Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Wednesday List

1. It's hot today. Like, 98 and sunny hot. I rode my bike to take Clara Anne to ballet lessons and sweated for a good two and a half hours--25 minutes there, an hour and a half of class, and 25 minutes home. Yikes.

2. The hot weather is greatly alleviated by the lemon granita in my freezer. Thank you, Pioneer Woman!

3. We're almost done with the Secret Garden in our morning read-aloud time. The girls are waiting for the exciting ending!

4. We have had friends from our home club in America here this week. They were all here for supper on Monday; we had so much fun! I feel so encouraged and blessed.

5. The girls have been occupied for several hours this afternoon coloring princess pictures from a new, HUGE Melissa and Doug pad. (gifts from our friends) Fun times!

6. Christin was sick over the weekend and still has a bad cough. She's speaking in a funny, raspy voice because she doesn't like to cough the gunk out!

7. My dear friend Rachel called me this morning. Let's all give three cheers for modern technology!

8. I am finding that home schooling is more dependant on me and my determination to do it than by Clara Anne's ability to understand. We've had lots of interruptions lately, I actually feel like I haven't had a "normal" week so far. But that's the flexibility of home schooling, we're trying to just enjoy the process!

9. There is a foot massage scheduled for tomorrow night with my women friends, including our American guests. Three cheers for foot massages!

10. And finally, the frig is stocked with leftovers, no cooking for me tonight! I love leftovers!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

News of Note

It's been a busy two weeks or so since I posted some current news, and our lives have been full of happenings, big and small. So it's catch-up time! I'll share a few highlights of late.

Yesterday was my mom's birthday, following right behind my own birthday. It couldn't have been much fun for her to have her birthday in the hospital after giving birth to me, since our special days are just 3 days apart. But, she's never complained and maybe she was just glad to have 11 pound, 1 ounce me on the outside! We chatted a bit through webcam this morning and I was glad to sing happy birthday to her "in person." I am so thankful for technology that makes the thousands of miles seem minimal. I am thankful for my mom's years of life and pray that the Lord would sustain her for many more! She has struggled with diabetes and other physical difficulties for many years now, but she continues to trust the Lord and take things a day at a time. We are so grateful that the Lord has spared her life on many occasions! My mom's musical and creative gifts are a treasure and in recent years, her hobby of scrapbooking has become a ministry to our whole family. What a blessing! We love you, Mom! Happy Birthday!

Clara Anne had her first ballet class yesterday. This is something she's been interested in for a while and we found a place which looked like they teach real ballet. We observed a class last week and then this was her first time to participate. I was so incredibly proud of her. She did her very best, trying to copy exactly what the teacher was doing, and though the other students were much more flexible and able to perform the movements more easily, Clara Anne stuck with it and responded quickly to the teacher's instructions. PTL, the language barrier didn't seem to be much of a problem! We are going to be going twice a week for awhile, since I think she'll make faster progress that way, then at the end of six weeks we'll look at the situation again and see how she's doing, and whether we want to sign her up for another round. She's so excited about it! I was really so thankful that her first class went so smoothly, especially since the teachers promised me it would be all beginners in the class and it clearly wasn't--several girls had a year or two of experience. But there were only 5 girls and two teachers, so that was a great ratio! The teachers spent a lot of time with Clara specifically, showing her how to move and stretch her body.

In other news, we are reading "Heidi" as a family and thoroughly enjoying it! There was an evening last week where we were all on the edge of our seats with suspense, and then I happened to bump something which startled everyone because we were so into the story! Last night as John read, we were moved to tears as the story took a very significant turn. All four of us were really touched! (Christin didn't seem to understand what was going on, not surprisingly.) The girls each get to draw on a special artist pad as they listen to the story--they are "illustrating" the story as they hear it, and each night as the chapter finishes they get to show us what they drew from that chapter. It's a fun method--keeps them engaged and yet they have something to do with their hands as they listen. Even Christin today asked me multiple times, "Mama, read Heidi? Read Heidi?" She loves it too!

