The internal part of settling in

If you visit our home these days, you will no longer see many unpacked boxes (let’s not talk about visiting our garage, ok?). You may see a few pictures on the walls and you might get the impression, if you don’t know our story, that we’ve been here for a while. Rees goes to work in the morning and comes home in the evening. I home school the kids and get them to their activities and generally keep everyone fed, clothed and cared for. We look pretty “normal” (I think). But my insides are taking a while to settle down.

I still have a bit of buzzing going on inside me. I’m doing the things that I know I need to do calm down, be present, be aware: focusing prayer, breath prayer, meditating on the scriptures, yoga, a healthy diet, stopping to notice things, not over-planning life, leaving margins in our days. But I find I can’t sit down for long. I still feel the need to do something productive, to build something, to be ready for something. But I don’t know what that is.

It seems that I became conditioned to being unsettled in our life overseas. First of all, there was the reality of living in Tajikistan via a visa that had to get approved each time we applied. During the “good visa years” that was an annual thing, during the “bad visa years” that was an every 45 days thing. Obviously unlike our passport country – the thought never enters my mind here that I would be forced to leave my country. Our staying in Tajikistan was really out of our control so we just had to trust that we would be there for as long as was helpful in God’s big story.

Life, in general, in Tajikistan was also fairly unsettled. At least for a methodical, planner person like me. It was and is the norm in Tajikistan (and many other developing countries) to do things what seems to be last-minute. Even weddings. Hard to conceive of coming from the west where you often have to reserve a wedding or reception venue a year in advance. Those “save the date” cards would be absolutely foreign for most Tajiks. I can’t even tell you how normal it was to be told by someone that, God willing, the wedding would be in the fall/spring/summer only to have a knock at my door at 8pm a week later asking, aren’t I coming to sit with all the ladies to celebrate the wedding? Like a typical westerner, I would ask, “when?” Ha! the answer was always, “right now!”

We were so warmly received by our Tajik neighbors and friends. We always lived (like the other ex-pats in our town) right in the midst of everything. No compound. No watchman. No driver. Frankly, we really didn’t need any of those things. It is a pretty peaceful country. Still worn out from a devastating civil war throughout the 1990s. But since we lived right in the thick of things, with hearts of learners – wanting to learn language, understand culture, be respectful, wrap our minds around worldview – we were pulled right into all the things. Weddings, baby births, funerals, holidays, anniversaries of people’s death, circumcisions, even special gatherings that were meant to “break open difficulty” when a person or family had experienced a long string of unfortunate events. I have a friend who had a celebration and called all friends and neighbors over to celebrate the time that her six-year-old daughter fell out a second story window and survived with only a few bumps and bruises. Certainly worth celebrating. Just a side – it makes so much more sense of the parable of the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about in Luke 15:8-10 about the woman who lost a valuable coin and upon finding it, throws a celebration. So there were lots of events that we were called to “last-minute.” That kind of conditioned us to approach any given weekend or evening with a sense of “who knows what’s going on tonight.”

The other way of life that I’m realizing conditioned me to be more on the “unsettled” side of things was just the reality of truly being part of community. It turns out community has both a great deal of privilege attached to it but also a lot of responsibility. It’s not a “schedule something in to help out that works for me” kind of set up. It’s more like relentless knocking on your door at 6am on a Saturday because some guests are coming and someone needs to borrow all your spoons and bowls or there’s a gathering happening and everyone is contributing something homemade to it so can you bake a cake and send it over? Our personal contribution on a number of occasions was having a very ill child who we needed to drive up to the more reliable doctor in the capital, Dushanbe (two hours away) and the sudden dropping off of our other two kids with friends who didn’t know if they were keeping them for the evening or for a few days (thank you friends – you know who you are). On any given day, there were endless knocks and needs (on our part as well) that required dropping what we were doing to help with. The amazing part of this was that, I began to feel comfortable running to a neighbor’s house if guests came and I didn’t have much to offer them and asking for help – be it some fruit, an older kid to run to the store for me, onions, plates, you name it. There was give but there was take too. But that whole community machine conditioned me to be ready to jump and respond to the need.

There is also the phase of life that we were in throughout our eight years in Tajikistan. The phase of raising little kids. Those little people need lots of stuff a lot of the time too. The combo of motherhood and cross-cultural living slowly caused me to let go of expectations of productivity as I knew it and caused me to slowly shape life around the expectation that I would probably be interrupted. I started realizing how much happier I was if I didn’t bite off a huge project that required uninterrupted focus. I also stopped trying to get a rest in the afternoon because I was more irritated if I tried to lay down and was needed right away than if I just kind of remained looking available, even if I was tired (which was pretty much every single day – and all the moms of littles said “amen!”).

There is another nuanced aspect to being a “goer” (insert ‘m’ word if you want) that infiltrates every part of your day. The reality that you move overseas because you want to be a light to a people who have not had a chance to know Jesus yet. So you are always juggling the day-to-day realities of home, work, team and community with why you are there. Every day, every decision gets filtered through the desire to be faithful to what brought you there. You don’t just go grocery shopping – you ask God to glorify himself through you while you shop and give you opportunities to “leak Jesus.” It helps that you end up interacting with so many people when you shop. You end up with a carrot, onions and potatoes lady, a fruit guy, a meat guy, a bread lady, a nut guy, a yogurt lady, a bag kid, etc, etc. And the cultural expectation is that you greet each one, ask how their family is, how their health is and all that. It’s quite an outing just to do your grocery shopping and, when you are home with kids a lot like I was, you want to “make it count.”

That is just a bit of an idea of what has contributed to my sense of being unsettled inside and having that internal buzzing that makes me feel like I need to be at the ready or try to get ahead on something.

My focus now is making our home and family a “secure base.” As I was initially imagining what that might entail, I was mainly thinking about the kids and the place where Rees would come home to in the evenings. But I’m realizing that my soul is in need of settling and a “secure base.” I certainly treasure the life-on-life lessons we learned about community and being flexible. I trust that those things will continue to show up in our lives for however long we live in the U.S. But community life is quieter here and I feel like this is a soul recovery time for me. Time to let that ready-to-jump impulse settle down a bit. It’s challenging for me but it’s so good.

 

 

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It’s not necessarily grass huts

If I could write this post while holding my breath, I probably would. It feels risky to talk about what has been bee-bopping around in my head because of a habit of being circumspect about what we are/were doing and choosing to be quiet about it over being overly talkative (and then not being able to take back what we’ve said). I’m talking about responding to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…” and actually going somewhere, to a people, that would otherwise not have the chance to hear about Jesus or see what a life dedicated to Jesus would look like. Certainly there are lots of ways to respond to the Great Commission, but one of those ways is to actually go. There is a word that many people still use to talk about the people who go to another culture to share Jesus with them (starts with “m”), but I’m still not comfortable using that word (too many misunderstandings and stereotypes attached to it).

