The gift of mystery.

kidswarmemorialIt’s interesting how much of my parenting is shaped by my experiences as a child. I struggled a lot with doubt, questions, and guilt as a child. I wanted to know the truth and rest in it, but was frustrated that my mind did not always cooperate, that I was plagued always by questions instead of certainty. It took a long time for me to accept the questions as part of my experience. And it took even longer for me to see the value of uncertainty. And because I never want my children to feel guilty for asking questions, I tend to encourage those questions.

Even before my recent faith shift away from evangelicalism towards a more progressive form of Christianity, I didn’t like to answer my kids questions with too much certainty. For one thing, I recognized that I am never sure enough myself to give them a definitive answer and for another thing, I wanted them to be ok with knowing that there were multiple answers to any one question. So when asked about science, faith, and life, I would often answer them with: “Well, some people believe a, others think b, and I tend to agree most with c.”

As I become more and more comfortable with my own questions, I have been able to be even more relaxed about theirs. I think when Elise was young, there were definitely some questions I felt that she needed a very clear answer to. If she asked about God or Jesus or salvation, then I was definitely going to give her the black and white answer I believed was necessary for salvation, even while at the same time feeling anxious over my own lack of certainty. Since my understanding of salvation has completely moved away from assertion of facts, I no longer mind allowing uncertainty in even those things that I once considered the essentials of faith.

Kids have a lot of questions, even while accepting the oddest things as truth. But Elise has always been incredibly tied to reality. She hates uncertainty and even in the course of imaginative play always wanted to know where the line of reality was. It frustrated her to no end a few years ago when Will was convinced that his stuffed animals were alive. He would not admit that he was just pretending, but stubbornly resisted her every attempt to teach him the truth. She would get so angry about this that she would try to bring me into the argument. “Mom!” she would say, “Will you please tell him that stuffed animals are NOT alive!” And I would never step in. This was more about Elise than it was about Will. I truly didn’t care if he believed his animals were real. Possibly, deep down, he knew they weren’t, but liked to rile up Elise. But I wanted Elise to be ok with letting go of control over the minds of those around her. I wanted her to be ok with uncertainty.

As the kids have gotten older, the dynamics have changed. Both Will and Seth love to believe the impossible. Or pretend that they do. I can’t always tell where the line is in their play, and that is ok. They like to live on the edge of mystery. But they don’t always like to allow the other to be comfortable there. Sibling dynamics are such that there will be teasing surrounding each one’s chosen fantasy. Will also likes to try to convince Seth of fantastical creatures’ existence because Seth so wants to believe, even when his logical side tells him this probably isn’t true. You can hear the struggle in his voice as he argues back. “That isn’t real, Will! Is it?”

The other day Will was giving Seth a hard time about Santa Claus. Seth has tried to believe in Santa Claus for years, even though we have never really “done” Santa Claus in our house. This has actually been one of those areas where my child has taught me to let go of controlling what another person believes, and now I only really step in when the naughty or nice part comes up, but that I addressed in another blog post. (If you read that blog post you’ll probably notice my lack of an emphasis on mystery in celebration. I have definitely evolved since then.)

But back to the conversation of a few weeks ago. Will asked, partly in seriousness, and partly to annoy his brother, who was sitting next to him: “Why do people believe in things that aren’t true, like Santa Claus?” “That’s a good question, Will,” I answered resorting to my tried and true parenting tactic of answering a question with a question. “Why do YOU think that people believe in things?” “Because they’re dumb?” Will answered (actually I can’t remember his exact reply, but this is most likely what he was thinking even if he didn’t say it out loud.)