So, it wouldn't be a week in this country without something breaking down and needing fixing. Last week we had a repairman here twice to fix our bedroom A/C, and also we pulled out the cheap bathtub in the master bath which had developed a crack and was leaking badly. We had a guy come and build a little tile wall instead to keep the water in, and now there's no more water all over the floor, whew! This week it's the child's seat on my bike--it's metal, and one side where the seat of the child's seat attaches to the base of it, which is attached to my bike, has rusted through and is completely loose. I need to get it fixed very soon!

I've had opportunities galore to have guests over in the past two weeks. It's been fun but also tiring, since I'm trying to fit home schooling into our daily schedule as well! We've been getting creative and working things in where they fit. . . and sometimes things don't happen because I completely lack the motivation (like when my guests finally left last week after about two days together and I just wanted to crash, not do school!). Thankfully this is still only kindergarten and I don't feel pressed to accomplish a certain amount in a certain amount of time. I also feel a bit like my Asian friends don't understand the idea of me teaching Clara Anne--like it doesn't really count as school or something. They see that I am home all day and assume that I'm not busy! But that's life in this situation. At some point I will probably just need to not answer my phone or tell people directly that I'm doing school and can't get together and play right at that moment!

I had a lovely birthday over the weekend. John asked me what I wanted, and I requested things like: eating out, no birthday cake, a foot massage, a bubble bath, and a nap! Wow, my priorities surely have changed from when I was younger! John made possible all those things by taking care of the girls, and even bought me 34 roses for my 34 years as well as took me out to dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant. Yum! I haven't had a lazy afternoon like that in . . . I don't know how long! . . .and eating out for supper was wonderful. No dishes!

We are getting ready to welcome a group of friends from the States who will be here for the next 10 days or so. So excited for their visit, and hopeful for success in what they will be doing. Most of them have been to this country before so it shouldn't be too shocking for them. We're looking forward to having them here!

And that about wraps it up! I do plan to finish my "Diary of a Friendship" series as well as finish up posting photos from our time in the States. But that shall have to wait for another evening. Good Night!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Diary of a Friendship, part 2

Let's continue our walk down memory lane! OK!

Saying goodbye to Rachel as we both prepared to leave Thailand in February of 2005 was difficult. Suddenly it hit me that I was going back into a country where I could speak only rudimentary language, with a new baby, into a still-very-unfamiliar culture. I had acquaintances, and a few friends, but not many that I could converse freely with. (Drat that language barrier!) I had no idea how life with a new baby was going to look. To make matters more complicated, John and I were scheduled to only be in the big country for a month, and then needed to make a trip to Singapore for further training--and spend a whole month there! So I was anticipating not just the upcoming change of going back with a new baby, even further away from family and friends, but that our life was going to be full of transitions for the forseeable future.

As John and I spent that final evening with Josh and Rachel, I started to cry. Not just a few tears but those horrible, uncontrolled, "I-can't-get-my breath" sobs. Rachel and I took a quick walk around the large pool on the hotel property and she was a huge comfort to me. I remember that she just acknowledged the reality of all the changes coming up and reassured me that my emotions would subside and that she understood. What an encouragement that was to me in that moment! And she was about to have her own baby! The prego comforting the post-partum, now that's friendship.

Josh and Rachel went from our meeting in southern Thailand to Bangkok, where after only a week of waiting (oh how I envied that! That month in HK waiting for Clara Anne was l-o-n-g!), Rachel was in hard labor on the streets of Bangkok. Yes, it's true, it's a pretty fantastic story actually--I don't want to recount it all for fear of misrepresenting the details, but as far as I know, there was the watching of a movie and then the going to the store for snacks and then on the way back Rachel was laboring hard. Arriving at the hospital they asked her pain level and she said "9--I can't do much more of this!" and though they looked at her like she was crazy, sure enough, she was just about ready to push. Sweet Emma was born very shortly afterwards. Way to go Rach! That's a birth story for the record books!