Many of us who go, feel compelled to go to the “unreached” or “unengaged.” “Unreached” in this context means that less than 2% of the population are followers of Jesus. “Unengaged” means that there are no known followers of Jesus. It’s still crazy to me that, apparently, there only needs to be 2% of a population following Jesus to be sufficient enough to reach the rest of the population. Until then, even if someone wanted to know about Jesus, there aren’t enough believers in the mix of the population for that person to ever find someone who could share with them about Jesus. This is what compels many of us to go and what deters the argument of, “but there are plenty of people who need Jesus right here.” Because there are enough believers – even here in Portland, OR – for anybody who wanted to know about Jesus to be able to access him via whatever means (person, church, online, etc.) I’m not saying that we don’t need to reach out right where we are, I’m just saying that that isn’t an argument that overcomes the stats for those who “go.”

That makes these unengaged, unreached people seem super-duper remote, doesn’t it? The result being that many Western minds go to this idea of moving to the jungle and living in a grass hut – and most of us just don’t feel called or compelled to do that. But the reality is, most of these unreached and unengaged people live in cities and towns and yes, villages. But even in villages – most people aren’t living in grass huts. Mud bricks however…

The ideas surrounding what “goers” actually do and where they live came back to the forefront of my mind recently when I saw an announcement for a “Work as Worship” conference. By the way – I am in FULL support of this type of conference and any like it because I wholeheartedly agree that doing our work with purpose and faithfulness is an offering of worship to God and we all need encouragement that the repetitive, daily stuff we do is valuable to him. So in this announcement, it talked about how maybe you don’t feel called to be a pastor or a “m” (that word again – let’s keep saying “goer”) but instead you are in a “secular” vocation (ie: not ministry). I couldn’t help but think of all the other “goers” who I know – the majority of them work “secular” jobs, but in another country/culture/language. I realized (again) that there is still a wide-spread idea that “goers” are somehow doing something other than working “normal” jobs. Indeed, there are plenty of people who are doing ministry work vocationally and they are doing it in a country outside of their passport country. But the majority of the unreached, unengaged people groups don’t allow that. You have to have a job – whether with a non-governmental organization (charitable organization) or with a business. But either one of those require office hours, spreadsheets, meetings, production of something (even if it’s services) and some pretty “normal” mundane stuff that most other vocations require. For us, Monday through Friday, Rees usually went to work in the morning or he worked from home via computer. He would work in some strategic lunches and meet-ups with men who expressed a hunger for God and he’d pray for people when he was out on errands and he’d often bring one of those hungry young men with him on errands, but his day more or less looked like an extra social work day. Most of the “goers” we know have lives that look like that. I would be home with the kids – doing home school, feeding and clothing our household, joining in with whatever community stuff was going on, keeping track of where my kids were and what other kids were in my home. And we lived in a house – granted it was made of mud bricks, but you would never know by looking at it! I do a lot of that same stuff now – it’s just easier to do the feeding and clothing part now and the community and neighborhood aren’t so active and social so I have less obligations and “interruptions” (although, where we lived – those interruptions were just part of relationship). There is the awkward issue of pay-checks. That is a bit different. Many of these unreached, unengaged places have fragile economies and a generous dose of corruption so it doesn’t matter how great a business you run – it’s nearly impossible to make an income that supports your day-to-day life. So, many of us “goers” have supporters that contribute to our paychecks (another response to that Great Commission passage). Just a side note – it is pretty refreshing to not have “being extorted” as a line item on our budget these days!

I guess that’s what I would love for other believers to know – that “goers” are probably more similar to them than they may think. That we have a lot of encouragement and support to offer each other and that we are all just doing our best to let Jesus leak out of us into all the parts of our “normal” mundane lives.

It’s about trajectory

It has been so fun to be reunited with Troy & Jenny and their three boys. We loved doing life together previously and we love it still. We are at a point where the two youngests (only one day apart) are four and a half and can do a lot of stuff on their own – like get a drink of water and wipe themselves after using the toilet. Amazing how life-changing those things can be. All six of them play so well together and when they are having troubles, they can usually figure out how to solve the problem on their own or with a few prompts. The net effect is that it’s easier to have them all together. It’s louder and takes a bit more effort to feed or move them, but it’s easier on the whole because they are happily engrossed in play whenever they are together. Actually, all six are downstairs right now putting together the gingerbread Starbucks cafe that Auntie Leesy gave them at Christmas-time and I hear them yelling at each other occasionally, but then they seem to re-convene with a better strategy once everyone has had their say.

Troy & Jenny and Rees and I are trying to give each other some regular dates. A few weeks ago, they had our kids while Rees and I had a date and Troy got the kids organized in making “love snacks.” The kids wanted to put together snack packs to hand out to homeless people. So out came the zip-lock bags, granola bars, fruit snacks, bite-size Snickers and bottles of water and the kids filled the bags with the kinds of snacks they would like to eat themselves. They also drew pictures and wrote notes like, “Hope you get a really good home someday” and stuff like that. I love that Troy just let them do what they sincerely felt would be helpful to do, without editing it into a heavily adult-influenced project. The logical side of me thought, “This doesn’t do much to help alleviate the complex problem of homelessness.”  But I had to just appreciate that the kids were doing something that they felt was helpful and kind.

You can imagine how this might all go down. Naturally, the kids aren’t driving around town on their own. Most of the time they have a chauffeur – me. So I am the one who actually ends up handing out the love snacks. I was tempted once to add a disclaimer like, “I know it’s not much…” but I realized that these genuine little souls would hear that and possibly feel like their efforts were being demeaned. I decided that I would just say, “My kids put together some snack packs, would you like one?” It took a few days before we were perfectly lined up at a red light, in shouting distance of someone holding an “anything helps” cardboard sign. The first guy seemed really happy and immediately tore into that water bottle. The kids were feeling pretty good. A couple more days passed before we ended up back in that situation and the lady who received the love snack gave the kids a big smile and said, “Thank you! God bless you kids!” Ironically, only one block later, there was another red light and another woman with a cardboard sign. I offered the love snack to her and she glared at me and said, “No way, *#%&@! Why would I #$*&@#* want water?! F#@*& you!” The kids looked at me with wide eyes, incredulous. They didn’t even know all the swear words she said. I said, “Well, kids, you can only offer what you have to someone, you can’t make them take it and you can’t control how they will respond to it. We can only control how we will respond.” We talked about the kinds of things that can contribute to homelessness and how that can color a homeless person’s view of the world, and being a mom (and therefore concerned about their character) we also talked about what a better way to decline something could be – say, “no thank you”?

