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.

Scenes from home.

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

The Family of God.

teaandmuffinsNo matter how far I go from “home,” I am still surrounded by family. And no matter how capable I think I am, I need that family.

Our first two weeks here went pretty smoothly, so smoothly in fact that I was a bit surprised. The kids weren’t really complaining of missing home much and were throwing themselves into new activities and experiences. John and I were finding the courage to go out and do things that needed to be done. The house was slowly getting set up. And I was surprisingly emotionally stable. Sure there were those odd little moments when I found myself in tears, but those actually were very few and far between. And I can handle a few tears, I was just glad not to be dealing with anxiety as well.

And then week number 3 started. Friday morning I had to drag Will out of bed to get him ready for school. After several clues like asking permission to only eat one small piece of waffle for breakfast and continually finding spots to lie down, I took his temperature. You guessed it, he had a fever. Our first German sickness. Well, that is to be expected. He just started Kindergarten in a new country, it is normal for him to have picked up something. Of course this was the same day that John had left for his first day of language school, early in the morning before any of us had gotten up. So Will’s illness completely changed the course of my day. I cancelled my much looked forward to first counseling appointment and after we took Elise to the bus we settled down for a restful day at home.

By Sunday morning Will’s fever had gone, but I woke feeling like a cold was taking over my body. I stayed home from church with Will (in case he was still contagious) and Seth, Elise and John went to church. The kids were off of school Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so we took it easy those days, the whole time I was feeling like I was fighting a cold in my throat and chest. Oddly enough Tuesday I thought things were improving, and we even went on an IKEA trip which was a lot of fun. I figured I was on the mend. But by Thursday morning when Elise and Will were supposed to start school again, I was still feeling quite ill. We walked down to the bus stop Thursday morning, but of course the bus was late. So as we waited and waited and waited I started feeling worse and worse. At one point I thought I might throw up and then I had to sit down because I felt suddenly faint. “This is not good,” I thought to myself. “There is no way I am going to make it up the hill to Will’s Kindergarten and then home again.” I asked another mom at the bus stop to make sure Elise made it onto the bus and said I was headed home. Another mom offered to walk Will to Kindergarten for me. So Seth and I walked slowly back home where I made myself a cup of hot tea and collapsed on the living room armchair.

One thing I have struggled with since we’ve been here is asking for help. Oh, I’ve done it plenty of times because I’ve had to. We don’t have a car, so I’ve needed rides to get to places. I don’t speak German so I’ve needed help filling out forms and figuring out everything from utilities to trash. We don’t all fit in our host family’s car, so sometimes we’ve needed to ask for help taking care of the kids. And we’ve been offered help by many people, and given it gladly when we’ve asked. But somehow I always feel guilty, perhaps even more so than I did at home when asking for those types of things. I think perhaps because I am the new person here. I just arrived and I need tons of help and I have very little to offer in return. Eventually I will hopefully contribute enough to the community here to deserve such kind favors in return, but for some reason it is hard to ask for the favors before I’ve had a chance to earn them.

I know that probably isn’t what people are thinking, but it remains there every time I decide that we could use some help. But yesterday I knew I had little choice but to ask for help especially as Seth had started running a fever as well. And so I asked, and thankfully a kind friend who has helped us out many times before picked Will up from Kindergarten and Elise from school. Even though I hoped that today I would wake up feeling tons better, I went ahead and cancelled my counseling appointment again. Instead of waking feeling better, my throat ached with pain forcing me out of bed early to make a cup of hot tea. And so again I had to ask for help. And again it was eagerly given. This time the Greathouses were kind enough to walk Elise to the bus this morning and to pick her up from school (it was another half day today). After Elise had left to meet them on the walk down to the bus I got a ring at the door. It was Noah Greathouse with a box of muffins and hard boiled eggs and the promise of chicken soup for supper tonight. After he left and I peaked inside the box I dissolved into tears.

This morning, I had taken comfort in the following verses: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:13-14.

And suddenly I was blessed by the hands and feet of the LORD. I’ve been throwing myself such a pity party, that I know I don’t deserve it. But God has chosen to show himself to me today and all the days since we’ve been here through his people. I have been humbled as I continue to realize that I can’t do everything on my own. And He is showing me slowly, painfully, that He isn’t asking me to rely on myself, but rather on Him. He is here, caring for us. And he has surrounded us by a multitude of family.

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.

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:


Moving to Germany – from the eyes of a child

I am in the car driving to drop off Will and Seth at their cousin’s house to play while Elise is at gymnastics.  The topic of conversation wound its way from gymnastics to airplane rides and our upcoming move to Germany.

“Mom, how will we take our bikes on the airplane,” asks Will.

“We can’t,” I answer.  “We can send some stuff on a boat, but other things we will just buy new there.”

“But what if some of our stuff falls off the boat?”

“They’ll put it in a place where it can’t fall off.”

“Will they put all the stuff where it can’t fall off Mom?”

“Yes, all the stuff will be where it can’t fall off.”

Seth pipes up in his special monotone list-making voice:  “like boxes, toys, toy airplanes . . .”  He trails off into silence, apparently these are the only three things he can think of.

“And crayons.”  Will helpfully adds.

“We don’t need to take crayons.  We can buy crayons in Germany.  We will not take a whole lot of things, just some special things.”  I say.

“Like some extra-special paper airplanes?” suggests Will.  “We could take those right?”

“Or you could take your paper airplane making book and make new ones when you are there.”  I say.

“Oh yeah,” agrees Will.  “Then I can show them.”

“What is something very special you would like to take?” I ask.

“Special glue?”  suggests Seth.  “So we can glue things.”

“We can buy glue in Germany too.”  I decide they  need some help determining what is special enough to take, so I hold up Seth’s special lovey toy, which happens to be on the seat next to me.  “Like this Seth.  This is your special squiggles.  You can take that to Germany.”