Wanting to encourage Will towards self-reflection rather than attack, we brought up one of Will’s favorite fantasies. Against all evidence and in the face of opposition all around him, Will believes in dragons. So of course we brought that up. And in comparing Santa Claus and dragons (who knew those would ever come up in the same conversation?) we were able to actually ask some meaningful questions about the nature of belief.

sethtreeI don’t know if that conversation was marinating in my kids’ heads at all over the next few weeks, but I think maybe it was. Because on the way home from church a few days ago Seth asked a very serious question: “Why do people believe in God? I mean you can’t see him, we don’t know if he’s actually real. He might be or he might not be. It’s a mystery.” And rather than going into panic mode, wondering about the state of my child’s soul, I merely said: “Yep, life is full of mystery.”

This is my life.

Life has been a little hard lately. My kids have all been battling a long-lasting stomach bug, which means no school, no schedule, and lots of TV. I’m feeling the need to get back into a routine, but it will have to wait a little longer as we wait for wellness to return. But last week I wrote a blog post describing one whole day in our life. So, this is before we got sick, and is a pretty normal Wednesday for us. I like to do this every so often so that I can look back later and be reminded of what life was like.

Today began at just a few seconds before 5:30am. I know it was a few seconds before because my 5:30 alarm went off as I was getting out of bed to check on a whiny Dietrich. Good timing really, since I got to sleep all the way until my alarm and also had something to force me out of bed so that I didn’t have to struggle with the “just a few more minutes” phase of my waking up process.

Dietrich thankfully wasn’t actually ready to get up at 5:30, he sleeps usually until 7, but often he needs something in the night. I kept his light off and got right up next to his little face peering over the side of the crib and asked him quietly what was wrong. I didn’t actually get a response from him as he has very few words in his repertoire yet, but I figure he might still appreciate being asked. I searched with my hand in the dark for his pacifier and found two sitting right in the middle of the crib where he could have easily found them. But he thankfully took the offered soothers and snuggled back into his blanket without complaint. I covered him with his other blanket and snuck back out.

Now, it is time to start my day. I got up at 5:30 because the temperature was supposed to be above freezing, which meant it was a walking morning. I found my workout clothes in my room and tiptoed down the stairs to the living room. Once there, I found my ipad and attempted my 30 day challenge workout for the day. 50 burpees and 50 kick back crunches! Yikes! This is only day 3 on this particular challenge. There is no way that I can do more than a handful of either of these exercises as is, so I modified them to the point that I could do them and dutifully worked through 50 of each. Even if neither is still recognizable as the exercise they were created to be, both worked muscles and got my heart rate up. By this time, it was time to head out the door in order to make it to my sister’s house by 6:00am to meet her to walk. I grabbed my headband and gloves and put on my shoes and headed out. Unfortunately, even though I had seen Bekah the evening before, I had forgotten to mention that I was planning on walking today. So, when I showed up at her house, all the lights were out and there was no sign of movement. I waited for a bit, but it didn’t look like she was up. Oh well. It’s not as fun to walk by myself, but I still need the exercise.

The sun was just coming up as I headed down the home stretch. I was eager to get back as I always feel like my mornings are a bit of a mad rush once I get the kids up. It was nice to have that hour of quiet though. I returned to a dark house. The shower was going, meaning John was up and getting ready for work, but I didn’t hear anything from any of the kids. I quietly headed back up my creaky stairs and sat on the floor in my room in my usual place for morning prayers, which take about 10-15 minutes. Prayers complete, I gathered my clothes for the day and headed to the shower. When I passed the boys’ room I notice that they were up, but just playing quietly still in their pajamas. “Go ahead and get dressed, boys,” I said as I entered the bathroom. After a wonderfully refreshing hot shower, I headed back to my room to finish getting ready and noticed the boys were still sitting on their floor and were still in their pajamas. After a quick consultation with Seth where I discover he had unfortunately wet the bed again (that’s three nights in a row now after I thought we had this figured out), I gave them their second instruction to get dressed. I peeked in Elise’s room on my way to my room and told her to get up too.