The thing is, I kind of understand that woman’s response. Who knows what her background is and certainly a zip-lock bag with a bottle of water and some kid snacks in it may have seemed like a mockery of her situation to her. If you feel beaten down enough by life and people, you can view everyone as hostile to you. I considered, for a brief second, if we should keep giving out love snacks. But I decided that the kids were on a good trajectory and that I should encourage it. They regularly see homeless people and tent cities and they wanted to do some problem-solving about what they could do to help out. So they put together something they thought was really nice and had the guts to give it out. I couldn’t help but think that wasn’t a bad approach to a lot of things they will encounter: see a problem, make a thoughtful response, then do the thing you came up with and evaluate how it went. They are on a good trajectory toward making an impact and the trajectory is the more important thing.

I was really happy for them to see the next four or five responses from people. Every other person we have given a love snack to, gave them big smiles and said things like, “Wow kids! Thank you so much! That is so nice of you!” Really, the kids have done more to reach out to these folks than I have because I take too much time thinking of more sophisticated solutions that might make a bigger dent in the problem. But they have shown me that sometimes it’s better to just do something with sincerity, even if it isn’t a “perfect” solution. It’s about the trajectory.

Little bits of thankful all over the place

It’s such a gift to be thankful and be thankful often! I say it’s a gift, though we all know that it requires intentionally developing the habit of being thankful (and then continuing to nurture it), because it still seems like grace to actually notice what to be thankful for right in the moment. It feels easier to me to take a moment at the end of the day and reflect on things that I may be thankful for – and often I wasn’t thankful for them right at that time. But it feels like something I couldn’t control or make happen to feel thankful right at the moment that something is happening. That is a gift. Here’s a list of some of the “thankfulnesses” that I’ve had since we’ve been back in the U.S. :

The lights turn on when I flip a switch. Every. Time.

The furnace. It starts pumping out heat when I turn it up. One button makes it hotter or colder throughout my whole house. So nice. So easy.

The coffee is brewed when I wake up in the morning because the time-brew function works because the electricity didn’t go off in the night.

It’s quiet. As much as I appreciated being truly part of the community in Tajikistan, I’m really appreciating the lack of pounding on my door and the constantly flow of people in and out of our house/yard. That’s the introvert in me.

Being able to pay things online. This is kind of related to the above point. Lots of times the pounding on the door is a money collector for electricity, garbage, water/sewer.

Lots of cabinet space.

Lots of counter space. Hannah and Emmett were putting together pizza pockets the other day and I was at the kitchen counter next to them, making soup – with all my ingredients and all their ingredients spread out and still plenty of room for all our elbows too. It took my breath away.

Not having to count volts to ensure our stabilizer doesn’t burn out. I looked up the other day and saw that I had on the dishwasher (LOVING that thing too!), the oven, the lights, and my instant-pot all at the same time, WHILE my whole house was heated and it made no difference. No lights flickering. No smell of something burning. No problem.

These are just a few things that I’m noticing and feeling thankful for and feeling thankful for feeling thankful. At certain moments in life, thankfulness feels like it takes a lot of concerted effort to offer – worthwhile effort but effort nonetheless. I’m just feeling thankful that it feels easy to be thankful for these things right now.

 

Settled?

We are fortunate to have lots of people who love us and want to know if we feel like we’ve settled in to the U.S. or to Portland in particular. I am generally answering something like, “Yes” or “slowly but surely” or “enough to live life for now” or something like that. I feel like I’m answering “fine” to the question, “how are you?” Because we all know that if we had three uninterrupted hours, just hanging out over a cup of something hot and cozy, “fine” can be elaborated on quite a bit.

The truth of it is that, yes, we are settling in when we are talking about having furniture in our house (thanks to everyone who donated it!), food in the fridge and pantry, most of our clothes are put away into dressers and closets and we are going about a daily life of school for the kids and me and work for Rees.  So there’s that. We also feel at peace with the reality that we are now here in Portland and no longer living in Tajikistan. I still marvel every day (and thank God) that we don’t have any travel coming up soon. I love seeing other places but traveling every six weeks with a young family is pretty disruptive and tiring. We look back at all that travel and are so thankful that we had the opportunity to see so many places as a family – and not only see them but actually become familiar with a few of them. Even Hannah, who is super happy to not be traveling, told me the other day, “mom, I think we will still travel more – it’s like we’re just a traveling family.” It kind of made me happy that she sees us that way, like she’ll be ready to get on a plane again when the time is right.

We are still unsettled as far as being up to speed on what our actual work-life will look like. Rees reactivated his real estate license and is learning more about development, while working for some friends. He isn’t making a lot, but we figure it’s better to get paid for an education than to pay for it! He’s also working with old friends and former business partners and is really enjoying being around them. He’s a ‘doing’ kind of guy so he does best when he has structure to his day and things to do, people to see. He gets stir-crazy pretty easily. But we have only been in Portland for three and half weeks now and he’s only been a realtor again for about two weeks, so we haven’t yet gotten a feel for what that will be like day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month yet and certainly don’t know what kind of income that will end up being yet.

I am working through finding the resources we need for our kids’ education – particularly for Hannah and Emmett. They have some learning challenges that we have been trying to help with remotely for all these years, so we are thankful to be back in the land of face-to-face resources. We continue to home school, and I am beginning to think we may keep doing it for some years to come – maybe even through high school, at least for Hannah and Emmett. I’m just realizing that there is no better ratio than 1:1 or 1:2 when dealing with the kinds of learning challenges they have. At best, in a public school, they may be 1:6 with a special ed teacher, a few times a week. This has been confirmed to us by the education testing consultant that the kids went to, the tutor we met with and lots of other parents. So, this journey of homeschooling, that felt so happenstance when it started, may be one we are on for a long time yet. We’ll keep taking it year to year. What is pretty cool about being in the U.S. homeschooling is that there are so many other cool classes the kids can do! As I write this, all three of my kids are at the big, forested Mt. Tabor park close by, having three hours of True Nature class/group. This means that every Wed. after lunch, someone else is doing cool nature stuff with my kids outside for three hours. As much as I love the outdoors, I’m glad to not be at the park for three hours in the cold winter drizzle of Portland. I’m happy to be passing this one off for now.

As far as my vocation goes – I’m pursuing moving into member care with our organization once I have the kids’ education needs ironed out (notice I’m not saying “solved,” just looking for routines and helps that we can live with). I can’t escape the reality of who I am and I am a hardwired encourager, thoughtful and intentional, eager to help others find freedom in being who they were made to be. Sometimes I wish I was a more spicy, spontaneous, risk-taker by nature, but for the most part I’m at peace with what makes me tick and it fits into member care. It was member care that allowed us to stay living overseas through big trials and the mundane daily living being in a context that was so foreign to the one we grew up in. When I thought that parenting was going to kill me early on – it was member care I reached out to, when my husband’s parents got divorced – it was member care who helped us process that and signed us up for our own marriage check-in, when we lost family members, had teammates had to leave and experienced medical emergencies, including when it looked like we were eminently losing Annabel – it was member care who followed us, helped us process, cried with us and counseled us (along with our ex-pat community, of course). When I imagine joining the team of people who support and coach field-workers – I’m both excited and totally intimidated. But I think that’s a pretty good place because there’s lots of room to grow and learn and it gives plenty of space for God to work in and through me.