Now Seth has something special all his own, but Will doesn’t.  I help him by asking him a thought-provoking question:  “Out of all the things you have Will, what is your very favorite thing to play with?”

“Not my bean bag, you can’t take my bean bag,” shouts Seth.  (He is referring to a handmade bean bag he got for Christmas from Nana.  It’s been the cause of several run-ins lately between the two of them.)

“It’s ok Seth.  You can take your bean bag,” I jump in before Will can get upset.  “Go ahead Will, what is the one thing you like to play with the most?”

Will is still thinking, Seth tries to help: “Special squiggles?”

“No, Seth!  I don’t have a special squiggles!”

“Special toy?”

“Seth!”  Will is getting frustrated now.  I seriously don’t know if Seth is trying to be helpful at this point or just annoying.

“Seth, let Will think of his own thing,” I say.

“Well,” Will says, “I like to play with my pretend sword.”  (This, by the way, happens to be a stick, whichever stick he happens to find and make use of on any given day.)

“You know, they have sticks in Germany too.  Maybe even better ones, because we’ll live close to the woods.”

I think Will is about to argue this point, but he changes the subject.  “Do they have bears living in the woods?”

When things don't go as planned

Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to go on a long bike ride.  Since Seth can’t ride a bike yet, he rides along in the pull-along trailer.  Will is usually the pace setter, at least on the way out.  We rode along enjoying the flower scented breeze and the coolness of the JBU trail by the creek.  On the way back, Will’s bike started letting out annoying screeches as he pedaled.  This happened to greatly annoy Elise, who didn’t seem to understand he wasn’t doing it on purpose.

We decided to take a little break to enjoy the creek with bare feet.  After a few minutes of play, including Seth slipping and falling in the water, I realized we had better hurry back if I was going to have an hour to cook some beans for supper.  Will and Elise took off on their bikes while I loaded Seth back into the trailer.  Several feet down the trail I met Will whose bike had finally decided to give out entirely.  The pedals would no longer turn at all.  Will wasn’t very upset by this, but I knew it was going to be a long way back on foot.  We experimented with some ideas of how to get him and the bike back without him having to walk it the whole way.  In the end, we ended up cramming the bike into the trailer next to Seth and alternately letting Will run and walk back, with some breaks riding on my bike while I pushed.

It wasn’t what I had planned and probably multiplied the time needed to get back by quite a bit.  But we did get to see some baby ducklings we might have missed if we hadn’t been going so slow.  When we got home, it was much too late to start a pot of beans.  Usually in times like these I get frustrated and decide to order something to eat, because it is easier and I feel like I deserve it since my day hasn’t gone as planned.  And though I don’t think this is always an unwise choice, I do realize that it would be good for me to develop the skill to cheerfully and creatively make supper anyway.  And so that is what I decided to do.  It is nice that since I knew we were sticking to rice and beans, I had a framework to be creative in.  I grabbed a leek out of the refrigerator and chopped it up.  After sauteeing in butter for awhile, I added the leftover plain white rice from lunch and three eggs.  After the eggs had cooked, I added a splash of soy sauce and ended up with something halfway between scrambled eggs and fried rice.  Turns out everyone loved it.  We ended the meal with rice pudding I had made earlier in the day.

Rice and Beans Month

We are eating rice and beans this month in support of Lahash International.  Rice and Beans month is a way for us to stand in solidarity with the poor by simplifying our diet and financially giving to those who are hungry in East Africa.  As we make meals based around beans and rice, we attempt to focus on praying for and connecting with those who may only eat beans and rice every month of the year.  Since beans and rice should save us money on our grocery budget this month, it means we can also physically share with those in East Africa by sending our savings to provide more food.

When I first told Elise what we would be doing this month, she was less than thrilled.  Many tears were shed as she tried to wrap her mind around eating two meals a day based on just these two things.  Now granted, we do add other stuff to our beans and rice, and maybe she didn’t realize that beforehand.  I am trying to stay away from meat and too many expensive additives, since I really do want to see how much of my budget I can send off to help others this month.  The first meal on March 1st, Elise woke to me making some sweet brown rice for breakfast.  “I thought we weren’t doing beans and rice for breakfast?” she asked with a worried expression on her face.  “Well, not always, but today we are.”  Elise didn’t eat much breakfast that day.  The boys loved it.  In later meals, the roles switched as Elise found she loved the other recipes I tried that day.  She ended her day by eating 5 bowls of lentil stew!  The boys, on the other hand, decided the bean recipes were not as thrilling as a bowl of rice with milk and sugar.  They picked and complained over their bowls.  But even Will has a small grasp of what we are doing.  He shares with anyone who is willing to listen that:  “Guess what?  We are only eating rice and beans every day this week.”  (He doesn’t quite have the concept of a whole month.)  Seth either has a very short memory, or is clinging to the slim hope that I might forget, because every meal he still asks what we are having to eat.  And every time I tell him yet again that we are having “beans and rice,” he groans and says,  “Me don’t like beans.”

I am hoping that as we continue this it might help each of my kids stretch and grow just a little bit.  For Elise, I hope that she does start to develop a heart for those who have less, and perhaps start to see how she can make choices that impact others positively.  For Will, I hope that his excitement over the uniqueness of this experiment will turn into excitement for helping other people around the world and in our community.  For Seth, I am just hoping that maybe he will learn to eat beans without me having to physically put the spoon into his mouth.

As for me, after just 5 days, I have had to face the fact that I use food (especially deserts) a lot as a stress reliever.  I’m realizing how I need to replace that craving for something to eat with a craving to follow after God and rely on him to meet my needs.  I’m still grappling with this, but the first step towards change is to have our eyes opened to the need.