And here's the lovely result: Though I rejoiced with Rach over Emma's birth, I didn't get to see her until our next meeting in Thailand, in August of 2005. By then Emma was about 5 months old and Clara Anne was 7 months old. That particular week was formative to our friendship for two reasons. The first is that during the previous months, John and I had been struggling in our work and role. Particularly John was thinking through some issues that, to his mind, were not resolving well. We were about a year and a half into life in this country and had hit a cultural wall. Language was difficult, our life here seemed unproductive, we were just not sure what to do or what the Lord wanted us to do. Finally we thought, well, let's just make it to that meeting and see what happens.

I distinctly remember sitting in a Starbucks in the night market of Chiang Mai, Rachel and I were on high stools by the window while Josh and John sat at a table. (I think we had childcare for the afternoon so the babies weren't with us!). I confessed to Rachel all of our mixed up thoughts and emotions, our fears of failure, and our difficulties. This one single conversation turned things around, not in the circumstance, but in our hearts. John found complete understanding and solidarity from Josh even as Rachel and I cried and she prayed for me, and I for her. Thank you Lord!

The picture of Josh, Rachel and Emma was taken during that week in August, 2005. The other event that stands out in my mind is that during that week, Rachel called me and invited me to come over and talk one night. When I arrived, she gently brought up the issue of comparison between Emma and Clara Anne. That week as we had spent time together, we naturally talked about the girls, their schedule, their likes and dislikes, etc etc, but she wanted to make sure that I felt no need to compare Clara Anne to Emma. Here were here exact words, (burned on my brain!): "I just have this feeling that Clara Anne and Emma are going to be really great friends one day, and so let's not compare them." I remember my first reaction was to think, "Sure, really great friends that see each other twice a year!" but I also wholeheartedly agreed with her sentiment and resolved to not let a comparing spirit ruin the contentment that we each felt with our own child. Rachel then put her hand on mine and prayed for us . . . for our friendship, for our daughters, for our husbands, for our family life as a whole. I can honestly say that since that night, though we have both gone on to have three daughters of very similar age, the temptation to compare them in my mind has been little to none, all because a friend took the time to point out an area that needed correcting and initiate praying together about it. Again, Thank you, Lord!
Little did I know how the Lord would work. Josh and Rachel finished their first two-year stint around December of 2005, and they returned to the States to make preparations to come back to Asia. As they were making these preparations, they began to feel led to NOT return to the area they had been living, but to look to join in some work in another area. This begged the question, why not our area? Well, at least it did in my mind. I had been praying for the Lord to send me a friend--whether a national who could speak English, another American, or to deepen a relationship via email with someone in the States, I didn't know what it would look like--since that difficult time in the summer of 2005. And amazingly, not through my designs but by HIS plans, things fell into place that Josh and Rachel felt led to join us in our city. However, they had to wait just a bit longer in the States since Rachel was expecting baby number two! Even more miraculous, so was I! And our due dates were almost exactly the same day!
Oh my, how excited we all were! John and I went to Thailand (back to Chiang Mai again!) to await Chloe's birth, and Josh and Rachel were on the other side of the ocean, waiting for Samantha to be born. I'll never forget answering the phone in our apartment at Nakornping and hearing Josh's voice. I immediately said, "Do you have a new little baby at your house?" And he said, "We DO have a new little baby at our house!" Rachel, superwoman that she is, had given birth and gone home the same day, they were already settled back at home again with sweet little Samantha in their arms.
So, then the flurry of passport and visa paperwork began for them. . . and nine days later, when Chloe was born, for us. We arrived back in our city around the middle of July, 2006, and Josh and Rachel arrived--happy day!--in early August. Let's take a look at some pictures from those early days!

This is a classic. Our family went to meet their family at the airport. I remember John jumping to see over the frosted glass that separated the international arrivals from the waiting area. When they finally came, many pieces of luggage in tow, Rachel was so hip and nonchalant about traveling for a day and a half with a six week old baby and didn't seemed fazed at all! She was laughing about the dirty state of their clothing, saying that they could tell the story of their trip by the pizza stain here, the coke spilled there. As we made our way out to the parking lot and loaded up the vehicles, none of us were paying any attention and suddenly realized that Clara Anne and Emma were holding hands. "They love each other already!" said Rachel. I managed to snap this picture; what a treasured moment!