So when I think about being settled, I guess the best answer is that we are at peace with being here in Portland and are slowly getting into the swing of daily life here and we are at the same time excited and nervous to see how the year unfolds, but by the grace of God, we’re mostly excited.

A Whirlwind Finish

Oh my. Tomorrow it will be one week since we left our home in Tajikistan. Which, by the way, was eight years to the day since we left the U.S. to move to Tajikistan. A friend reminded me that as far as number symbolism goes, eight is the number of completion or new beginnings. Pretty sweet, huh? That encouraged me. I thought I might be able to blog more in those six weeks of packing up and saying goodbye – not because I thought I would have time, but because I thought I would need to do that to process what was going on. It would have been nice but a funny thing happened. For the eight years that I lived in Tajikistan, I told people to come over. Sometimes they did, but a lot of times they didn’t or they only stayed a few hours. But 100% of the time, local friends would ask me why I didn’t come over more or why I hadn’t been over in a while. It was their way of saying, “I’ve missed you and I’d love to hang out with you.” Of course, it always made me feel triggered and guilty and I’d have to remind myself of the real meaning behind their saying that. I learned to respond with, “I have three kids who I am schooling and washing and feeding as well as a husband, and no family close by to help – why don’t you come to my house?” I suppose it goes without saying, but taking care of family and home takes way more time and energy in the developing world – not to mention homeschooling kids. Well, the funny thing that happened was that once we returned to our home in Tajikistan from Kyrgyzstan, a lot of those people started stopping by. And staying for 4-6 hours at a time. It was one of those things that highlighted cultural differences to me. In the U.S., and most western countries, if you know that somebody suddenly has to move (across the world, no less) in a six-week period of time, you kind of steer clear of them – knowing that they are busy with all the moving type of stuff. Maybe you see if you can take their kids for an afternoon or bring a meal or help pack or something. It just doesn’t work that way in Tajikistan. Top that off with when people come over and hang out, you need to cook them food. I also ran into the “what are you leaving behind?” situation. Where people would show up and want to walk throughout my whole house, asking about every single thing – am I selling it? To who? For how much? Even when I tried to contain it – keeping someone in one room and telling them that I had already figured out where everything was going and had nothing else to get rid of – they seemed to feel that I must not have thought of everything and would point individually to single items in a room. For example, if we were contained in the kitchen and I said that all of my things in the kitchen were spoken for, my guest would point to the cup she was drinking tea out of and say, “what about this?” and then point to my cup and say, “what about that?” and until I stopped that crazy train, would proceed to try to ask about every. single. item.  Honestly, it was exhausting. But there was inexplicable grace that infused those six weeks. I should have been anxious and irritable – especially by the culture-clash exacerbating things. The introvert in me should have been going bonkers (and, indeed, there were bonkers moments) but I truly felt, each morning, each day, trust that God could meet us exactly where we’re at, helping us get done the stuff that needs to get done. I’m a methodical, planner person – so it was not lost on me that I really felt peace that everything would get done, even though I was constantly “interrupted.” I would do our “skeleton” home school in the morning, feed us all lunch, drink a cup of tea or coffee after lunch and take 10-15 minutes to attempt to be quiet or read or pray and once the caffeine kicked in – I’d move on to whatever packing/sorting task was on top of my list. Many times, in the middle of my task, someone would stop by. My first reaction was, “Oh geez, how in the world will this ever get finished?” but there was grace to turn that back to my heavenly Father and say, “Apparently you will help me get this done, just like you’ll help me enjoy this person you’ve brought to my door.” And I really believed that. That’s grace. It’s more my natural wiring to fret and ruminate on something til it’s done (because fretting and ruminating is so helpful – hopefully the sarcasm is evident here?). So, by the grace of God – not the kind of grace of God that is something we just talk about in church or think of in some abstract way – but the grace of God that feels like peace and presence when there is no other way to explain it – filled each of our days. There was grace to cry, grace to enjoy, grace to be grumpy and grace to allow each other to be grumpy, grace to go numb, grace to get excited, grace to let go of certain goals, grace to focus on whoever was in our home at that very moment, grace to cook food – sometimes in the dark due to electricity cuts, grace to just stick to math, reading and copy-work for school (big miracle for this INFJ who wants to do everything deeply and thoroughly) and grace to let grief and gratitude co-mingle throughout the day. I may elaborate more on those last six weeks – they were so full. But I just want to highlight the very tangible grace of God that filled those tiring days and got us all the way back to the U.S.

I posted lots of pics on Instagram of those last days, so be sure to check them out.

 

Unexpected Parenting Advice

There’s something I’ve been steeping on for a while now and it came up again while we were in Germany (thanks Luci). Luci and I took the kids shoe shopping and pretty much any kind of shopping that involves all three can get pretty wild (shoot, even just one can get a bit wild, right?). The shoe store we go to has a slide in the kids’ section so they can release some fizz (so smart!). Well, they did great which means that we left the store with a sturdy pair of shoes for each kid, no injuries and nothing destroyed. That definitely does not mean that they were quiet, attentive and agreeable. Later on, Luci remarked at how well everyone did, including complementing us on not seeming embarrassed by anything that the kids do/did, even if we may feel that way inside. Rees and I both said, “they give us ample opportunity to practice!”

There’s a bit of parenting advice I will start to give anyone who asks (so I may be possibly keeping it to myself – which is why it’s fun to have a blog at least to post it to!). I would tell any parent to try to make peace with being humiliated and embarrassed. I’m guessing it’s about a 100% incidence that kids, at some point, embarrass their parents. We already know that parents embarrass their kids. I started the whole parenting thing knowing that I would rock it. It would be difficult, for sure, but I was pretty certain that I had what it takes (patience, determination, consistency, intentionality) to parent fantastic children who the world would thank me for producing. Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but not too far off. Ha! So pretty much, though I didn’t realize it and probably would have denied it, raising children was a lot about me. They were and would be the report card to how well I did at raising them. There’s a whole lot of ‘me’ and ‘I’ in there. Well, God was truly merciful to all of us and gave me a first-born that brought me pretty swiftly to my knees – absolutely shocked that none of the well-thought-out and researched techniques I was employing worked. In my darkest moments I truly thought that parenting would be what killed me. Seriously. I wish it weren’t true but Rees can tell you how often he came home to me crying my eyes out, saying, “I can’t do it! I’m not even going to make it to see them become teenagers because this is seriously killing me.” I felt the despair in my body, hence the belief that it would physically kill me. My first two were only 3 and 1 at that point. They were not the kind of kids that make you, the parent, look good. I don’t want to give the wrong impression because they are wonderful kids and, frankly, my favorite people to be around (now) and have been insanely fun right from the start. But they struggled (and still struggle a bit) with some sensory-seeking behavior and auditory processing difficulties which means that they were the ones running into and over the other kids at the playground, not even noticing that they’d flattened them. They were happy to give people the hairy eyeball instead of return a greeting and even happier (it seemed) to scream “NO!” and bolt away from me when I called them. I remember Emmett actually throwing himself on his tummy on the ground, beating it with his fists and kicking with his feet and screaming – a textbook tantrum – when he was 15 months-ish because I would not allow him to climb up a steep stairway made of metal bars that was seriously falling apart (in Central Asia) independently. I watched him, people buzzing around all around me particularly curious about the foreigners, and thought, “Is this for real? He has this perfected and he’s only 1!” I became aware of a reaction I was having that wasn’t good for any of us. When they would do these things, my gut-reaction was to try to stop the humiliation. I wasn’t parenting out of a place of connection with my kids and a big-picture view of what we wanted to nurture in them. I just wanted them to stop embarrassing me. Yikes. That’s pretty ugly.

