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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




The same place, a year later

A year ago we were finally heading back to T-stan, after a seven week wait in Germany (thanks again, Luci & Uli!). We finally had the visa we needed to return, Rees to get a work permit and to extend for a year – phew! As most of you know, that didn’t happen and we’ve spent the last year having to leave the country every 30-45 days. I wish I had something new to report a year later, but it seems that our visa situation is the same. We are hoping for a three-month extension that we’ll apply for next week, but there’s again no guarantee that will happen. All we can do is pray, try, and wait and see. I usually pack away all our suitcases in the basement, but this year they’ve stayed stashed in my closet – ready for action.

Our visa-situation hasn’t changed this last year but our attitudes about it are pretty different now, a year later. The first few times we got jerked around – being told that it will be no problem to get our visas or “just wait a couple of weeks til after …” we got really discouraged when it didn’t work out. You know – the moping around kind of discouraged where you alternate between feeling absolutely powerless and clawing at any opportunity to “control” the situation. It really felt like a roller-coaster. After four or five months, however, we came to accept that this is our “normal” for the time being (thanks to the example and encouragement of some friends). We stopped spending tons of time discussing and re-discussing what we perceived our options to be. We also stopped entertaining possibilities that connected-but-kind-of-shady people were offering. We reached out for help and support and received it (thank you!!!) and said, “Lord, you have done bigger things than this. We’re going to persevere through the spring and then re-evaluate. Lead us, guide us and give us the strength to hang in there and not give up joy in the process. We trust you can open doors if they need opening.”

Life has returned to a Central Asian rhythm. Homeschooling continues. Housework continues. Rees is teaching and continues with his livestock small-business hobby. There are weddings, funerals, festivals and visits but we just happen to go somewhere every 6 weeks for 4-5 days. We usually take our travel day off school but just bring our stuff with us wherever we go and do school there (thank God there are benefits to homeschooling). We also find ourselves entertaining more possibilities than we have since we moved here. We talk about where else we would live, what would we do and all that kind of stuff. Then we rein it in and say, “Let’s just try to be here, now.” We aren’t a very pretty picture of perfect peacefulness (especially when we’re at the airport going through passport control – we get ugly every time – it’s embarrassing), but we have experienced repeatedly the grace to get back to focusing on what’s in front of us, laying aside our need to know, for sure what’s next (since who can really know for sure?) and to try to act like we are on a fun adventure with our kids (ok, maybe that only happens a maximum of half the time). I’ve also experienced a lot of grace to stay focused in on the home-front. I would have normally been more inclined to “make it count”- the time we have here, not knowing if it is coming to a close or just a little bump in the road of a long tenure here. We go out and about, but I’m not trying to force my kids to visit lots of people and see lots of things and then be frustrated with their squirreling around and eventually saying, “can’t we just go home?” I feel grace to continue to return to being a safe person and having a safe home. Maybe I’m just worn down enough and I’m raising the white flag of surrender – given up on some of my control techniques. But it seems like surrender and grace are pretty closely connected.

Have you ever ended up with an outdated map or directions? You end up at a dead end but the map shows a road or the navigation voice tells you to continue going straight? Sometimes I get mad at the actual road – what right does it have to defy the map? I insist that the road can’t end there. It’s ridiculous because it doesn’t change the fact that the road doesn’t continue straight. Our status here is no different from a year ago but we are living in more peace about it for the time being, not trying to predict (or prevent) every turn in the road. Just driving and seeing where this road goes.

The one with the open arms

Sometimes I wonder about and wonder over the whole idea of adoption. It is really amazing to me how people can receive someone (or multiple someones) as their own. That’s profound to me.  I grew up knowing something about being adopted as my dad adopted my brother and me  when he married my mom. No step-dad stuff there, he went all in. I’ve always thought I was extra fortunate because I’ve known both being wanted but my (biological) dad not knowing who he was going to get, and also being chosen – as my dad who raised me (my biological dad died when I was two) knew me before choosing to be my dad.