A few minutes later I gave the boys their third instruction to GET DRESSED, as they still had made no progress towards accomplishing it. Will asked if I had washed his jeans yet, to which I replied that yes, they were probably downstairs in the dryer. “Can you go get them for me Mom?” “No, you’ll have to get them yourself. I’m headed downstairs to start breakfast.” I went first to Dietrich’s room to get him up. He was thankfully already awake, just quietly waiting for me to get him, arms crossed on the crib rail. He was very cheerful, which is such an improvement on yesterday, which was a very grumpy day all around. His pajamas are wet all the way through in the front, which I realized, is probably why he was awake at 5:30 this morning.

So, after searching out a clean diaper and putting on one of his new outfits from the Rhea Lana sale I went to yesterday, I was finally able to start breakfast preparations. I started by cutting open English muffins that I made last night and sticking them in the toaster. Then I made a strawberry frappe, which is just milk, strawberries and honey in the blender. Dietrich was pretty excited about the frappe and subsequently got the first taste after his adamant noises expressing his interest. Soon I had him in his high chair with a cup of frappe and one half of an toasted English muffin with honey and butter. Each of the other kids soon followed as English muffins came out of the toaster. They were all instructed to eat fast as we all had to get out of the door in about 15 minutes. It was now around 7:30am.

I poured a large glass of the frappe and doctored up Dietrich’s other half of English muffin for myself. I ate the muffin while sorting out whether or not all the food was packed for my grandma. (I cook breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for her throughout the week and deliver them every two days.) After glancing at the clock, I realized we were almost out of time. All the kids were sent to get shoes and jackets, both boys complaining since their breakfasts were not done. “They’ll be here when we get back,” I encouraged them. Dietrich also fussed a little when I took him out of his seat, but perked up I think when he realized he was going somewhere with us, he loves to leave in the car. I put on his shoes and jacket, grabbed my jacket, keys, wallet, and glasses, and started for the door, frappe in hand to drink in the car. John grabbed his bag and the food for grandma and Elise grabbed her trumpet. It took a bit more scrambling to get everyone in the car and buckled, but thankfully we were within my ideal leaving time to make it to the intermediate school drop off without Elise being late for band.

After maneuvering the drop off line, I headed the van towards John’s work. We have only one car right now, and today John needed a ride to work. It was just a few minutes after 8 when I dropped him off, so it is good to know that this is a viable option for days when we need to do it this way. I swung by my grandparents duplex to drop off the food and then headed home. The boys eagerly finished their breakfasts while I washed up the dishes. Will also was helpful enough to bring the trash can back from the road where it has been sitting since Monday morning. He tried to be creative though, and brought it to the front porch instead of the back porch. I’m not sure we’ll leave it there, but for now, I let it slide. IMG_0724Once the dishes were washed up, I got together the boys’ math books, inwardly sighing at my school corner, which currently resembled a trash dump, and got Dietrich his second breakfast. This, I have discovered is the only way to make it through math time without a very loud, whiny toddler. The boys have been playing on the front porch, so I called them in for math, only to discover Seth inside the trash can under Will’s apparent encouragement. Oh well, one more thing to add to my list of things I never imagined saying to my kids: “Get out of the trash can!”

Thus begins the delicate dance that is math-time. My goal is to have both my Kindergartner and my 2nd grader busy at the same time so that we can accomplish our math all before Elise gets back from band. This usually does work, but only with some frustrations to all involved. Today went fairly smoothly. Dietrich, for once, didn’t cause much disruption, and Will had an assignment he actually liked. Seth didn’t even complain about having to write his numbers. Unfortunately, because of our tighter schedule due to dropping John off this morning, we were running a bit behind and it was time to pick up Elise before the boys had actually finished. They each had a few items left that they were totally able to do on their own though, so I took Dietrich to run get Elise and left them each responsible to finish their own work. Less than 10 minutes later, we returned. Will had done all but two problems, which I helped him with, and Seth was almost done as well.

We all sat down to do our morning office (prayer time). I’m not sure how to describe this time. It is not the quiet contemplative time that I dream of it being, but we muddle through each morning with the hopes that maybe someday it will be.Today’s prayers were interrupted by Dietrich getting into the markers, Will tickling Seth’s feet, and other similar small and yet unbelievably frustrating issues. It is now 9:20ish.