At some point, I can’t even remember when it was, I realized that I just wasn’t enjoying parenting and I realized that I was the one in the way of that. I realized that I cared too much what I thought other people think of my parenting and I thought I had more control than I actually do or did. I don’t even know if other people thought much about my parenting but I had projected that everyone who encountered us was judging me and thinking to themselves, “If she would just…” I began to realize that anyone who would make an observation of me or my family and think one of our quirks could be solved with an if she/they would just…” – they had never encountered a kid like my kids. So I thought and prayed about what my big hope and goal was for my kids and our family and realized that I just want them to know God’s great love for them, to overflow with that love so that it reached others, and to understand their unique and special purpose in God’s big story. I didn’t want them to grow up to be cookie-cutter people, who’s behavior was predictable and non-wave-making if it meant that the essence of who they were made to be was being strangled out. I started to notice more when my initial reaction was embarrassment and an impulse to parent out of that (I had lots of opportunities for this every day). I still have to practice that noticing too. So though I still get embarrassed, I’ve experienced that grace to just accept that no one may want to ask me for parenting advice and that my kids are their own people – not a report card of how their parents are doing raising them. There’s so much freedom in that. I’m free to focus on whatever kid needs some help or coaching and really try to understand what’s going on with that child, instead of what others might think of me because of whatever that kid did or didn’t do.

So there it is. The parenting advice I never expected. Make peace with humiliation and embarrassment so you can get to the real meat of why and how you are raising your kids.

 

They are more gracious than we think

I’m not sure what caused it or when it started, but I have felt a bit embarrassed about being an American long before I ever moved overseas. I somehow received the message that we are loud, entitled, ignorant, rude and generally clueless about the world. After all, we aren’t pushed to learn a second or third language in school – just a customary 2+ years of a foreign language (more if you want to look good applying for colleges). I was aware of two conflicting messages from as early as my teens (and just a disclaimer: neither message was pushed by my parents). I got the impression that we are the best country in the world with the best healthcare, education and opportunities – the maps in our classrooms primarily had North America front and center with Asia hacked in half. I also got the impression that people in other countries generally don’t like us and that they think we’re obnoxious – we are the people who shout what we’re saying louder and slower if you don’t know English, thinking that somehow helps you understand. Though there is a caution in this stereotype (ie: let’s be conscientious to not be loud, entitled, ignorant and rude and let’s try to make a habit of learning about the rest of the world), it truly is just a stereotype. Yes, you will find that person in lots of places on the face of the earth (and probably feel embarrassed when you spot them), but what has really struck me about this is how ego/ethnocentric it is. It’s all about what we are like and how we appear to others.

My sister-in-law was studying in Spain in 2003 and my mother-in-law and I went to visit her. I was extra careful to try to not draw attention to myself and generally felt that I hoped to appear culturally ambiguous – certainly not like a clueless, rude American. I used all the Spanish I could, because that’s the right thing to do when you are in another culture, even adopting the Spanish lisp, or should I say lithp. We had a great time and people were kind and helpful to us, even happy that we had come from America to see the country. I don’t know if we offended anyone but that’s exactly what I feared – being so ignorant that I don’t even know if I offended anyone.

Fast-forward many years later and Rees and I had each been to some other countries and decided to full-on move to another country. I didn’t realize when we moved to Tajikistan that we would actually end up visiting lots of other countries too. It’s kind of funny because when we made our budget for living in Tajikistan, ‘travel’ wasn’t even a line-item except for tickets years later to return to the U.S. We didn’t consider the wear and tear of living in a completely different culture, a developing country to boot, and our need to remove ourselves occasionally and get rest, perspective and decent healthcare at times or to go to a conference of training of other people doing what we are doing. Within our first year of living overseas, we faced lots of trials and sickness and Rees’ parents got divorced. We really wanted to see his mom face-to-face to process this and comfort one another (Skype is fantastic but just not thorough enough and hugs don’t pass all the way through the computer) and decided to go to a regional conference in Thailand with our company and have her meet us there. I didn’t realize how much I needed that til we’d been there a few days and my tummy trouble stopped and the tension in my shoulders left and they were no longer hitched up to my ears. Wow. As we did some sight-seeing and shopping I felt a bit embarrassed that I didn’t know Thai. I was the American tourist – horrors! But I had an internal conversation that went something like,

“It’s just terrible that I don’t speak the language! What do people think?”

“It would be nice to know the language, but really, when and why would I have learned Thai if I wasn’t living here?”

“That’s a good point. But it makes people feel honored if you speak their language.”

“It also makes people feel honored if you are kind and respectful. They don’t expect you to know their language. They can see that you aren’t from here.”

“True. But I’m an overachiever so I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to go above-and-beyond because they would really feel good if this white girl spoke their language with them.”

“And you would do this how? If your goal here is to be respectful, why don’t you just find out some “what-to-do’s” and “what-not-to-do’s” and maybe how to say ‘thank you’?

“Ok. That’s doable. I guess I don’t need to try to be so awesome.”

That’s what we did and it worked out just fine. Thai people are so polite and helpful, regardless of you knowing their language or not.

This started a process of my discovering that most people – in Dubai, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Switzerland, even Tajikistan, are pretty gracious to visitors. Once they know that you are just visiting, they don’t assume you know the language. They generally try to help you and try to understand your charades and the couple of words you may throw out. They don’t look at you and assume you are from America and therefore a rude, ignorant person. They are generally surprised you are from America and happy that you came to see their country. There are always the one-offs, but on the whole people give you the benefit-of-the-doubt – not assuming that you are, for instance, a committed current-president supporter who wants to wall out the whole rest of the world. Even the other day, when we were in Frankfurt checking into a flight to Istanbul, the Turkish man who was checking us in was chatting with us about places to see in his country and asking about where we’re from. We told him to come visit America and he smiled and said, “I would really like to someday, but I’m not sure that works with today’s president.” A moment that we could have just shrunk and been embarrassed, but we smiled and told him, “Yeah, it has become difficult, hasn’t it? I hope that changes, though.”

