Eat Hotdogs

Ten years ago today, my aunt Teresa died after battling melanoma. That day, my pregnancy book told me James’s heart started beating. I think they are just estimating when they give those dates, but I’ve always loved that it worked out that way. Truly, He gives and takes away. It makes my heart hurt to have seen that manifest so clearly.

Teresa’s last moments, less than a month after she lost her son P.J., were the end of a chapter for many of us, as we felt their little family simply vanish. It started a strange new chapter for me, as well, in which my children began and Teresa and P.J. ended, never meant to touch each other, except through my life.

I wish they could have known each other. But since they didn’t, I try to do the next best thing: let my kids have hotdogs for dinner in Teresa’s honor every April 14. Teresa was a no-nonsense kind of gal. And on the day she found out her cancer was terminal, she wrote an email letting us know and then announced she was going to get a hotdog. She and I processed life differently, and I know if I found out I was dying, that would not be my response. But it was hers, and I love that.

This year we didn’t have hotdogs for dinner, because, well, we’re in Thailand, and I value my gastro-intestinal health. So if you’re reading this in America, maybe you can have hotdogs. Give yourself the night off of dinner. Teresa would like that.

Love and hotdogs,

~A

Posted in Family Life | 2 Comments

The P.J. Post

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Team ‘That Is So Funny!’

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Team ‘Pretty as a Picture’

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Team ‘We’re Great Actors’

I’m an only child. But I’m from a big extended family, made up of more big families (I’m the youngest of 52 grandchildren, from 9 aunts and uncles). Growing up, I admired my older cousins. From my perspective, they were all boisterous and fun. I envied their close relationships with their many siblings (families of 5, 8, and 13). Sometimes I felt a little like the one who was left over after all the teams were picked, not because they weren’t inclusive or kind, just because I knew deep down it was different.

My next oldest cousin, P.J. was the only other “only” in our huge clan. From…well…birth, Peej and I had a special relationship. He was the closest thing to a sibling I have ever known. He was smart and funny. And he knew me. In that “I’ve never known a life without you” kind of way that I can imagine brothers and sisters feel. When P.J. and I were together, I felt like I was on a team.

As we got older, P.J. and I talked often about how grateful we were that we had each other. Even as young adults, we knew we would have Christmases together, go on joint vacations, and be smitten with each other’s kids in the future. Life as a team was more fun.

So, just over ten years ago, when I talked to him on the phone, and he was broken over the news that his mom was dying of cancer, I didn’t think twice about scheduling a flight to go out the next week and be with them. I knew with absolute certainty that he would do the same if the tables were turned.

Ten years ago today, when we (uncharacteristically) told each other we loved each other, I could not have understood the gift God was giving me. And ten years ago tomorrow, when I got a late-morning phone call and learned P.J.’s heart had stopped in his sleep, I fell to the floor and wept, and my whole life changed.

Ten years later, the pain is much less raw. I only cry every now and then, when something reminds me, and I’m overwhelmed by the void left in his absence. But mostly – and this might be the hardest part – mostly, life goes on. And I’m ok. I just miss being on the same team.

I really wish Peej could have known my kids, and they could have known him. I wish he and Todd had had a chance to be better friends. I wish he would have had a Facebook account, so I could laugh at his funny statuses, and we could post ridiculous pictures of each other when we were young. I wish I could have seen him get married and become a dad and grow into the person he was going to become.

I’m grateful that the last ten years have taught me much. I experienced a loss of innocence that comes with knowing tragedy at a young age, but I gained a perspective about loving well. All the clichés about ‘tomorrow not being guaranteed’ and ‘letting people know how you feel before it’s too late’ are, as it turns out, clichés for a reason. I feel thankful for the desire to live life fully, because I’m not sure what the point is otherwise.

So here’s to Peej, who helped make my life full and inspires me still. Miss you, pal.

~A

Posted in Family Life, Spiritual Growth | 6 Comments

Life and…you know… some gleanings. Finally.

Super long ago. That’s when I last blogged. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about. It’s that I’ve lacked the capacity to organize it enough to write it down. That’s what I’ve told myself, anyway.