Elise was assigned to do math, Will to do his language art assignment and Seth to work on memorizing his Bible verses. We were in a hurry to complete the most important school-work quickly because we had a play date scheduled for 10am. After each kid was situated in a separate room to do their work, I took some time to brush my teeth and fix my hair. This accomplished, I set about the not so fun task of prepping Dietrich’s dirty diapers for the wash. Due to a virus these last two weeks his diapers have been more frequent and much more nasty. Once they were in the washer, Elise grabbed my attention as she needed me to grade her math assignment. After a short intervention to deal with her frustration at not passing her test first try (She has a new book and she has to get 9 out of 10 problems right on a test before moving on in the book. This morning she only got 8. This is the first time she hasn’t gotten it first try, and she was a bit upset.) including an encouragement that a test is to show whether or not she needs more practice and that obviously since the book includes 5 tries for each test, they aren’t always expecting you to get it right the first try, we were able to move on. Elise chose to put off trying again until tomorrow, a choice I left up to her. She looked at her other assignments for the morning and decided that all of them could be accomplished during her quiet time today. Will was set to work on his Bible memorization, Seth was now done.

I still had some time before we needed to leave, so I picked up the laundry basket of clean folded laundry to put it away. Dietrich came running with his usual “choo, choo” wanting to catch a “train ride” on the basket as I took it upstairs. He’s getting a little heavy for this, but I can still manage it, so I let him ride. I put away all the clothes in the basket, taking time to weed out some clothes Dietrich has now grown out of in his closet, so that I had more room for the folded laundry. Then I headed back down, leaving Dietrich to play in Will’s tipi. It was only 9:45, so I took a few minutes to check email, facebook and type a little on this post. But soon, it was time to go. Thankfully, because we are going somewhere they love, they all came running quickly when I called and everyone was out the door pretty quickly.

We enjoyed a fun morning playing with friends. I even got a good mom chat in between refereeing the kids play and comforting kids when they came running in tears for minor scrapes and bruises. We had to leave promptly at 11:30 to go get John from work so he could make it to a lunch appointment and have the car for the rest of the day. He dropped us off at home at around 11:45. Everyone was hungry, but I needed to warm up the already made food. Dietrich was making his hungry whine, so I gave him a pita bread with butter and honey and a glass of milk to keep him happy until the egg casserole was done. There was a loud altercation going on in the living room between Elise and the boys. It turned out that they were “destroying” the couch, something they do often to build houses or make piles of cushions to sit on, and it drives Elise crazy. I don’t like it much myself, and so I had told them just a couple days ago that they were not allowed to do this unless they asked my permission first, so this is what I reminded them of as I started putting the cushions back. “Mom,” Will pipes up, “Can we destroy the couch?” “No!” I answer before sending both him and Will to play outside until lunch. I did some computer stuff, mainly typing this I think, while I waited, checking every so often on the food. Dietrich finished his whole pita and all his milk pretty quickly, so I scooped out some slightly warm casserole for him. He also wanted more to drink, so I gave him some water. Within a few minutes, the water had ended up in his bowl and all over his tray, so I decided that meant he was done. He got wiped up and put down and I started getting the other kids’ food ready.

IMG_0732It was just a little after noon when we were able to sit down to eat our food. Dietrich was grumpy again, so I handed him some raisin bread with honey so I could eat my food without him in my lap. Lunch would have gone well, except for Seth’s dislike of the casserole. Everyone else finished up, Will even getting a slice of raisin bread to finish filling up his tummy. Seth tried to get up twice, but I made him sit and at least try his casserole. Finally giving up, I told him that he needed to break this habit of eating his snacks, but not his lunch. So, if he decided that today he was not going to eat his lunch, then he was not getting a snack this afternoon or tomorrow morning. He, being the short-term minded person that he is, decided this didn’t sound too bad and took his still full plate to the kitchen. I’m never sure if this is the right way to deal with these food issues. I know that what I’m doing might increase the negative feeling associated with food that he doesn’t like, but I also can’t have him just pushing aside everything he doesn’t like to wait for the things that he does.