On the whole, people are very gracious to us when we are passing through their country and the general sentiment we hear is that they think Americans are friendly and they’d like to visit some day. That’s it. All that ego/ethnocentrism for nothing. I was reminded of this again today when I popped over to the neighborhood bazaar here in Bishkek with Annabel in tow. I don’t know Russian and I don’t know Kyrgyz but felt the freedom to just use a combo of the couple of Russian words I do know, some English, some Tajik, some charades and calculators and to make sure to say ‘thank you’ in the end.

Now my husband doesn’t relate to any of this at all. He doesn’t like not knowing the language, but that’s entirely because it’s simply inconvenient to not be able to freely communicate. But if anyone out there is more like me, be free to be your American self, appreciate the graciousness of others, and learn how to say ‘thank you’ wherever you are.

All the bases covered kind of provision

When I was a young adult, trying to stretch my college savings and work paydays to cover college costs and day-to-day basics, I thought of “provision” as being primarily monetary. As I adjusted to being a “real” adult with a career and a husband and home of our own, my understanding of God’s provision grew to include surprises that helped cover our needs, but still connected to money – like some checks in the mail that we hadn’t anticipated, a better-than-expected tax return or assessment, or a shift in car insurance that saved some money. When we moved overseas, my experience of God’s provision was still connected to money – after all, we left during the big economic crisis of 2008/2009, with all our support needs met – but I also began to experience provision in terms of a safe and nurturing Tajik host family, a great team, a fantastic language helper and an apartment. As I grew in my understanding of God’s grace and how every good gift truly comes from him, I began to view the strength to get through each day while sick, learning language, and raising two little ones as an incredible provision from God. I started to realize that I simply don’t have what it takes to be kind and patient with my kids, hubs and all the neighbors when my body was so exhausted and my mind was so over-stimulated. I began to see God’s provision in the moments of grace where I wanted to scream at one of my kids or grab them too roughly and was able to give myself a time-out. That’s not to say that I didn’t scream or grab them, it’s just that when I wanted to and didn’t I became more likely to see that as God’s empowering help and mercy to me (and us) and not my own excellent self-control. Any more, my experience of God’s provision covers a lot of bases but I’ve been thinking of one particularly sweet provision that we have repeatedly experienced this last year and a half: relationships.

I am writing this from Bishkek, where we have applied for a new visa and it’s the kind that we had been denied for some time but our teammates just got it this summer. It’s the one that can be extended in-country and would allow us to STOP ALL THE TRAVELING for a while. We were just in Germany for two and a half weeks – one week of that being a conference. We slept in five different places while in Germany and now we’re here in Bishkek, on our six place to lay our heads. Needless to say, after a year and a half of traveling every six weeks and here, on our sixth place to sleep, I am soooo ready to be done traveling for a while. But as I reflect on this season of travel, I am really amazed at God’s generous provision of relationships wherever we’ve been. First of all, there is our family in Germany, Luci & Uli, who allowed us to stay with them for seven weeks from Feb.-March 2016 and then welcomed us back with open arms again this summer (thankfully, for more like seven days, not seven weeks). I really don’t have words to describe the incredible blessing of having a peaceful place to crash and safe and loving people to crash with when you have had a long red-eye travel and have jet-lag with little kids. They are like an extra set of grandparents to our kids and take such great care of all of us – including arranging doctors and dentists and such since we tend to arrive with some kind of health mess happening with someone (this time it was me – I broke a molar while at our conference!). Emmett even told me this time around that he likes Germany and the U.S. equally – this is largely because Luci & Uli have made Germany such an enjoyable place to visit for him. Thank you, Luci & Uli!

Last year, when we were told that we had to leave Tajikistan again, after only having been in-country for 30 days and Emmett having had an appendectomy, we were beside ourselves. It was the last thing we wanted to do after having been in Germany for seven weeks just trying to return to Tajikistan. Where would we go? We looked into lots of options and ended up pursuing a place called Rivendell in Turkey, which turned out to be the guesthouse of the parents of a friend of ours from Portland. It turned out to be the perfect place to park for a little while and once again, we were touched by the love of people there. Shari and Kerry were helping run Rivendell and took us right in, making food, taking us to the market, loving on the kids and listening. When Hannah and Emmett wanted to get baptized in the Mediterranean, it was Shari and Kerry who helped make it happen and were witnesses. Annabel refers to them as “ShariKerry” which we all get a kick out of. They made us feel like family. There was also a pastoral coach, Sonja, who visited with us and helped us process what we were dealing with, how we were feeling about it and where was Jesus in it all. Our kids still have the collages she had us do to process as a family how we were doing with all the uncertainty. Kip & Wendy are the ones who own the place and made us feel so welcome and took time to chat and share their story and took us on some outings so that we wouldn’t get too bored in our waiting. We brought lice to Turkey with us and Shari and Wendy were so nonchalant about that, offering all the stuff we needed to deal with it – like we had asked for a rag to clean up a spill or something. No big deal. Thank you Shari & Kerry, Sonja, Kip & Wendy!

We had no idea that was just the beginning of our uncertainty and travels. After a couple of fly-to-Almaty-and-back-in-one-day outings with visas-upon-arrival, we began a long stint of visa trips to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It was no long possible to get more than a 14 day visa on arrival in Dushanbe and the whole system was moved to online. We knew no one in Bishkek and asked around our company to see who might be here. We were connected with Dave & Debbie, who have four adult children and twenty grandchildren in the U.S. From the first time we met them, they have bent over backward to make us feel welcome and help us find what we need in Bishkek. Debbie (who is an I.T. person with our company) even doctored our computer for us. They treat our kids like their grandkids and introduced us to some of what have now become our local favorites here: the park, the Burger House and the indoor children’s play place. I called Debbie last September when our plane had an engine malfunction and we ended up back at the Bishkek airport for 10 hours. Once we decided to just leave and not wait for the plane to be “fixed” I called Debbie (at 10pm) before going back through passport control to see if she could look up hotels for us. When I called her back she said, “You guys just come to our house and stay with us and we’ll help figure everything out in the morning.” We ended up staying with them for a couple of nights. We have had multiple home-cooked family meals at their home on our trips to Bishkek. Just yesterday we crashed at their house. I looked at our itinerary – arriving at 7:30am in Bishkek after having left Germany at 2:30pm the previous day, not being able to check into our AirBnB til 3pm and needing to run to the embassy first thing on arrival – and I texted Debbie saying, “could we come crash at your house from 11-3?). In typical Debbie fashion, she had food and pillows ready for us and then helped Rees with some technical stuff while the kids and I slept. Then there is the provision of friends for our kids here. We arrived at our apartment at 3pm and the owner told us that kids had already come by to play with our kids. There is an American family who lives in the apartment building across the play-yard from the place we stay with two kids – Hannah’s and Emmett’s ages. The kids played with Shelby & Waylen all afternoon and their parents fed our kids dinner while Rees and I, in zombie-like manner, unpacked and made ourselves coffee. Anyone who has personally had a friend-less season or whose children don’t have friends close by can understand what an extra-generous provision this is. Our kids have friends in Tajikistan, so it’s not like they just can’t survive some days in Bishkek without buddies, but what an extra generous gift it is for them to have friends here – and friends who understand the whole third-culture-kid existence. Any parent knows that when your kids are happy and fulfilled, the whole family is happier. Thanks Debbie & Dave and Shelby & Waylen and Brian & Kathy!