There are lots of daily details I can give you. Like how Henry doesn’t cry hardly ever cries anymore when we leave in the morning. How we’ve gotten into a rhythm in our schedule, and life feels manageable in that regard. How Amelia is a little more needy since we’ve come here, and I feel guilty about that. How James and Sam have grown insanely independent since we’ve arrived, and that makes me somewhat nostalgic for the era of “little” that we seem to be exiting. (I know. Someone slap me, and show me a video of myself in the 6, 4, and 2, plus a colicky-newborn stage. Stat.) How I kindly suggested  sort of demanded Todd figure out a way we could watch the rest of Season 3 of Downton Abbey. (He did. Woot.)

But until now, I have felt my words were inadequate to tell you what’s going on in the way deeper down places. I was right and wrong. My words probably are somewhat inadequate, but the real reason I haven’t put it down has less to do with inability, and more to do with unwillingness. To put it bluntly, I’m afraid.

A major theme among our team has been learning God’s true character and nature and considering how that plays out in our individual lives and how we serve others. It’s been a time of challenge and revelation. For me, I am working on knowing*(see below) that being created by God gives us inherent value. The intelligence or beauty or competence or personality he gives us doesn’t make us valuable. The fact that He created us does.  Period.

[*In Hebrew, the concept of knowing is more than head-knowledge, it’s experiential. So knowing is something you do fully, holistically. You feel it in your bones, so to speak. That’s why I’m working on knowing. It’s a process.]

In terms of how I relate to others, this concept of value plays into how I see them and my ability to even begin to love them. I can’t love others well until I believe that no matter who they are, what they’ve done,  God has made them with incredible worth. No ranking system, no “Weeeellll, God still loves you and all, but there are some limitations. I mean, look what you did.” Just immeasurable value.  Every person. Bam.

In terms of how the concept of value plays out internally, I have realized my lack of understanding makes me very afraid. One of our trainers this week said, “Fear of making a mistake is the single biggest obstacle to doing big things for God.”

This is the part of the story where I would stop and choke back tears if I were telling you this in person. It rattled me. Our trainer wasn’t talking directly to me, but I knew God was. Complete illumination. I am fearful of making mistakes, because I’m not sure what my value will be to the world and the people around me if I make them.

My fear is rampant. It paralyzes me in many areas of my life. From blogging to motherhood to friendship to exercise to gritty-hard ministry, I look at the risk and think, “Nah, better to not. Wouldn’t want to mess things up.”

So I am renouncing the fear friends. And putting it in its place. Here’s what God has to say via Paul in Colossians 2:15 of the Message Bible:

He (Christ) stripped all the “spiritual tyrants” in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.” (Emphasis mine)

Fear is my spiritual tyrant. This blog is the street through which I march it in its birthday suit. It’s sham authority has been stripped away by Christ. Amen.

With a whole new beautiful appreciation, I read the words of Isaiah 41:10 again from the Message:

“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear, for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Even if you fail. Even if you make big, ugly mistakes. Go ahead. I’m here. Nothing changes.

Phew.

This is the part of the story where you get up to grab me a box of Kleenex so you can avoid my “ugly-cry-face.” (Sorry ’bout that.)

Thanks for coming along on the journey, friends.

Much love,

~A

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

My 5 Year Plan

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The kids at a local Thai restaurant, our team in the background.

 

Yesterday, I had a couple hours to sit and reflect. I rode my bike down to a little open air café at the end of our village…super cute, literally run out of their home in their front yard. I got to practice a few Thai phrases and chat briefly with the owner. One of the first times I’ve had to venture out by myself and experience the culture.

Because I have some sort of journal-hoarding problem, I always have several journals going at any given time. Therefore, it takes me several years to fill an entire journal. Yesterday as I sat and sipped my coffee, I pulled out a journal I had started five years ago, almost to the day. James and Sam were 4 and 2, respectively. Amelia was three months old and was in the hospital for several days with a respiratory infection. Reading the words brought back the chaos of that time of life and reminded me of my mindset as I had penned those words. I was overwhelmed and frazzled.

I remember sitting in the hospital room as Amelia slept (which is all the time when a baby has to work to breathe) in an oxygen tent. I remember feeling so unsure of everything and not even having the energy to form thoughts to journal. Desperate to connect with God, I decided to go page by page through the Bible study I had been working on, writing down what spoke to my heart.
Five years later I am floored at how the words I wrote have come to fruition, how much they speak to my circumstances today. Here are some snippets; I hope they encourage you as much as they encouraged me:

If God calls us to something, it will likely cost something.
The rewards are great and with Minnesota in the midst of an ice storm, this may not be the time to talk about what this is costing, eh? But the reality is that there has been a cost to this thing God has called us to. But could we say no? How could we say this just costs too much? We long to be where He is, and right now this is the place where we are meeting Him.