Elise had already started the lunch dishes, which is her routine job of the day. Since it was almost 12:30, I decided to go ahead and put Dietrich to bed. He had been so much happier than yesterday, but 12:30 always seems like a good time to start his nap even if he isn’t particularly showing signs. Thankfully, he thought this was a great idea, and happily waved to the big kids while saying “Digh, digh” as we headed upstairs. After a few minutes searching for his blanket, which had somehow migrated downstairs, he happily curled up in bed and I covered him up and shut the door.

Will and Seth took a little more effort to get up to bed. We always read their read-aloud books at this time of day in bed because I find they are much more relaxed and willing to listen during this natural quiet time of our day. But it took several calls and admonitions to get them both upstairs and in my bed to start. Sigh. I so wish they reacted and obeyed more quickly, but I know I haven’t been consistent enough to expect this of them. Something we need to work on for sure. We read a chapter of history, a page about a people group without their own Bible, and a chapter in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. All went well, and after a quick discussion it was agreed that Seth would sleep in my bed and Will would move to his bed for the rest of their quiet time. Will wasn’t thrilled about this, but Seth has been actually making less of a mess in my room than Will had been doing, so I am keen to stick to this arrangement most of the time.

I headed downstairs for my own quiet time, my little tiny reprieve in my otherwise busy, hectic, loud days. I got comfortable in my usual spot on the living room couch and did my midday prayers, which are just about 2 minutes long. Then I put on my headphones, took my laptop, and began my Rosetta Stone lesson. I’m attempting with the kids to learn Spanish, but this is the only time of my day that I can regularly fit in time to do it. The only bad thing about this is that I almost always have problems keeping my eyes open during the lesson. Hmm, sleep vs. language learning. Today was not as bad as sometimes, but still a struggle. After finishing up, I decide to start typing up this blog post, because it will take awhile, and at least for today I’d rather do that than take an actual nap. Yes, I know, I’m a bit crazy sometimes.

Our regular arrangement is that the boys will stay in bed until the cuckoo clock cuckoos two times (2:00pm). If they are quiet they can hear it in their rooms. Unfortunately, Seth almost always thinks that it has been too long and comes to ask me if it is time to get up before the clock actually has had a chance to cuckoo. Today he came down about 15 minutes early, followed almost immediately by Will. After the normal, “Can we get up yet Mom?” question and the usual answer of “NO, the clock has not struck two yet,” he immediately starts into a story of absolute heartbreak involving Will sticking his tongue out at Seth when Seth was apparently conferring with him about coming downstairs to check the time. I head Will’s feet on the stairs at about this time, and, not so gently, sent them both back to bed. At least they didn’t wake me up this time.

Promptly at 2:00 all three big kids join me in the living room. Elise was ready to finish up her school with me, as I do her read-alouds at this time of day. We don’t have much to do today because I am still waiting on one of her books to arrive in the mail. During our conversation, Seth asks the inevitable question: “Can I have a snack?” I look at him and ask him what he thinks. “Um, yes?” “No, Seth, do you remember what we talked about at lunch?” Instantly he dissolves into tears. “But I’m just really hungry Mom!” And he sat down on the couch and adds loud wails into his tears. Elise and Will both started asking about their snacks, which of course only made Seth wail louder. Will and Elise went to help themselves to bread with honey and seconds later a fight breaks out when Elise won’t let Will put honey on his own bread, and he pulls his bread away and she spills honey on the floor. I don’t know if it was the loud yells from in there or just some random thing, but Dietrich woke up. This of course, frustrated me to no end. Even though Dietrich has been asleep for nearly two hours, I know this isn’t as long as he could sleep or even should sleep. I ran upstairs, gave him back his pacifier, laid him down, and covered him up. This almost never works, but it is worth a try. Amazingly enough, it worked, and I didn’t hear anything else from him.