All of these relationships have begun when we ourselves were rumpled, tired and clueless as to what would come next. We were not at our best and didn’t have much to offer, but all of these people welcomed us, made us feel like family and helped us with our random needs. It is humbling when you are in the “being provided for” place, not the “providing for” position. But we have had plenty of opportunity for humbling and have discovered how holistic God’s provision is and how little we have done to make it happen. Once again, a beautiful example of grace in our lives. The only thing we can do in response is keep saying, “thank you!”

 

 

Ever-present help in travel

We had some encouraging news about our visas recently. At least some hope. Our teammates just got a year extension for their visa. It is through the same means that we have been trying (but have recently take a bit of a break from) but some things have changed and it looks like it is now a possibility to get an extendable visa. We’ll try that in August, on our way back from a conference. We can hardly believe it, and frankly won’t – until we have those stamps in our passports ourselves.

We still needed to get a new 45-day visa at the end of June so we decided to do things a bit differently. Hurry-up-and-wait gets really tiring, especially with three active kids. Going by plane feels like a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait. We traded hurry-up-and-wait for “how much longer til we get there?” and took a road trip.

I’m more of a planner and try to foresee problems and be prepared for them. I’ve heard this referred to as “crisis-oriented” – oriented toward preventing and preparing for crisis as opposed to just taking things as they come. Central Asian living has really beaten this down in me. You know Murphy – of Murphy’s Law? Well, I’m pretty sure he lives here somewhere. You do your best to plan for things but you actually assume that things will turn out different than you planned. It’s more like you are aiming in a certain direction, hoping that in the end, you indeed end up in that general vicinity. We were planning our trip, which would include three nights up in the Fan Mountains of Tajikistan, one night in Batken, Kyrgyzstan and a night in the largest northern city, Khujand. We borrowed a tent and sleeping bags and packed food and some warm clothes (which is hard to imagine needing when it’s 115 degrees in our city). We also at least looked up hotels and AirBnBs in Batken – of course, none of them had a website or contact information, but we at least wrote down their names. The thing we were able to do was book an AirBnB in Khujand – but that was the only thing we were able to truly confirm and reserve. We decided to drive our own car but knew we would end up needing a place to leave our car at a couple junctures, as well as a couple taxis along the way. We attempted to get some phone numbers of people and asked around about how much we should expect to pay for different legs of the trip so we’d have an idea. But that’s as far as we got. Something that has been difficult to adjust to here has been the fact that if you line something up – say a taxi – with someone specific for a specific time, you often end up waiting longer (because that person is inevitably late and will tell you, “I’m on my way” even if they have no intention of coming – because that somehow preserves their honor more than just flat out telling you that they can’t come). It is frequently more efficient to just show up at the taxi place at the time you want to go somewhere, negotiate a price on the spot, hop in and go. We experienced grace in being able to set off on a six day road trip, with very little of it “ironed out,” and just trust that we’d figure things out on the way. There was extra grace in this as it crossed our minds to bring our kids into the process. I found that my gut-reaction was to keep everything secure for them, not tell them that we don’t know where we’re staying and the like. But, the thought crossed our minds that we should share our needs with the kids and together ask God to provide for them and then see what happened. Sometimes I want to protect my kids from potentially being disappointed by God. Heck, I want to protect myself from that too! But God has been allowing us to experience his help and thoughtful provision in so many areas, we are slowly growing to trust that even when we’re disappointed in this life – there is a future hope that he’ll make all things new, without sorrow or brokenness and that we’ll see redemption in places and ways we never expected. By the grace of God, we wanted our kids’ faith to grow and this seemed like a good opportunity for it.

We told our kids that we were going to head to the old Soviet camp at Iskandarkul (Lake Alexander) and we asked the Lord to provide a place to sleep and dinner to eat that night (it was Ramadan, so we weren’t sure how it would go on the food front). We had been to that place three years previous and planned to spend one night there and ask some locals if they knew anywhere we could leave our car for two nights and anyone with a jeep who could drive us up to our next destination. The man who runs the camp immediately recognized us! After three years! He hooked us up with a place to sleep that night, killed a goat for dinner that night and put a watermelon in the lake to chill. The kids and Rees went for a polar bear dip in the glacier fed lake and we went for a hike to a nearby waterfall. When we got back to the camp, dinner was all ready – at the exact time this man said it would be! That in and of itself was miraculous. He even got us in contact with a man who would meet us at the main road in the morning and take us somewhere we could leave our car for two days and then bring us up to the next place. We had a rough night sleep (due to some hooligan boys who showed up at the camp in the middle of the night – I’ll spare the details on that) but woke up to perfect weather, the smell of alpine wilderness (my favorite smell!) and more adventure ahead of us. At least the kids slept.

The jeep driver was waiting for us at the main road, just as he said (yay!), and brought us to where we could lock up our car. Then we set out on a 32km drive (20ish miles) that took 2 hours due to the primitive nature of the road. Annabel went from laughing and saying it was like a roller coaster, to crying that she just wanted to get out and walk the rest of the way. We got higher and higher, with tall jagged peaks still covered in snow peaking out and passed meadow after meadow of wildflowers and tiny villages – even crossing over rivers and streams. We arrived at the next old soviet alpine camp and were amazed. The family who looks after that camp had been asked by the previous camp guy to just let us pitch our tent there for free. It was glorious. Alpine paradise. We had two really fun days of exploring the Alauddin Lakes area on foot. The second day, one of the daughters of the man looking out for the camp and her 6-year-old nephew went for a hike with us. We hiked to the four lakes that compose Alauddin Lakes. Each was so beautiful and since we had kids with us, we couldn’t be very destination focused. That was a gift. If it had just been Rees and I, we would have covered a lot more kilometers but I don’t think we would have paused very long at any one place and just taken it in. But with Annabel only being four and with us wanting our kids to have a positive association with hiking in the mountains (so we can do it for our whole lives together), we had to go slowly, stop and drink from every spring, throw rocks in each lake, pick flowers and pat little cow calves that got to call the area home for the summer. It was such an amazing feeling to not be rushed at all. To not have anything we had to get anywhere for. I’m not naturally very present-minded and I felt so much grace to just ‘be.’ At the fourth lake, Guitar Lake, there was not another soul around. Rees, Hannah and Emmett jumped off a rock into the freezing water and Emmett made up the “hit the volcano” game where everyone tried to throw rocks into a little rock crater-looking thing that popped up from under the surface of the water. We played that game for a few hours. We stopped at the third lake, Alauddin, on the way back down to our tent, for a cup of tea and some nuts and then slowly made our way back. We noticed some black clouds hanging heavy over the mountains, dragging themselves toward our camp and picked up our pace to make sure the tent was rainproof enough.