The spiritual life does not come naturally; it is a conscious choice.
It’s so weird. Even though we live in Thailand right now, I still occasionally yell at my kids and snap at my husband. I thought I would be super spiritual here, but as it turns out I am still me! I still have to choose to connect to God each morning, ask Him to empty me of myself, and ask Him to fill me up with Him, or I would be a hot mess. I’m a hot mess anyway, but you know what I mean.

To live in Christ, I must die to myself by:

  • Abandoning my own will and agenda, and accept this may be painful.
    My plan: Homeschool my kids and serve in women’s ministry at our church. I think that sounds super reasonable. We love our life in Rochester. We are rich with community and friendship. It is painful to leave our church family. It is painful to leave behind the women I share life with and love so very much. It is painful to see my kids mourn over missing their friends. It is painful to send my kids to school when I hadn’t imagined doing that. Yet I am confident God is working, sending us on a journey, and I trust Him enough to lay my plans down.
  • Embracing loneliness and vulnerability as intimate time with God.
    One of the staff on our team talked to us last week about the effect of moving to a new culture. Our relationship with God is (hopefully) at the center, along with our family. But at home we have “cushions” like friends, church, familiar settings, and food that surround and insulate us in a sense, creating security, a good thing. When we go across the world, we have God and our family, but even our family relationships have changed in a way. We are left vulnerable and exposed, clinging to God, without our normal cushions. It’s become almost a tangible relationship, because there is nothing in the way. Our reliance on Him is crucial. Yes, that. That is good.
  • Going outside my comfort zone, cheerfully and with purpose.
    It’s not super hard to go outside my comfort zone…in fact it’s pretty exciting. What’s hard is staying cheerful and purposeful when I’m “in the zone” and I’m getting thrown-up on, or my kids are melting down, or my neighbors dogs won’t stop barking. Work in progress.
  • Being subject to the observation of others.
    I’m here with the intention of serving God, and I’m a white person in an Asian culture so I stand out. I have to yield to the fact that I am probably often being noticed, and how I act reflects God’s character to the people around me, accurately or not. If I do not die to myself, they will not see Him.

Again, I wrote all of the italicized words 5 years ago…isn’t God cool?! I love how He knows me and how He grows me! I totally didn’t mean to rhyme there; I think I have a gift.

Anyway, that sweet little babe in the oxygen tent is now breathing great and is strong and healthy, AND had an awesome show and tell at school…the camera her grandpa bought her for Christmas – thanks, Papa! Here are a couple pics!

Amelia's show-and-tell perspective.

Amelia’s show-and-tell perspective.

 

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She also learned to…….ride a bike without training wheels this week! And as soon as I can figure out how to get video uploaded, I’ll show it to you!

Much love to you all,

~A

 

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Posted in Family Life, Thailand, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Hard…and Amazing

We’re one week into our time in Thailand, and my reflections are so scattered and vast, it’s difficult to know where to start.

Here are a few of the highlights in pictures.

Sam finds a tiny lizard.

Sam finds a tiny lizard.

Tiny Lizard.

Tiny Lizard.

Boys with their teacher, Ning. Plus Henry. :)

Boys with their teacher, Ning. Plus Henry. 🙂

Amelia and Henry on "cultural dress Friday" at their school.

Amelia and Henry on “cultural dress Friday” at their school.

Boys learning some Thai with Ning.

Boys learning some Thai with Ning.

I also managed to bake some (adapted) GF bread AND navigate down to a store on a Thai “bus” with one of my new pals, Rachel. Need to remember to get pics of the buses soon – good times! Aaaand the squatty-potty…if you’ve never experienced it, you really must.

The boys joined a little soccer team this morning, and we’ve managed a few swimming outings. Our main mode of transport here is our bikes and we’ve all got one, with a seat for Henry on the back of mine.  Must. Take. More. Pictures.

It’s been a wild, crazy week, full of challenges and blessings.

When we were first praying about whether to come here, Todd met with a trusted friend and advisor, Steve. One single thing he said has helped me mentally prepare for this time in our life more than anything else. Because he’s wise and cares about us, Steve asked Todd, “What will you do when the wheels fall off? Not if, but when.”