When we moved to Central Asia, our friends set us up with a host family. There is a school of thought (and apparently some research to back up) called, “bonding.” The idea is more or less that people who are “newborn” to a culture will bond with those who care for them, similar to how a newborn bonds with those who primarily care for him/her. So if you are wanting to form strong, close relationships with locals it’s best to have your earliest experiences and “lessons” be with locals.

There was a local family about 15-20 minutes outside the city, in a village, who were open to hosting us for our first month or so in country. They had no idea who we were or what we would be like or what in the world we believed about anything or anyone. They only knew we were a husband, wife, daughter and son from America who knew none of the local language or customs. Once we had learned enough language to talk about it (a year or two after the fact) we found out that they thought that maybe they were about to see and meet the first “black” people of their lives. They were kind of surprised when we got out of the car and looked like “Russians.” I can appreciate now how difficult this must have been for them. They were taking responsibility for being our first teachers and, in a sense, care providers. But they didn’t have a common language to communicate with us and we seemed so incredibly odd to them. I wrapped up my baby (Emmett was four months) and put him in a crib and then left him to drift off to sleep, all alone. They would never do that. They wrap their babies in a type of cradle and rock them to sleep and are careful not to let them cry and rarely leave them alone (so as not to allow them to get scared). I looked like a negligent parent at first. They still marvel at how nicely Emmett would go to sleep as a little baby (I do too!). They have a certain bucket bath system that they’ve all grow up using and I was all thumbs trying to wash my baby, squatting by a fire, on a dirt floor (that was turning to mud), with a bucket of water (I wasn’t supposed to put him all the way in the water). Eventually one of my sisters-in-law grabbed him from me, worried I was going to allow him to get cold and thus sick. Truthfully, I was humbled and humiliated by that but also thankful because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Our local “dad”, who the whole village affectionately refers to as “Teacher,” knew from the start that it would take lots of time and patience to teach us language and culture. Not everyone knew that. A lot of people were surprised that, after a month of living here, we weren’t fluent yet. They would actually chastise us for that. But not our dad. He would daily say the same greetings to us, having us repeat what we were supposed to respond with. Every meal, he would point to things on the dasterkhon (tablecloth on the floor) and say their names over and over and then have us repeat them. Then he started quizzing us on the names of certain items, enthusiastically affirming our correct answers and correcting our incorrect ones with gentleness. We didn’t know then that this amount of patience and encouragement was actually going to be rare.

As we grew in our language ability, we began to understand more of his story. He had been in the Soviet army in Siberia and when he returned, he worked as a teacher and chose one of his students to marry (not scandalous here). They built a little house on some land that the government gave him and lived there together, not with his mother (which is the more typical thing to do). His wife, our “mom,” would tell me about how he would help her with the housework, caring for the children and keeping the fire going in the winter. She told me about how he never once hit her (also very atypical) and how he would ask her advice about any decision he had to make. He told us horrific stories of the civil war during the 90’s. Their home was in the midst of brutal fighting and he sent his wife and younger children to their extended family in a more peaceful city a few hours away. He stayed, looking after their home and helping people in need, eventually taking on the task of teaching children. He shared traumatic stories of being held at gun-point repeatedly, told to hand over all his earthly possessions because he would no longer be needing them. He told us about the time he got snatched and brought to an interrogation center, walls spattered with blood, his oldest son in another room, also being interrogated. The soldiers were looking for any reason to kill them, trying to find any way in which they were aligned with the wrong side. They told our dad that they already shot his son and they were going to kill him too. After a whole day spent this way, apparently someone who knew him and knew he was completely innocent on all sides, convinced the interrogators to let him go. He was driven back to his home, so traumatized that he didn’t even recognize it, saying to his captors, “where have you brought me?” He and our “mom” were unable to communicate during that time. Neither one knowing if the other was still alive. When the war was over and UNESCO came to the village to build a school, he helped the process along and was chosen to be the director of the school. He was still working when we moved here and finally retired a couple of years ago. The news station came to do a program on his life and service to the school. He was highly regarded throughout the village and surrounding villages.