After giving an extra pound to the tent stakes that were holding our tarp in place, we huddled inside the tent, enjoying the cold breeze preceding the rain. In the city we live in, in the southwestern part of Tajikistan, summer temperatures are routinely between 105-120+, so we savor any chills we experience in the summer, knowing they are short-lived. At first, we were all thrilled that it was raining. After an hour or so, however, we noticed little rivers of water starting to make tracks for our sleeping bags. Uh-oh. We pushed all our sleeping bags, pads and warm clothes into the middle of the tent and dammed up the edges with our beach towels and dirty clothes. The rain kept driving down. Rees and I looked at each other and he said, “Well, I think we can withstand another hour of this, but I do not think we can withstand two more hours.” We looked at the kids and said, “Let’s pray.” Now, it wasn’t really an emergency situation. There were three old cabins at this alpine camp and we knew that if we needed to, we could sleep in there, but we’d probably get wet along the way and our kids wanted to sleep in the tent. Well, twenty minutes later we heard a loud whistle – the kind that somehow says, “come out and see this!” We put on our rain jackets and boots and came tumbling out of the tent into the drizzly evening light and there was a bright double rainbow in the sky. As we beheld that handiwork, the rain stopped completely, the clouds continued on their way and we got a little dose of the sun before it set. The kids were all smiles, enjoying God’s answer to our prayer.

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There was a big boulder behind our tent that even Annabel could climb up from the back and Rees and I would sit up there in the early morning, coffee in hand, drinking in the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of that alpine wilderness. I love that kind of morning. So our last morning there, I soaked up some time on that boulder and then we packed up, the kids getting some last bits of playing time in the meadows and creeks, and we headed back down to our car with the jeep guy. At one point we stopped for him to allow one of the park rangers to catch a ride on the back of the car. So that’s what that little ladder back there was for! When the jeep guy stopped to let the park ranger off, the park ranger asked him if we were tourists who had come to visit the mountains. He told them, “No, they’re Tajik! They’re part of us.” That made me feel really good. We don’t look like part of the group, but they counted us as part of the group and I guess it always feels good to be included.

Our car was right where we left it, safe and sound, thank God. We ran to the closest pit-toilet (right on the edge of a cliff hanging over the raging river – egad!) and were on our way. Again, we were reminded to invite our kids into our needs. This was going to be the day with the most unknowns. Where would we leave our car? Who would take us over the border? Where would we spend the night? Where would we even eat dinner? We asked God to lead us and help us find all the resources we needed and thanked him for the ways that he’d already helped us. It was another high drive going over an 11,000’ elevation pass – again feeling like tiny sugar ants compared to the scale of the great mountains around us. It was a good six-ish hours to Isfara and amazingly, Google maps got us there without a hitch – even with not-so-great cell service the whole way. Rees found a guy who knew where we could keep our car and who would not only take us to our hotel (still uncertain of which one that would be) but would pick us up the next day and bring us back to our car – heck of a deal!

Land-border crossing seem so much easier than airport passport control. We take a little longer than most people just because there are five passports to check but it was very uneventful and relatively quick. Our taxi driver took us to the middle of Batken, Kyrgyzstan (referred to as “Bopkin” by Annabel) and asked what the address of our hotel was. Uh, we don’t know. But we know the name! No problem. He started asking people where this particular place was and after a few turn-arounds, we found it and, praise the Lord, they had room for us. Not only that, but they cooked food right on sight. No need to find a restaurant (which, if you’ve ever traveled in the developing world you know that isn’t a straight-forward thing to do). We were dirty, hungry and tired so this place was like a little oasis for us. We ate, showered and went to sleep – with a little drama thrown in on my part when I realized I hadn’t packed our toiletries, but had left them in our other bag in our car. There were tears involved and they weren’t the kids’. My gracious husband, ever worried about his wife having a nervous breakdown, told me, “No worries! I’ll run back out to the store. It is not a problem at all!” It’s so nice to have a husband who is a run-right-out-and-find-what-we-need type of guy. SO nice. So grace came in the form of Rees – as it often does.

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After a great breakfast, we were headed off back to the border – again, uneventful – and to our car. Our plan at this point was to go to the big reservoir, Kairakoum (or “the Tajik Sea”) and swim for the afternoon before heading to our Airbnb in Khujand. We were getting a little concerned because we had not received a single response from our host, but we figure he was maybe operating in Central Asian fashion and would get back to us last minute. Hopefully. We rented a cot (Like a platform with a fence going around it and cushions to sit on) and swam, swam, swam. For four hours we could hardly get the kids out of the water – comparable in temperature to Lake Washington. We even ordered shashlik (shish-kebabs), watermelon and RC Cola (which, I swear, tastes way different here than in America. I’m not even a soda drinker but it suddenly tastes sooooo good in the July & August heat here). I love to swim too and what a gift to have all three of our kids like it so much! After a while, still having heard nothing from our Airbnb host, we figured we should head into town and try to track down our place. The complete address wasn’t even listed on our confirmation email, so we figured we might be searching for a while. We searched for a good hour or so, eventually finding the right building, but no one knew our host or had an idea of which unit might be his. The internet is just so helpful for this kind of thing, isn’t it! So happy Al Gore invented it. We discovered that what Trip Advisor said was a good hotel was only 5 minutes away. You can imagine the situation – once again, hot, tired, hungry people in a hot car in the hot summer. Once more, we asked God to help us find a good place to spend the night again and he did! The Armon Apart Hotel – complete with a real lawn in the front. The kids ran to it and flopped themselves down on it yelling, “Real grass! Real grass!” It’s the simple things, isn’t it? They had a beautiful room (more like a mini apartment) for the same price as the Airbnb we had booked. Ironic how the ONE thing we had planned, had reserved, was the thing that fell through.

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We drove home without any trouble the following day – six+ hours – once more enjoying the chilly air at the tops of the passes, before descending to our steamy-hot town. We were even in time for Emmett and Hannah to go to sleepovers with their friends.

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We put somewhere in the realm of 1200km under our belts and grew as a family in our capacity to remember that God cares for us and ask him for help in everything.