Eventually Elise was situated on the couch to read while eating her bread with honey and I am somewhat impatiently waiting for Seth to quiet down enough for me to start reading our poetry for the day. Finally after being given the choice to go outside or upstairs to bed or to quit crying, he stopped his wailing, but still frequently asked me for a snack. During our poetry reading, I finally gave in and tell Seth if he is really hungry he is welcome to eat more of the egg casserole, but that is all. Elise switched her half eaten bread for more casserole too, after deciding that she didn’t really like the bread. Seth of course, had another meltdown when I denied his request for more snack after he ate a little bit of casserole. Finally, the poems are read, Elise’s questions for the day are answered, and she was sent to do her timeline assignments. Since Will and Seth are currently in the living room with me, we did their questions as well and caught up on their timeline activities as we were quite a bit behind. Then we are done with school for the day. I realized later that Will was supposed to do Rosetta Stone, but we’ll skip it for today I think.

The kids tried to play outside, but decided it was too cold, of course this was after Elise accidentally hit Seth on the arm with a stick. Elise decided to read to the boys in her room, which meant I had a good chunk of undisturbed time to type up this post. Yay! I know I could spend this time doing something productive, but instead I’ll do this. Now, at 4:00, I am typing away, but I will have to stop as I am surrounded by all three kids, climbing on couches, wrestling, arguing, and generally all begging for attention. We are going to go play a game. Dietrich is still sleeping, which is kind of amazing, but also pretty nice.

So, we played Carcassone, which made everyone happy except Seth. But he decided to play on my team and actually did seem to enjoy himself. It was really close, but Elise won the game. Since the sun was peaking out of the clouds, the kids decided they want to go play outside again. I assigned them the task of putting away the game, and went to take care of some other stuff. IMG_0723Dietrich had woken during the game after an epic 4 hour nap. He was so happy.

I decided it was time to start cleaning up the remains of our efforts at school and playing from today. So, I got a broom and started cleaning up. I called Bekah up to see what time she was bringing supper (we each bring each other supper once each week). It was going to be too late for Elise and I to eat before our evening plans, so we would need to warm up some leftovers, which is not a problem since I have a whole pot of chili in the fridge. So, at 5:30 I was warming up chili for Elise and me. Seth was complaining about being hungry, of course. I texted John to make sure he was going to make it back before I needed to leave. Dietrich climbed into my lap while we ate and tasted a bit of my chili. He was still in a really good mood.

We finished up eating and I ran upstairs to brush my teeth and redo my hair. Elise went to get ready for Club 56. Soon John was home and she and I headed off. I have choir practice that starts at 6 and she goes to Club 56.

Choir practice went well, difficult songs, but it is a good outlet for me. We got out about 7:40, which meant I had a bit of time to wait on Elise to get out at 8, so I waited for her in the car. When we got home, the dishes were not done, but since there were very few of them, I decided to put them off until morning. I don’t usually do that because I hate waking to dirty dishes, but oh well. The boys were all in bed since they go to bed early and Elise headed up to bed as soon as she got back. I helped myself to a small slice of my birthday cake that I’ve been slowly finishing up from our Sunday celebration and John I watched some Friends on Netflix. At around 9:30, we headed up to bed and to do our compline prayers, which John and I do together once we are in bed.

And that was my day. At this point in my life, my main frustration is not that I don’t have the time to get things done (though sometimes I really don’t), but that even when I do have the time I don’t feel like doing much because I either don’t want to to chance being interrupted or I’m too tired. But regardless, I do love what I am doing and realize that I can put off some of the other things I want to do until later.

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.


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. 🙂

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.

Firsts and Lasts

I have been meaning to write a post for quite some time now, but the last two weeks have been quite full and I never seemed to find the right time to sit and write. Plus, there was a part of me that wanted to remain numb to the fact that I was getting ready to leave on the biggest adventure of my life, leaving behind family, friends, and home.