We knew it would happen, and friends, it did. I believe the best way to share our experience is to be brutally honest. So I’m telling you. The wheels, they did fall off this week. After a fantastic start, Amelia lost her desire to be away from mom all day and cried herself into school, Henry had to be peeled from my arms on his first day, the older boys whined and complained at every meal, and Todd and I each wrestled with our insecurities and weaknesses (a topic for another day, perhaps).

But. God is good. Not because the kids are enthusiastic about school or Thai food, or because we have overcome our emotional crises (not completely anyway). He is good because He is. He meets us in the mess, and I can testify to that once again.

I read this post from Jen Hatmaker a few days ago. In it, Jen says “Brave moms raise brave kids.” Though I want brave kids, I don’t feel very brave, but it did get me thinking. I do feel like this is hard. And amazing. Hard and amazing often go together, don’t they? I want my kids to choose hard things, because God often uses them to grow us and deliver us right to the amazing.

Every hard choice I’ve ever made, every hard thing I’ve ever tried to do, has turned into amazing. Training for a marathon: hard. Finishing a marathon: amazing. Morning sickness and labor: hard. Baby kicks and seeing your baby for the first time: amazing. Working through difficulties in marriage: hard. Having a fulfilling, close marriage: amazing. Loving a difficult-to-love person: hard. Growing closer to God through a process of laying yourself down for others: amazing.

And here we are again. This is hard. Not all hard. Not as hard as it could be. Not as hard as it is for a lot of people in the world. But change is hard. And this is a big change. That’s just the truth. But it’s already amazing.

So if you want to know how to pray for us, pray that we would choose hard things, that God would show us the amazing, and that we would always remember to give Him the glory. And I’ll pray the same for you.

Much love,
~A

Posted in Family Life, Spiritual Growth, Thailand | 34 Comments

We’re Here!

It is so exciting to finally be writing this from our home in Chiang Mai, Thailand! We have had a wild 5 days and are close to settling in to some sort of normalcy, I think. At least, I’m awake past 8pm, so that’s a good sign.

We left Rochester last Wednesday morning after a week of illness and Todd’s back going out, feeling so thankful we were able to leave as scheduled. We headed to Rockford, Illinois to stay with Todd’s cousin, and see some extended family before we took off from Chicago. The kids were able to have some sweet, albeit brief, cousin time before we left.

Zoe, Emma, Lily, Amelia, Penelope, James, Sam, Jason, and Henry cousin-ing it up!

Zoe, Emma, Lily, Amelia, Penelope, James, Sam, Jason, and Henry cousin-ing it up!

Thursday morning we headed to Chicago to catch a 2pm flight to Hong Kong. The kids were thrilled over the individual movie/game/music touch-screen stations at each seat and stayed well-occupied. Henry thought it was great fun just to swipe the screen as much as possible and constantly make something new appear. This seemed like a reasonable activity until the flight attendant pointed out after her 3rd false alarm that there was a call button on the screen. Oops. Clearly the person who designed those had never made an international flight with a two-year-old.

James enjoying the in-flight entertainment.

James enjoying the in-flight entertainment.

Our media-blitz bliss ended abruptly when Sam started looking green six hours into our 16-hour flight. Thankfully we were able to get a bag under him quickly and minimize the damage when he finally lost it.

Unfortunately for all of us, and I mean everyone within five rows of us, his second go-round was not so smooth, and we ended up throwing away some clothing and living with an unpleasant smell for the duration of the flight.

James and Henry showed their solidarity by both joining in on the fun as the night progressed. By the time we landed in Hong Kong, we had slept very little, and were relieved to escape the smell…and the flight attendants we were certain were going to have us quarantined in China for several days.

After a short layover in Hong Kong and listening to Henry say, “I in China!” hundreds of times, we boarded for our second leg of the trip to Bangkok, Thailand. Only one “episode” (and one more discarded sweatshirt) later, we stepped into Thailand and were greeted with amazing warmth. It was midnight (Thai time) when we arrived, and we spent a loooooong night in the airport waiting for our one-hour jump up to Chiang Mai, making the most of it by changing clothes, freshening up, burning packing-up all the undesirables from the previous 24 hours.

Our final flight was, thankfully, uneventful. Amelia was so exhausted coming off the plane that one of the flight crew, a large Thai man, took one look, made a sympathetic face, and carried her through the tunnel. Completely spent, she didn’t even begin to protest, and Todd and I were thankful!

We were greeted at the airport by one of the leads of our team here and have felt incredibly cared-for and blessed by the welcome we’ve been given.

Welcome sign on our front veranda.

Welcome sign on our front veranda.

The kids have enjoyed exploring their new home and all the new kinds of plants and fruits and wildlife.

Front veranda.

Front veranda.

Henry loves the flowers!

Henry loves the flowers!

Kids on the front veranda ledge.

Kids on the front veranda ledge.

Little run-off in our village...look at all the beautiful trees!

Little run-off in our village…look at all the beautiful trees!

Today Amelia and I went to explore her Kindergarten and she was so excited about it, she ended up staying for the morning. She had been so apprehensive about it all, and it was such a relief to my mama-heart to see her thriving. She has two little friends who are children of the people on our team that are both in her class. All but one of the rest of the children are Thai, and she’ll be able to learn some Thai while she attends. Henry will start at the same school Thursday, and we’re hoping he’s a bit more on-track schedule-wise by then.

Amelia's 1st day of Kindergarten certificate!

Amelia’s 1st day of Kindergarten certificate!

Finally, while we were gone at the school, Sam, who’s still not been feeling well, got to go for a ride with our new friend Mark to get Gatorade (yep, they have it and yep, that’s a pink bike…borrowed from the boys’ tutor 🙂 ). I’m going to go out on a limb and say this may have been his favorite experience thus-far.

Sam heads out on a ride!

Sam heads out on a ride!

Those are the highlights. I’m not feeling very creative or funny or profound. Just grateful for all of your prayers, love, and encouragement. And completely dependent on the One  whom we can completely depend. Thank you for helping us know we are surrounded by such an awesome community of people!

This has been running through my head (and sometimes out of my mouth in the form of a singing reminder!) the last few days:

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress; I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2

Much love!

~A

Posted in Family Life, Thailand | 22 Comments

Basement Dwellers

"We live in the basement!" Look how happy they are! Nobody point out that this was taken upstairs.

“We live in the basement!” Look how happy they are! Nobody point out that this was taken upstairs.

A little break from books today to lighten things up a bit. Besides So Where Is It You’re Going?”, How Did You Decide to Go to Thailand?”, and What About the Kids?,”  the other FAQ we get is, “Soooo, you’re living in your basement or something, right?” And it makes me laugh every time, because there is just no denying how funny that is. Am I right?

Yes, sort of. We – all six of us – live in our basement right now, but it functions much differently day-to-day than we imagined it would. It started when we had a fantastic friend express interest in living in our house while we were gone, and she had three friends who were willing to join her. The only issue was that they needed a place September 1 and we weren’t leaving until January. We had a pow-wow and decided this was something we could all make work. Now we’re just one big spectacular family of ten. More about that in the days to come.

But today I thought I’d give a peak at our living quarters. We’ve had fun maintaining life as usual while squishing into one-third of our normal space.

The three oldest sleep in the back half of the long family room. This functions as their bedroom, and in theory, this is where the toys are supposed to be.

Big kids' sleeping area/lego station/play area

Big kids’ sleeping area/lego station/play area

The front half of the long room is still the family room where we hang out when everyone is awake.

Couchy, hang-out space

Couchy, hang-out space

We share a room with Henry (yes, this is awesome), and the “pantry.” Just go with it.

Bed, Crib, and Pantry living in unity, sort of.

Bed, Crib, and Pantry living in unity, sort of.

Our basement is a walkout, so we have quite a bit of natural light and our own entrance.

Entryway

Entryway

And we picked up a used fridge and little corner nook table off Craig’s List that can (sort of) fit all six of us, and “blended” our kitchen into our former laundry room . We also have a microwave, coffe pot (oops, it broke since this pic was taken), toaster, electric skillet, crockpot,  and rice cooker. We bought a cute little island on wheels, and the benches of the nook also open for storage.

Kitchen-Laundry Room

Kitchen-Laundry Room

We have had to condense our school area and use our kitchen table.

School area 1

School area 1

School area 2

School area 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we have a spacious bathroom where we are able to keep a couple dressers with all the kids’ clothes. (For some reason the word finally keeps moving into the center everytime I go to publish…let’s call it artistic expression.)

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We definitely went through an adjustment period, but it has been a great lesson for our whole family about how much we have versus how much we need. Not to mention how good we have it (even in our basement) compared to the majority of the world. And, boy, has it been a catalyst for purging!

Much love,

~A

Posted in Family Life, Thailand | 14 Comments