I think I hosted Rachel for a few meals that week while Josh and John ran around town trying to find and set up an apartment for their family. That was fine by us! We had lots of time to talk and the girls played together so well. Snuggly Samantha looks pretty content here!

It didn't take us long to make sure we had an established time every week to get together. The girls need to play, right? Actually they loved playing and we loved talking. I have been so encouraged during our play times, right up to the one we had the week before Rachel left. We always manage to cover the gamut of conversation, from household and domestic to family and children to language and culture to ministry and spiritual life. I'm already starting to feel the lack on my Wednesday mornings now!

So, in one year, from summer 2005 to summer 2006, I went from feeling somewhat friendless to the wonderful, amazing, incredible reality that suddenly, every member of my family had a friend. A close in heart, knows you and still loves you, prays for you, encourages you, is honest with you, and understands you sort of friend. To that I can only say again, Thank you, Lord!
Stay tuned for part 3. . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Diary of a Friendship, part 1

In the past week, I've had some fun looking through old photos of my friend Rachel and me. Indulge me on this walk down memory lane! I wanted to share a bit of how we became friends and some of the great memories we share together.

Rachel and I met on "the farm" in Virginia in November of 2003, the place where we received some training for our line of work. John and I had flown from Iowa through Chicago in a snowstorm that day, and our luggage was left behind. We arrived in Virginia with the clothes on our backs and maybe a book bag? I have no idea! I didn't know how to pack in those days, I'm sure!

We walked into our quad (living situation with four families sharing a living room, each with individual bathrooms, bedrooms and small kitchenette) and as we were looking around and settling our few things, I walked to the back of the quad where John was standing and talking with a guy named Josh. "This is my wife, Rachel," said John. "And this is MY wife, Rachel," said Josh. From that moment on, we hit it off. Rachel offered to loan me some clothes to get me by until our luggage arrived (I believe it was a choice between a Hard Rock t-shirt and a David Letterman t-shirt--funny choices for being where we were!), and I took her up on it.

The next two months were filled with wonderful worship times (including one time where we all played an "instrument" of choice--Josh's was a lamp base drummed on with a pen, if I remember correctly!), lots of meetings, shared meals, lots of evenings with our door propped open to the common living area, and the like. That was in the days where we were childless and fancy free-there was usually someone still up late into the evening, you know, snacking and chatting, I think there was even a Lord of the Rings watch-a-thon one weekend! It was a wonderful, bonding, strengthening time.

It was also a time filled with huge transitions, major decisions and adjustments; experiencing those things together makes for some incredible bonds. It is a completely unique situation to be actually living with people who are making the radical choices that you are making and about to embark on the huge adventure that you are also undertaking. I'm so thankful for those 8 weeks together, with Josh and Rachel and our entire quad and Asia-bound friends. Rachel and I were only sorry we were headed to different parts of a large country in Asia.

Here's the only picture I have from that time with Rach in it: she's the skinny blonde with straight hair! Sadly I don't have any pictures of us together! So, Rachel went her way down south and I went my way up north. We kept in touch through some of those first few months of crazy culture adjustments, and then later were amazed to find that we were both expecting babies around the same time! I was due in December and Rachel in February. There was a notable phone call where she told me the news, and what a comfort it was to me to know that someone else was also experiencing what I was experiencing--aversion to Asian food with its ginger and garlic, wanting my husband to go out and eat street noodles so I didn't have to cook or even be around food, figuring out how to deal with pregnancy and prepare for a birth while living in a VERY foreign country. . . the list goes on. The next time I saw Rachel was in August of 2004, at a meeting in northern Thailand where you get to do things like this:
And this:

This is a very memorable moment because we were rafting down a Thai river on this lovely bamboo craft, when the pole-master offered to let John do some poling/steering. "Careful," I cautioned him. "Maybe you want to give me the camera." "No, no, it's very secure around my neck, see how I'm wearing it?" said John. But in the next moment he poled a little too close to the shore, put the pole in front of the raft which went against the current, bent the pole and whoops! John was overboard! With the camera very securely attached to his neck, of course! We rescued the pictures on the memory card but the camera was a goner.
Both Rachel and I are expecting in the picture above but she wasn't showing at ALL and I was already pleasantly plump (that's one way to say it, anyway!) That meeting was in a nice Thai hotel and all of our meals were served in some banquet rooms on the second floor. The first morning when I walked in to breakfast and saw Rachel there, we eagerly sat together and chatted, and I remember leaving that room, arm in arm, as Rachel said to me, "Let's just be joined at the hip for these next days!" We had so much to catch up on and lots of pregnancy stuff to talk about, not to mention language and culture and all of the other things that make our life so unique here. . . I think we did stick pretty close together and talked and talked. That has been a hallmark of our friendship--we never run out of things to say to each other! I feel like there's always more to talk about--STILL--to this day!

And then, the next time we were together was for this momentous occasion. . . Clara Anne was born! This was within the first two weeks of her life, January 2005. Josh and Rachel happened to be in Hong Kong for some reason and came to see us and our new arrival; they were Clara Anne's first visitors! Oh my, those were the lonely days: Clara Anne was two weeks old before she had her first visitors! But we were alone in a foreign place and my parents were coming the next week--that just made our time with Josh and Rachel and my parents all the more special. How wonderful it was to catch up again and they had lots of questions about how the labor and delivery went since they were about to go through it themselves! We talked and laughed and heard stories about their life and talked about doctors and birth plans and things like that. I seem to remember Josh telling some funny squattie potty stories on that occasion! You know you're good friends when you can laugh about THAT together! Precious memories.

We left Hong Kong and traveled directly to Thailand. Josh and Rachel and our good friends Karl and Chris would also be there to attend the meeting with us. Of course we had to meet up for supper and where else but the Hard Rock Cafe? The atmosphere isn't my personal favorite but Hard Rock's redeeming quality is that it can be counted upon for authentic western food (not imitation western as is served across much of Asia--give me authentic Asian over bad western anytime!). We had a fun meal though if I remember correctly Clara Anne was a little fussy. That was in the early days of parenting when a fussy baby at dinner was more of a disturbance. Now I've come to expect to be interrupted approximately 32 times during dinner and so it doesn't bother me a bit! We had a great meal and fun time together though!

And here's the last photo from this era--this was actually taken in Hong Kong before we all left for Thailand. I remember this day distinctly--this was one of our first big outings with the new baby. I wasn't sure what to expect. We traveled to Central and walked up to the Mid-Levels, and ate lunch at this Mexican place. I remember the food was pretty good, and we had a great time (Rachel and I have probably spent as many hours eating together as talking together!), and then it was time to feed the baby. I retreated into a nearby Starbucks and with John's help and a receiving blanket, managed my first out-and-about feeding for Clara Anne! I remember being so thankful that we were putting Clara Anne on a schedule, and now I had another 2.5 hours before I had to nurse her again--plenty of time to relax, chat, and make our way back to Kowloon before that next nursing session came around. I'm so glad we got the above picture, doesn't Rachel look sweet with her hand protectively over her belly and little Emma inside?
I'll be continuing this series for at least a few more installments; sorry this isn't current news but it's fun anyway! And it's doing my heart good to write down some of these things in order to remember them better. Until next time. . .

Thursday, July 08, 2010

July 3, 2010

Clara Anne's special day, July 3, 2010, was a day we've been praying for and preparing for her whole life! That day she professed publicly her faith in Jesus by being baptized. We are so thankful for the faith that we see in Clara Anne! It is truly God's miraculous gift; softening her heart, helping her to see her need for Jesus clearly, causing her to embrace His sacrifice on her behalf, and giving her the desire to trust Jesus and love Him always with her whole life.

In specific preparation for this event, John had been working with Clara Anne for several weeks to talk through the gospel, make sure she understood, and that her desire to be baptized was a true and sincere one. Actually it has been quite some time since we felt like we saw a specific change in her, but it was good to wait until now. But the time had come and we're so glad we could celebrate this event with our faith community (other Americans who live in our city) around us.

There were two other families who had children that were ready for this special event, so it was a triple joy to see all three of them (including Clara Anne's dear friend Emma) celebrate this together. You can see why my heart was full to bursting!

Family picture, July 3, 2010.

Clara Anne and Emma, dear friends! SO meaningful for them to do this together! I am so grateful that it worked out this way!

John asked Clara Anne a series of questions to help her share her testimony. She answered seriously and sincerely, and oh! What a touching thing for a mother's heart to hear the Words of Life come out of her mouth! All by His grace. . . thank you, Jesus!

Daddy had a few more questions to ask her while she was in the water, she had screwed her eyes tightly shut in preparation for being under the water!

Amen! Praise the Lord!

There may have been a few tears (not by her, however) at this point, but can you blame me? Oh how our hearts are rejoicing!

I made a special cake for the occasion (after my recent success with Chloe's birthday cake, I wasn't so intimidated, and thought it would be fun!) and each of the three were so excited to get their names on a piece of cake. We ordered pizza for supper, and my helper had made a HUGE fruit salad, and then all 25 of us enjoyed a meal together! What a celebration! After the meal we had a very special send-off prayer for our friends who are headed back to America, this was the last time to see some of them. Such a mix of emotions were swirling, I was glad that we were committing them into the Lord's hands and HIS good plans! The sovereignty of God and His will is a very comforting doctrine in times like this.
Thank you, Lord, for the miracle you've done in Clara Anne. Work in her heart all the days of her life. Keep her close to you. Thank you that her salvation is all of grace, for that means it is secure and safe. You promise that none will snatch your sheep out of your hand; would you keep Clara Anne's heart in that precious place of sweet communion with you. Grow her into a mature and godly woman who desires to know and serve you more than anything else. Sustain her with your love and give her a deep and abiding faith. As she grows up and becomes more independent from us, her parents, may she learn deeper and deeper dependence on you. Protect her from harm, I pray, take away the allure of sin in her heart, guard, guide and protect her forever. May she glorify her name with all that is in her! In Jesus name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A heart full to bursting

My heart is full tonight.

Full of thankfulness, as the Lord has shown His faithfulness so clearly to our family, especially as we celebrated Clara Anne's baptism last Saturday evening.

Full of nostalgic reminiscing over the memories that were made with my friend Rachel and her family, living here in our city for four years--each of us calling this place home--and now she is on a yearlong sojourn to the States. They left on Monday morning, and took part of my heart with them.

And full of praise, for only the Lord could have orchestrated both of the above circumstances. Saturday night was a time that John and I have been praying for literally since before Clara Anne was born. As parents, seeing your child fully embrace the gospel and cling to Jesus is a miracle that only He can accomplish. How wonderful to see Him accomplish this miracle in Clara Anne! We have such hopes for her life, and every confidence that the Lord will complete the work he has started in her. As well, five years ago I had begun to pray for a friend, a close friend, someone to share life with in a spiritually intimate way, and through some amazing and unexpected circumstances, the Lord brought Josh and Rachel to live in our city. It almost seemed too perfect. How thankful I am for His leading, and for her friendship! We have shared much over these four years--everything from pregnancy and motherhood, life in this crazy country, recipes, education options for our children, homemaking skills, celebrating American holidays, praying for each other, phone conversations that end abruptly because children suddenly need mommy's attention. . . you name it, it seems like we've been through it together!

So though I am planning some posts to share more about each of these momentous events, tonight I just wanted to share a tiny bit of what my heart has been pondering. I feel like I'm still recovering a bit from the amazing events of the weekend and their implications. To add to the drama, we've had some tummy troubles in our house this week so the washing machine has been working full-time! And I've been trying to continue home schooling as usual. But sometime soon I hope to get lots of pictures uploaded and ready to share.

Because a heart full to bursting has to be shared!