We are here in Germany now. We arrived at lunchtime local time yesterday. We are of course dealing with our bodies being unsure of the time and whether we should be eating, sleeping or playing, but it was a smooth trip overall. I will post more about that later.

Elise has told me several times lately that it doesn’t feel real yet. She was convinced though that once we were on the ground in Germany it would feel real, because there was no way her brain could deny the fact at that point. But of course, she found out that our logic doesn’t always work when we are dealing with such big changes in our lives. She admitted to me as we arrived at our new house in Kandern, that it still didn’t quite feel real. She couldn’t convince herself that she wasn’t still in the US.

I am experiencing some of the same, and to be honest I am not ready for it to feel real. Because every time it has felt real over the last two weeks, I have had a hard time holding it together. There is a small part of me that is terrified of this new adventure, and I have to deal with that whenever I start to process the fact that I am indeed on it.

There was so much excitement over the last two weeks, but also lots of last times to do things, maybe not forever, but for a long time. Some of those last things were hard, like the last day at church. I spent most of the service in a fog, but completely fell apart by the end. But other times weren’t bad at all. I sat and chatted easily with my Mom the day before we left and wasn’t teary eyed at all when I hugged her for the “last time.” Of course I’ll be seeing my mom again in the summer, so that probably made that a lot easier.

Now we are starting on a new part of this process as we are experiencing our “firsts.” I have a feeling that some of them will be easy and comfortable and others are going to be very hard. Pray that I can take each thing one at a time and not let the newness of it all overwhelm me all at once.

Our Family is Growing.

We discovered just a few weeks ago that God apparently thinks we need a larger family. This little life, which according to the internet is just barely larger than a lentil right now, was such a surprise. I know though, that he/she will hold a special place in our family.

Elise was one of the first people we told, and she was thrilled! I can’t even begin to describe in words how thrilled she was, you will just have to believe me when I say I have rarely seen her so excited. She is not so secretly hoping for a little sister, but she claims that she will be satisfied with a brother if that is what it is.

The boys actually took a little longer to figure it out. They were there when we first announced it to my family, but apparently weren’t really paying attention. They were also there while I discussed details and plans for clothes and things with John’s family over lunch. They were still not paying attention. Finally I brought it up directly with them and they also were pretty excited. Especially Seth, who said: “I love babies to pet!” Yes, he is a little weird.

My due date is in mid-June. I’ll be getting to see my midwife, the one I had for both my girls, until we leave for Germany. I’ve got a whole new set of vocabulary words to learn in German, but hopefully I’ll be able to find a midwife who can also communicate to me in English, because I think that would be helpful.

Please pray for safety during this pregnancy for both the baby and me, and also pray for my emotional health. As most of you know, postpartum depression has been an issue for me, and I was already concerned about the emotional upheaval of adjusting to a new culture. Now with the added pregnancy hormones and stress of preparing for a new baby, it is possible that I will struggle even before the baby comes. Pray that even now as I deal with the anxiety of this change of plans, that I will be able to take hold of the peace that Jesus offers.

We all do wrong things.

This is something I wrote two years ago and just recently found as I was sorting through some computer files. As I read it I realized that others might find it encouraging, so I thought I’d post it. As a reference, Elise would have been 7 at the time of this incident, and even though I sound like I know what I am doing when I answer her, I realized that I’m not sure I’ve followed through well with making sure she learns this lesson well.

I am a child of God.
He loves me.
He created me just as I am.
I am weak and sinful.
God sees me as righteous.
He has forgiven me all my sins.
He cares about my development.
He chose to bless me with each of my children.
He loves my children and cares about their development.
In His strength I can be a great mom.
In His strength I can resist the lies of the evil one.

Elise was upset after I punished her by sending her to her room for 10 minutes for kicking Will. “We all do bad things mom. We do bad things all the time and we don’t always get punished for them. Even you do wrong things.”