Our “dad” was a great homesteader too. Hannah spent lots of time squatting next to him in the garden as a little girl, harvesting potatoes and pulling weeds. When we’d come to visit during apricot season, he’d climb 20 meters up into an apricot tree with a bucket and fill it up. I remember one day, being in the outdoor kitchen, and one of the chickens kept coming in and causing trouble. He warned that chicken that if she came in one more time, we would be eating her for lunch. We had chicken for lunch that day. He and our “mom” would give us advice, sometimes holding back judgemental language about someone, just telling us something to the effect of, “that’s just someone who is not going to be good to associate with.” They also repeatedly encouraged us to be gentle and grace-filled toward our spirited two and a half year old, as she was in a new place and needed time to get adjusted. We were concerned that if we let up on discipline, we’d have a real problem in the future. But in retrospect, they were right. Our local “parents” brought us to weddings and funerals and taught us how to be hospitable to guests according to local customs.

I really can’t overemphasize the incredible gift it is to have a local “home” when you live so far away from what you’ve always called home and everything is so different. We are still quite different from each other, and there are things we will never fully understand about each other, but it is a wonderful thing to be accepted into a family and not just tolerated but received. There was a rumor going around in those first few years that years ago, our dad had gone to America and had an American wife and a son with that wife. Now that son (Rees) had come to find his father. Our “parents” just laughed at that story, but let the village busy-bodies think it was true. Our dad called Rees his son and if too much time had passed since seeing us or hearing from us, he’d tell our mom, “Let’s call my boy and make sure he’s ok.”

About four weeks ago, I called our mom to see how our dad was doing. He had been looking fragile when we last saw him and I knew he had been weakened by that terrible flu that went around this year. I could tell by her voice that he wasn’t well and we decided that we’d get out to see him the next day. We were surprised and worried when we arrived, to see men milling about outside and a stream of visitors going inside. This frequently indicates that someone recently died. We rushed in and found our dad laying on a bed on the floor, our mom by his side and our brothers and sisters gathered around him. He was still alive, looking around, turning himself from side to side, but not talking and clearly not well. Apparently he had just had a stroke when I called the day before. The kids kneeled next to him, hugged him and Emmett prayed for him. We kissed his cheeks and sat with them, telling him how thankful we are that he called us his children and loved us so well, thinking these may be our last moments with him. We stayed most of the day and then came back the next day and, wonder of wonders, he was eating a bit, trying to sit up, still not able to talk, but doing a bit better. Rees went back a few days later and he was still improving. We were calling our brothers every day to check on him but had to go to Bishkek for new visas. Those visa trips usually result in the kids getting sick when we return so we returned and kept the phone calls going, our brothers came to our house, but we didn’t get back out to the village for fear that the kids would pass on their flu to their “Bobo” (grandpa) and he was already so weak. I have unfortunately witnessed people with lowered immune systems dying of such things as colds and flus when I worked in oncology and I was really concerned that might happen with our dad. On Sunday, I told Rees that if Hannah (the last one to have a high fever) was still fever-free on Monday, we should get out to see our dad. On Monday, Feb. 13th, we got the call that he had passed away. We’ve spent a lot of time in our village this week, grieving with our family there and employing the ministry of tears and hugs. Our local dad was truly a cream-of-the-crop kind of guy. We haven’t met many men like him here. He was honorable and wise, kind and faithful and will be truly missed. Our mom told us that last Friday he told one of the granddaughters, “I’m tired of life” and proceeded to refuse food for the next two days. He had always said that he didn’t want to die during the winter, not for his sake “it won’t matter to me!” he’d say, but for his family’s sake. He wanted to die on a warm, sunny day. It has been a cold, wet, foggy winter here but we had the warmest, sunniest day of the winter the day that he died.

We received a grace we never imagined when we first set out to live here: being received with open arms by a humble, village family and getting to be called “children” by one of the best men in the country.