a large portion (including many kitchen items) coming from our good friends that were heading back to Germany just was we got here. Little things like bedding and towels and cleaning supplies showed up when I needed them, gifts from friends and family. The kids even got a few extra things like a swimming pool and a scooter.

imageUnfortunately we couldn’t wait as long to get a vehicle here as we did in Germany. Driving is sort of a necessity. We were happy for the loan of John’s Dad’s truck, but after a week of squeezing everyone in for each trip, we were happy when Herbie (my brother in law) found us a very affordable van. It’s nothing fancy, but drives wonderfully and fits everyone with room to spare.

griessesWe still have little things we need, but the basics are all met. We even got to host another recently returned missionary family that we were close to in Germany. It was wonderful to know we had the room to offer them our home for the few days they needed somewhere to stay. And we were so happy to reconnect with these friends who have walked through the last few months with us, since both of our families were and are on similar paths.

So, as we seek God’s plan for the future, we hope we can practice really being at home wherever he has planted us. My hope is that my house is truly a home, not just for my family, but for others. Please feel free to come on by and live a little bit of life alongside us.

Leaving.

I know I’ve been awfully silent for awhile over here. There’s just so much to share, so much to write, that it is hard to start. And for quite some time it has felt like I couldn’t share much of what I was feeling because we were so unsure of what we were doing. It would take too long to go back to the beginning and share the process we went through this year. It was long and at times hard. And it still isn’t over. Our hearts have grown, our visions have grown and our options for service have grown. But instead of making it easier to choose the path ahead, it in many ways has made it harder. As we pick our way through the many paths that seem open to us right now, we have decided to return back to Arkansas to continue to evaluate what we’ve learned and where we want to head from here. It’s exciting, but also overwhelming. And for John, who has had to struggle through a position that was not what he expected it to be, it has been frustrating. But we are both expectant at what our future holds.

So as we return to our “home,” we do so with excitement. We don’t know how long we’ll be there, but we look forward to reconnecting for as long as we have. There are so many things we love about Arkansas. For one thing, it is full of family and friends. People we love and who have been such a support for us in so many ways. People who have lived through much of our lives with us, know us, and can hopefully help guide us on the path ahead. Then there is the culture and language we know and are comfortable in. I’m going to enjoy being able to walk into a store and know how to ask for help (or maybe not even need to ask for help because I know where to find everything I need). I’m going to love knowing what is expected of me in the culture, and no matter how much I complain about how over-individualistic the US is, I must admit I’m going to enjoy living in the knowledge that I can choose to live counter-culturally and it is totally ok. I am looking forward excitedly to homeschooling my three big kids this next year.

greenhillsBut I also will miss many things about here. We lived here for a year and a half, and this has become home to us. Part of our heart will remain here, and we will mourn for what we are losing. We will miss the spectacular views of mountains and hills and green fields (that are green year round). We will miss having the option to walk for almost all our daily tasks instead of drive. We will miss public transportation for those times we don’t really want to mess with driving somewhere. I will miss the German language. Even though I didn’t do well at learning it, I will miss having a reason to learn it, as I did start to fall in love with it. I will miss simple things like windows that open like doors, cars that fit lots of people AND have good gas mileage, ice cream shops on every street corner, and cheap raw milk. But most of all, I’ll miss the people. The community here that pours themselves into each other no matter how many good-byes they have to say or how short of a time they have. These people have won my heart and I admire their ability to continue to live life together despite the good-byes. Because of that ability, I can say that I have friends here, friendships that I hope I won’t lose even though we will be separated by many miles.

So, I write this blog for both of my “homes.” I hope that those on this side of the ocean can read this and see how much I love them and this place. How much I will miss it once we are gone. And I write this blog with the hope that those I am returning to will know and understand why we may mourn in the midst of our excitement to see them again. My hope is that there will be lots of grace on both sides. That we can laugh and share and cry and dream together without judgement and comparison.

Growing Up.

elisecloseup2My heart ached as I looked into Elise’s tear-stained face. In that moment she looked younger, her wet cheeks somehow accentuating her freckles. And yet, her beauty also struck me. She is becoming a young lady, growing up. Who knew it would be so hard.

Granted, what Elise is dealing with is probably not all due to the changes going on in her body as she heads towards adulthood. I think she is dealing with a heavy dose of transition stress. Not as much transition to another culture and country, but more transition to a different lifestyle. We’ve taken much of the knowns away from her life and replaced them with a whole lot of uncertainty. And I think that perhaps is what is causing the stress that her body is reacting to quite physically at times.

Elise lives for the future. She’s the kid that asks me as she is heading up to bed, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?” At the end of the day, she isn’t reflecting on the day behind, but always looking to the day ahead. I know this about her because I am the same way. This isn’t really a negative trait, but it does cause problems sometimes in learning to enjoy the present and it definitely causes problems when there is very little future that is clear enough to look forward to. When you find your life’s meaning in what’s ahead, uncertainty throws you into a hopeless lost feeling.

Of course, the fact that she is a lot like me should make things easier. I used to think that when I grew up and became a mom I would know how to deal with a daughter just like me because obviously I would know what to do. I remember specifically telling my mom this as a teenager. But of course now that I am an adult I am approaching things from a completely different point of view. I have years of experience and growth under my belt, and no matter how much I try to share that with Elise, a certain amount of it she just has to figure out for herself.

And so knowing all this, my heart aches for her on those days where she heads out the door to the bus stop with a stomach-ache and headache. Thankfully those days are getting rarer. And even on the days where I do send her off to school that way she will sometimes return home in excellent spirits, full of energy and life.

And there are other days where I see a glimpse of a maturity that is beginning to develop in her. More and more often she is looking around, finding things that need to be done, and doing them without being asked. She is such a big help on those days, and I am thankful for the person she is and is becoming.

Disclaimer: I was hesitant to share some of this because first of all it is very personal to Elise and secondly I don’t want people to feel that things are too terribly negative right now. I had Elise read through this and she has given me permission to post it. As for the negative aspects, I hope that you can see the positive as I can. But the truth is that there have been some days over the last few months that really have been horrible. They are getting fewer and farther between, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have happened. Hopefully this post will be an encouragement to others who are struggling with similar issues, and a chance for you to know how to pray for us. Since our plans to return to the States have become finalized, things are settling down a bit, but there are still many stresses ahead for Elise as she leaves the friends she’s learned to love here and thinks about trying to figure out where she fits now in Arkansas. Please keep praying for her and for all of us as we transition.

Scenes from home.

Please enjoy these snapshots of everyday life here at the Lein house.

Birthdays

I’m sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. Life has been full lately, which is a good thing, but not always conducive to sitting down and writing a blog post. ­čÖé

happybirthdayjohn2_blogSo, today I thought I’d share some pictures from our most recent birthdays. I really should wait until next week, when I can add my birthday in too, but since John has been stealing my computer lately due to some serious issues with his, I think I will take advantage of this rare morning alone with my computer.

happybirthdayjohn1_blogAt the end of December John turned 34. He was a bit stressed and busy, so I know he didn’t think much about his birthday, but I think we were successful at making a special celebration for him. I made a key lemon frozen pie (I couldn’t find any limes), and ordered him something he’s been wanting for a long time: a new watch. We enjoyed a quiet family movie night watching Despicable Me 2.

happybirthdayelise3_blogElise turned 11 on the first of February. She’s been planning an epic birthday party for a couple months now, and it turned out to be a huge success. She invited her entire 5th grade class (thank goodness it’s a small class) for games, dinner, and a movie. The girls were invited to spend the night, which is the first time we’ve had a full fledged sleepover for her. Everyone seemed to have a fun time playing games, especially Psychology (a game I used to play all the time in youth group and decided to teach them). happybirthdayelise2_blogThe Court Jester was the movie she picked and it was a huge hit, despite the “romantic” scenes that Elise was afraid would be unpopular with the boys. We cooked up a huge batch of our favorite movie night dinner: potatoes, brats, and saukraut and I made a dairy free “cheese”cake since we were finishing up our elimination diet and Elise has a friend who is highly allergic to dairy. There were a couple sticky points when the girls were winding down for bedtime, including a lamp that decided to fall and break right as they were all drifting off to sleep. Some tears were shed, but all in all it went pretty smoothly.

happybirthdayelise1_blogIt’s hard to believe I’ve been a mom for 11 years! I still have such clear memories of the day Elise was born, the first time I held her, the proud smile on John’s face when she was first put into his arms, the excitement of all our siblings as they became uncles and aunts for the first time. Elise holds a special place in both our families. She was the first grandchild, and the only grandchild and niece for quite some time. She has a distinct relationship with each of our siblings and approaches all adults with confidence because of the time she spent as a child learning to interact with them. During our time here in Germany, she has become more and more responsible, caring and flexible. I’m so excited to see what the year ahead will bring for her.

A Christmas Tree.

This post was written before Christmas on the day we set up and decorated the tree. But I was waiting for the pictures to add and then waiting for a missing camera to show up and then waiting just became the thing to do. Anyway, better late than never.

firstchristmasornamentEvery year John and I find ourselves in a dilemma. I think we both like the experience of having a beautifully lit and decorated tree to put our Christmas presents under, but neither of us particularly likes finding the tree, shelling out the cash to purchase it, and then figuring out the logistics of getting it set up. We tend to put it off until the last minute, after all, the trees tend to get marked down if you wait until the last day. This lack of motivation in the tree department showed up early in our marriage when on our second Christmas together we got a sympathy tree left on our porch by John’s parents on Christmas Eve.

If it weren’t for the kids, I’m pretty sure this Christmas Tree tradition would have died in our house long ago. There have been plenty of years where we’ve successfully thought up some excuse to not have a tree, like a curious toddler or the fact that we can help both sets of parents set up and decorate their trees. Last year the excuses were stress from an unexpected pregnancy, support raising, and a tiny living room. Someone heard one of our kids lamenting the fact that there probably wouldn’t be a tree and they left us a tiny tabletop tree. It was so cute, and perfect for that time.

sethandchristmastreeIt isn’t that we haven’t grown up with the tradition. Both our families have faithfully set up trees each year. Growing up, I have fond memories of our yearly unsuccessful search for a suitable tree on our 80 acres, followed by the deciphering of the code to putting together our well-worn artificial tree, which we lovingly called the “green bottle brush.” It was not a particularly attractive tree, but it was beautiful to my younger self. I loved coming down early in the morning in the dark and sitting by the colorful lights shining through the room. I still like that feeling. But the truth of the matter is, that traditions are a whole lot easier to keep when someone else is keeping them for you.

sethandchristmastree2This year, of course, is different. We don’t have anyone to pick up the slack. Whatever we do for Christmas will be up to us. In some ways, it’s freeing. We can do anything we want! I’m married to a man who questions all assumptions when it comes to traditions and he’s all for changing it up a bit. But on the other hand, it feels stressful, because it is all up to me and somehow being far from family and the celebrations and traditions we are used to makes it more important to follow through with something, even it if it is different than normal.

And my kids are asking for a tree. Getting out the ornaments is important to them. Hanging up the stockings, even if they don’t get as filled as they do at Grandma and Nana’s houses, is essential to Christmas in their mind. And so these things we did. We found a small potted Christmas tree that could sit on top of the table that was in the way for a full tree and has the added benefit of being able to be transplanted instead of thrown out after Christmas. And it was the perfect size for one string of lights and our ornaments.

Freiburg and Lake Titisee

freiburgI’m taking the advantage that I am needing to take it easy today as I fight a bad head cold to do another post about our summer adventures. These are obviously a whole lot more exciting in person, but hopefully it is still nice to see and read a little about the area we live in.

This trip was the second large outing we did while my Mom was here. It really was a lot of fun and we are planning on taking John’s parents there as well this weekend. We bought the cheap family train tickets which allow us unlimited access to certain trains in our state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg. After a 20 minute ride to a nearby train station, we were able to make the rest of the trip using public transportation, which can be quite fun and in some cases more relaxing than driving. Most trains from our out of the way area head to Freiburg before heading anywhere else, so we took advantage of this fact to also spend a little time showing Mom and Liza this city.

boatsinFreiburgFreiburg is very beautiful with tons of old buildings, a large M├╝nster (cathedral), and little water canals running through the streets. John came here every day for his language classes, so he is familiar with some of the areas of the city. The day we went was market day, so we had a chance to wander through the market stalls and sample some of the food sold there. My mom bought the boys two little wooden boats to float on the canals, and they spent a long time racing these up and down the street canals. It’s such a simple thing, but when I look at the pictures of their time I feel like that memory will stick with me as a picture perfect moment for the rest of my life. Hopefully it will be added to their fond memories of Germany as well.

TitiseeAfter returning to the train station, we boarded the train for Titisee. The train took us through the mountains to the lake that is situated in the middle of a forested area. There were tunnels and steep wooded hillsides. It was a wonderfully beautiful trip. Despite a stressful beginning to our outing when Will accidentally broke an intricately delicate wooden carved toy, we found Titisee to be one of the most relaxing places we’ve been in Germany. The weather was perfect, with a nice breeze coming off the lake. Despite the other tourists it didn’t feel crowded, and shopping the little shops, sitting by the lake, and sampling German ice cream were all relaxing activities. John took the two oldest kids on a boat on the lake. The rest of us shopped for little trinkets to take back home and treated ourselves to ice cream treats. Seth got his first taste of Spaghetti Eis, which is a very German treat.

I was exhausted by the time we were ready to head home, but it was worth it.

R├Âtteln Ruins in L├Ârrach

943241_10200554682324398_668765827_n
OK, it’s taken me a little longer to get around to this than I had planned, but here is part one of our summer adventures with family.

My mom and sister Liza arrived a couple weeks after Dietrich was born, which meant I was recovered enough to be up for outings during the week my mom was here. Our first outing was to the ruined castle in L├Ârrach, which was one of the first places we had visited together as a family on arriving in Germany, so it made a good choice for sharing with our visitors.

We decided we wanted to add a small hike onto the beginning of the outing, so we drove to a Parkplatz in the woods and parked the van so that we could walk through the forest to the castle. We got all unloaded, put Dietrich in the moby wrap, packed up our lunch and got ready to head out. At that moment Seth began complaining that his ear hurt. He had apparently told someone this earlier in the day, but hadn’t made a big deal out of it, so we hadn’t been worried. Now he said it hurt very bad and of course we had no pain medication to give him.

1012300_10200554683804435_1826074748_nI had bought some gummies as a special treat for after lunch, so we stashed a few of them in a pocket and told him these were medicine if he chewed them slowly enough. We started off, Seth happily chewing a gummy worm. Unfortunately as soon as the gummy worm was gone, he started crying about the pain again. We had not made it very far, so we paused and held a consultation. John decided to head back to the van. He’d drive it to L├Ârrach, find an Apotheke and buy some pain medication for Seth, and then meet us at the castle. I wanted to send Seth with him so that he could get his medicine quicker, but he promised he wouldn’t cry on the hike if we’d let him go with us, so against my better judgement I agreed.

968958_10200554684044441_1901719484_nWe split up and headed on again. The woods were lush and green. The temperature was perfect for hiking, not too hot, not too cold. It really was beautiful. But it was hard to enjoy as Seth became harder and harder to distract from his painful ear. Once we were out of gummy worms and pointing out slugs on the trail no longer interested him, his wailing became louder and more constant. By the end of the hike I was dragging him by one hand (because he didn’t really want anyone else) while he wailed in an imitation of a fog horn. It was not our finest moment.

And then the castle came into sight and with the trees with elaborate exposed root systems that the kids love. And around the corner of the castle wall came the familiar form of John. Seth was rescued by a dose of pain relief and the distraction of climbing and clambering through the roots. And that was it. He never complained again of his ear hurting. There were no more needed doses of pain medication, and no more tears shed. Thankfully despite the bad timing of his episode, we greatly enjoyed our outing.

Dietrich Elliott Lein.

DietrichsarrivalSo, Dietrich is almost 2 months old now and I haven’t written a thing about him on here. Sorry about that. I really thought I would have tons of time to write and reflect during these first few weeks. After all, I’m forced to sit still quite a bit during the day feeding him or rocking him to sleep. But I must have forgotten the fact that I would only have one hand free to pick away at the keyboard and sometimes what seems like less than half my brain functioning from lack of sleep.

Since my sister Liza was here visiting the whole month of July, I got away with focusing my time on caring for Dietrich, resting when I wanted to, and speeding through my puzzle books to kill time. We had a great arrangement of chores. I put in the laundry to wash and she somehow always beat me to hanging it out and folding it when it was dry. I cooked the meals, and usually she cleaned up the kitchen afterwards. I wrote the chore charts for the house-cleaning, and she managed to make sure it all got done whether or not I had the time to help. She also distracted the kids when needed, and held Dietrich when he was fussy and I was in the kitchen. I’m really going to miss her, but I think I would start to feel guilty if I kept her any longer. She left this morning and so it’s time to pull my act together and start figuring out our new normal.

I know you will all forgive my silence, especially those of you who know what a houseful of kids with an infant is like, so I will stop making excuses and get on with the post. Truth be told, I did actually write up Dietrich’s birth story, but it is sitting waiting for me to proof it again and make it a bit more interesting. I also know that not all of you will want to read all the gory details, so just let me know if you want the long version. For now, here is the shorter version of the story of Dietrich’s entrance into this world.

DietrichsuckingfingerOn Friday, June 7th, I was having inconsistent contractions that I was hoping were going somewhere. Early Saturday morning we were at the hospital getting checked out. It turned out that my early labor wasn’t really accomplishing much and I was allowed to return home. All Saturday and Sunday I had contractions off and on, which meant I didn’t get tons of sleep and was physically worn out by the time Sunday evening came and the contractions noticeably shifted in intensity. We were admitted into the hospital again that night, but it wasn’t until the next morning that things really got going. Dietrich was born at 10:21 am on Monday, June 10th.

I was very appreciative of supportive midwives who were never in a rush to hurry me along, comforted me when I broke down in tears, and worked tirelessly to help me birth little Dietrich when I felt like I couldn’t continue any longer. Early on in labor I realized how much I missed having my mom there with me. This is my only birth she hasn’t been there right alongside me, and I truly missed sharing the experience with her. John was good at encouraging me during that first break down and during the intense phase would say things like “If your mom were here she would say . . .” It was a hard experience, especially as I didn’t deal well with the fact that it was not as easy as I had hoped. During the most intense part of labor I had a hard time focusing on what I needed to do, and that made it even harder. In the end, Dietrich was born in a rush as I really wanted to get it all over with and ignored all instructions to take it slowly. But he coped well, and is healthy and strong.

first pair of jeansOf his siblings, he takes the most after Will. At 7 lbs 14 oz, he was smaller than any of the other kids besides Emma, but he’s growing fast. It’s too early to tell if he’ll be a chubby baby like Will or a slimmer one like Seth, but if I had to guess I’d say chubby. His hair is brown, but every once in awhile I see a tinge of red in it, so it will be interesting to see what color it ends up being. He’s lost almost all of it in the front though, so he looks a little bald right now. He’s a strong little guy. He’s already rolled over several times from his tummy to his back, he likes to stand up on our lap and support all his weight, and his neck strength is impressive. He’s a pretty easy baby, not terribly fussy, and seems to like the activity of his siblings. He is still not sleeping long at night though, so things are still a little unscheduled in our house.

The other kids all adore him and each has their own way of interacting with him. Even though Seth seems to be dealing with the most transition issues over losing his place as the baby of the family, he loves his newest brother and kisses him as often as I’ll let him. Will loves to hold Dietrich and play with his toes. He also loves to be my little helper and even put a diaper on him the other day for me. Elise holds baby Dietrich whenever I need an extra pair of hands and loves to care for him like a little mother. I was her age when my youngest sibling was born, so its fun to see her react in the same way I did.

Another pregnancy post.

pregnantbellyandcrib2My mind has been a little consumed with baby prep here, and I’ve been terribly neglectful of the blog. And now that I am getting around to writing a post, you will just have to put up with another baby post since that is what is on my mind.

Overall the pregnancy has been going quite well with very little issues. But, it does occur to me sometimes that being pregnant is not easy. My energy level is low, I need a nap almost every day, and there is always something that hurts. But I really have very little to complain about and I love watching my belly grow and feeling the baby move, and I’m thankful that it has gone so smoothly. In fact, I’ve even almost completely avoided some issues that plagued me in other pregnancies, like lower back problems and carpal tunnel syndrome. I occasionally wake with my lower back feeling iffy, but so far walking has worked to loosen everything back up again. And I am just now beginning to feel just a twinge of warning of carpal tunnel, but I’m hoping that the baby will come before that gets bad enough to be an all day thing.

Emotionally I am also doing very well. At the beginning of this pregnancy I became aware of the fact that I may be dealing with what is termed antepartum depression (or more specifically in my case, antepartum anxiety). This is similar to postpartum depression and anxiety, only it occurs during the pregnancy. I really didn’t know that was a specific thing until I had a panic attack during the first few weeks of pregnancy and started doing some research to figure out what was going on. As most of you know, I have always dealt with some level of postpartum depression/anxiety after each birth. Looking back I think I even dealt with a bit of anxiety during Will’s pregnancy as well, so this isn’t completely new to me. But it was a surprise and an eye opener for us when it happened.

After pregnancy I have relied on anti-depressants to help me get through the postpartum period. But after doing some research and seeking advice, we felt uncomfortable with using anti-depressants now, during the pregnancy, because of the potential side effects for the baby. So, knowing I needed a plan in place to make it through nine months without them, I began seeing a counselor once a week. Amazingly, just before we arrived in Germany the position of woman counselor was filled for TeachBeyond. I know she isn’t here just for me, but it has been a tremendous blessing to be able to have free weekly appointments with this godly woman who I can now also count as my friend.

I want to thank all of you have been praying specifically for this issue for me. It turned out that I had very little anxiety all through the second trimester, which is when we moved. I was surprised that the initial transition here was so easy, since I had anticipated it being quite hard. The third trimester brought back some of the initial struggles, but they have been for the most part quite manageable. And for some reason the last couple of weeks I’ve felt great. I do intend to start taking anti-depressants starting next week with the hope that I can get enough in my system to help me tread the waters of postpartum depression without feeling like I’m drowning those first few days. Over a short period of time, there is very little risk for the baby, but please pray extra protection for the baby during that time.

38weekspregnantMonday marks 38 weeks in the pregnancy, which means according to the doctors I am definitely full-term. Anytime in the next 4 weeks is considered normal timing for the baby to arrive. I have tended to carry my pregnancies past the due date (except for Will who came 1 week before the due date), so we still probably have a few weeks, but we are trying to be ready. We bought a used crib from someone who is leaving Germany, and we have collected quite a few free things from people generous enough to pass on the baby things they are no longer using. We still have some organizing and packing for the hospital to do, but I am feeling that we are a bit closer to being prepared for this little one to arrive.

We are all (except Will, who claims he is dreading the baby’s arrival, though I’m not sure if I believe him or not) very excited. I am having a hard time picturing life with an infant as it has been a long time since we’ve lived that life, but I’m sure it will come back to me. I am also feeling excited to experience the birthing process here in Germany as I agree quite heartily with their philosophy of childbirth. I am missing my doctor and midwife at home though, as here there is not the same level of relationship built with your ob or in my case with the midwife as I have one to see me before and after but I’ll have just whoever happens to be on call deliver me in the hospital. But, as we tell our kids, different is not bad, it is just different. So I am taking one difference at a time and trying to learn what I can to be prepared for this huge life change coming our way.