How do I explain to her that now as an adult, I sometimes wish I could still just get a punishment assigned to me for doing something wrong. Perhaps then I could just let it go and move on. It is funny she should bring it up right now, when I am dealing with an emotional struggle and am feeling so inadequate. Many of my mistakes are circling around in my head, and I am having a hard time just letting them go, forgiving myself, moving on. Yes, we all do bad things, and we all have to live with the consequences. It’s just that as a kid, the consequences are more obvious, and visible to all those around. As an adult, they are often hid inside.

I know that I’m not right in this. I know that God has forgiven me and I must forgive myself. Most of these things, I have deliberated over and have decided there is nothing I need to do to make things right. I just need to accept that I’m not perfect, pray that God will work in spite of my mistakes, and keep on going.

I didn’t explain all this to Elise. She is a lot like me, and sometimes I worry that she will deal with these same issues as she gets older. I hope she doesn’t, but I think because I worry she might, I try not to bring up more things for her to worry about. I’ll talk her through it if she gets to that point, but no need complicating her life right now. “It’s my job,” I told her. “I am supposed to help you learn to obey and giving you punishments for doing wrong is how I do that. Yes, even grown ups do wrong things, and they have to figure out how to make them right, and ask God to forgive them. You need to do the same thing.” I realized that perhaps I should do a little more instruction on the making it right and asking God for forgiveness part of that. Prayer is not a big part of her life right now. Perhaps that is something we should encourage more strongly this year.

West Coast Trip.

Our trip was long and covered a lot of miles, so it is hard to summarize in one blog post. So, here are pictures with some details (if you click on them). If you want to hear more, you’ll just have to ask me. We really had a great time, but were very glad to get home a week earlier than our estimate. We saw spectacular scenery, spent time with wonderful families, and spent many, many hours on the road. We went far enough North to experience longer, cooler summer days, and far enough South to almost touch Mexico. We even went through a border check in Texas! That got us talking about what it is like to move to another country. I apologize for the lack of pictures towards the end of our trip. I think we were so focused on getting home that we forgot to pull out the camera in Arizona and Texas.

Support Trip #1 – East Coast

We are home and slowly getting caught up with home responsibilities.  Our trip was almost three weeks long in length and took us through 16 different states.  We enjoyed most of all getting to visit with many different family members and friends, some of whom we rarely see.

Our first stop was to visit cousins in Tennessee, where we enjoyed horse-riding, swimming and fireworks.  Then we headed to Atlanta for a short visit with our TeachBeyond mobilization director.  Then we headed on to Florida to visit John’s brother and family.  We spent two glorious days on the beach and getting to know our kids’ remotest cousins.

After that we headed north to Pennsylvania, with a quick stop to visit some childhood friends of John’s in North Carolina.  In Pennsylvania we met up with John’s parents and his uncles and aunts at his Grandma’s home near Gettysburg.  We enjoyed a wonderful day of play and conversation.

The next day we headed even farther north to upstate New York to visit some of my cousins and an aunt and uncle.  I’ve never before visited their home territory, so it was fun to see them there.  Then our loop headed westward as we drove through Ohio (where we connected with some JBU friends as well as my great aunt) and then to Berne, IN, my Dad’s hometown.  We spent several relaxing days in slow-paced Berne visiting my relatives there.

Then we headed off again to Chicago, with a quick stop at the sand dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan, a place my Dad used to go to a lot growing up.  In Chicago we met up with my parents, grandparents and some of my siblings to celebrate the graduation of my cousin from Moody.  We also got to visit some more of John’s family and stayed with some friends.  Chicago was probably the most uniquely different for us of all our stops.  We took the kids on buses and a train.  They were thrilled, and I guess this might be a little bit of practice for public transportation in Germany, though we won’t be in such a densely inhabited area.  Then we headed home, stopping to see a few more friends on the way.  We weren’t very thorough about getting pictures, but here are some pictures of some of our stops along the way: