Friday, May 31, 2013

The Small Things

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
These wise words were spoken by Mother Teresa. She is regarded by many as the embodiment of humble service and loving care. She was a “missionary mom” to many of India’s hurting and desolate people, and she had keen insight into the human heart. I think this quote captures perfectly the longing that we all have to do something truly great.
Didn’t we come on the mission field to do something great? Something big? Something truly grand for God? I arrived here with the goal of saving the world. But instead, I am so busy with the mundane and small things that there doesn’t seem to be time left over for saving anybody.
The small things like tying shoes, wiping noses, helping with homework, and packing lunches. The worrying, the guiding, the helping…the mothering. These small mothering things fill my days as I struggle to raise a girl into a woman and a boy into a man. I want to do this whole mom thing right, but so often the small things are where it all goes wrong. I yell, I grow impatient, I demand, and then I demand more. These little things add up and up and up. I must confess, there are days that I discourage my children. I put a weight on them that they were never meant to bear.
Aren't the small things the make or break things?
When I do the small mothering things with love, a difference is made. A smile, a will to try again, a hope, and a dream for the future. Small things like hugging, and encouraging, and cheering on. Small things like reading an extra chapter, giving another hug, holding my tongue and just listening without comment or suggestion. Yes, without comment or suggestion.
Why are these small things the hardest things for me as a mother? Why do little bits of impatience, and exhaustion, and frustration trip me up? Because the job never stops, even for a second. The stakes are high because people are being formed. I bend to a breaking point when learning a language, navigating a foreign system, and my own knee-deep-in-ministry exhaustion gets layered on top of all the small stuff.
But what if I remembered that I have a Savior who is found in the small things? Who cares about them, and who wants me to do them well? What if I really could do them with love, with Him?
What if I fully embraced my mission of raising this girl and this boy? What if I could become the embodiment of humble service and loving care to my children and to my husband? What if something that they see in me makes their hearts long to know God run after Him? What if I could understand the role that I play makes all the difference, and the role that I play is played best in the small moments...the cooking, the playing trains, the song before bedtime?
May I know, and may you, that doing small things, with love, is truly great.
What about you? Do you see the small things as insignificant? What discourages you in the day to day mothering?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's a Dog's World!

Niko, the Wonder Dog
Doesn't this face discourage you from robbing my house or messing with my daughters?  Doesn't he make you tremble in your boots and think twice about whatever diabolical plan you were hatching against my family?  Yeah, I thought so!

This little guy is Niko (named for a local soft drink), and we got him about 3 years ago to be the family guard dog.  He was immediately ruined, being carried around like a baby and dressed up in cutesy clothes, sleeping on a little cushion and sneaking treats.  I feared he'd never step into his role because we'd made him too soft.

One would think that a grown dog would be humiliated by 
being carried around like a baby, but not this one!

He got a bit of age on him, though, and a funny thing happened.  He'd been treated like a member of the family and found his place in our clan, and he fell as much in love with us as we had with him.

Out of this grew a fierce protective spirit, and I dare say that now, no one would dream of passing this fella to mess with any of us.  He's quite docile with children and loves to lie on his back so young kids can torture cuddle him, but let a strange adult or another dog come around our fence, and it's another story!

We've tried several different pets here in Paraguay, including a beautiful parrot that died from the cold, a cute turtle that hobbled away and never came back, and various stray cats that I didn't approve of but didn't chase away because they were eating snakes and rats.  In the states we'd had a dog and a couple of chickens once, but somehow these animals here become part of the family more quickly and we find ourselves really attached to them.  And the fact that this big baby has a bit of an intimidation factor is just an added bonus.  :) 

I'm the practical one in our crowd, so sometimes I focus on Niko as more of a hassle--who will feed him when we're traveling?  What will we do with him on furlough?  Our older daughter is allergic to him and can't somebody bathe him again so he's less likely to set off a reaction?  What about the costs of his vaccinations and all that food?  And on and on.  But I can't deny his benefit to us, or how good it makes me feel to open the gate and his tail is wagging as he trots up to meet me with nuzzles.  (He knows better than to wrestle with me like he does the kids.) 

I've never really been an animal person--all that hair and barking and poop.  But in the months after the accident when I was pretty much confined to the bed or the wheelchair, he'd come up and sniff the area my bone was broken, lay his head just beside it, and rest there a while.  If everyone left the house, he stayed right by my feet and followed me closely in those months of learning to walk again.  I'm not sure that he didn't cause more damage than good, as much as I had to be careful not to stumble over him, but somehow it was the thought that counted.  So I've learned to love him, too.

My husband says that having the dog takes a measure of stress off him as the man in charge of keeping us gals as safe as possible.  For our daughters, Niko's the constant that's been with us through 3 moves in the last 4 years--an added comfort when so many other things change.  
Do you have pets?  What do they add to your family?   If you don't have an animal friend, what keeps you from getting one?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Advice for new missionaries

From a reader: What would your biggest piece of advice be for a mom/family moving overseas for the first time? Is there anything that you wished you had been told before you first moved overseas?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ever changing

Change? That word and I are in a love-hate relationship. Right about now just about everything is changing in my life except the country I live in ... that changed last year. I don't resist change, but it takes me a little while longer to adjust to the "new." 

Some of the changes are welcomed, but sad at the same time. We are in the last three weeks of school. I am counting down the days to summer along with my daughter, Ashleigh. As soon as the school year ends many of my daughters friends will be moving back to the states for the summer and others for good. A missionary school is like a revolving door. 

Please pray for the students and families as they say good bye. 

On June 2nd my son will be moving "home" for the summer. Ok, to be honest, that was one of the times when "change" and I were in the hating stage. It's been a huge adjustment with him not being here this past year. The more accurate description would be painful or possibly heart-wrenching.  I feel loss and joy all at the same time. One thing for sure, there will be much loss felt in the pantry with Jordan home! I can't wait to cook for him and with that said, I have become my Grandmother! She wasn't happy until she cooked and everyone was eating!

Please pray for us to have a smooth transition and for Jordan to feel rested and refreshed. 

The list goes on, but with all the outward changes, I know there are many inward changes that need to take place. Those seem to be the hardest, right? But with everything changing, God remains the same. He is my ever constant rock and I cry, "Change me, Lord!" 

"The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety." 
Psalm 18:2

What about you ... How do you deal with change? How have you dealt with children leaving the nest?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Meet Ashley

Hello friends! Like I said in my little intro tagged onto Richelle's post, one of my very favorite things to do is to sit down to have conversations with dear friends over good coffee. It seems like I'm in good company since a number of the other ladies have said the same thing! Wouldn't we all have a great time if we could meet together in one place over coffee or tea? Heaven is going to be wonderful for things just like that!

My name is Ashley, and I've been living in Russia for the past 7 years. And though for our first 3 years we lived in Krasnodar, which is near the Black Sea and actually quite warm for most of the year, we now live in St. Petersburg where we have snow for about five months of the year. It gets really cold!! The snow has finally melted now, although the view out of my hospital window when our spring baby was born in early April was a complete blanket of white! The spiritual climate here feels much like the weather. Cold. We seek to love people and share the gospel often and pray for the Lord to move in people's hearts, but it is a slow process that can at times be discouraging. We praise the Lord for the fruit that He brings forth as His love melts through hearts, and we continually ask Him to thaw out this country that has turned cold to Him.

Richelle asked about my 10-year old vision of my future that I had mentioned. It was rather "unique," shall we say. When I was ten, I dreamed of being a ballerina living in Manhattan... on a farm. (I had obviously never been to Manhattan!). I also envisioned myself wearing a black wide-brimmed hat like Audrey Hepburn, sunglasses, and a leopard print dress, walking on my way to my ballet classes with my pet miniature pot-bellied pig on a leash! I don't know that I have actually praised the Lord that I didn't end up where I had planned at that time, but perhaps I should!

The next question was how I ended up in Russia.  I had
served or one year in China and had very much expected to return there long-term. But, when I returned to finish school, I met a similarly missions-minded man who felt specifically called to Russia, and we fell in love and got married!  His calling to Russia was very much in line with what God had put on my heart. I desired to serve in a place where people would not be able to easily hear the gospel even if they were actively searching for truth. That is very true of the situation in Russia, as the orthodox churches here rarely preach the gospel and have a very works and traditions based idea of salvation.

Richelle also asked: What's your favorite thing about being an expat mama? What the most challenging thing? I answered this past week's Tuesday Topic, which was similar, so here are another two.

One favorite thing is the amazing community of believers that I am blessed to serve alongside of. I love that I get to share life closely with some amazing brothers and sisters in Christ and love how we get to not only share ministry together, but also get to serve one another in times of need, pray for each other, share holidays and celebrations together, and get to enjoy caring for one another on a deeper level than I have experienced many other places in my life.

One of the greatest challenges that I am keenly aware of right now is the pain felt when members of my community leave for one reason or another or when we have to uproot from our beloved community of believers (whether foreigners move back to home countries, Russian friends relocate to other cities, or we ourselves move). I know that all of you can relate so easily to this heartache. Some of our very dearest friends who have been our neighbors and like very close family to us for the past seven years just moved back to the US a little over a week ago. It was such a painful goodbye and the void left will be deeply felt for years to come as we have shared so much of our lives together for so long.  "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21 

Olive asked: What are 1-3 things you do to stay sane as a missionary mom through the adjustment of your fourth baby?

That's a great question, Olive! Sometimes I don't have the answer! Ha ha! No, though this hasn't been the easiest of our adjustments when welcoming a new little one, God has helped me to find some moments of peace and means of sanity. Probably the first is just praying and getting time in the word. It is far from un-interrupted or lengthy, but I have really needed to be immersed in truth and praying for peace and strength in order to stay sane. Another thing that has helped me is to not worry about what my baby "should" be doing. I know he "should" sleep this amount at each nap (which he refuses to do), and he "should" only sleep in his bed, and he "should" be going to bed a such-and-such a time, but with our schedule and 3 other kids, all of the "shoulds" are just too impossible to abide by. I've decided to not worry about what the books say and to just do what works for us. When I do that, our life is much more sane and baby and I are both much happier. I can feel the stress rising though when I start to become concerned about the "shoulds" that I just can't do.

We're going to take a little break from the "Meet the Missionary Moms" series for a bit, so instead of introducing our next mom friend, I wanted to ask how we can be praying for one another. Please share a prayer request or two in the comments, and let's bless one another in prayer!

I'm a Work in Progress

I recently led a Bible Study on the Proverbs 31 woman.  I have done several studies on this lady, I don't feel I will ever measure up, but didn't think there was much else I could learn about her that I haven't already learned.
That's where I was completely wrong.
I began praying that God would work in my heart, that He would mold me into the woman He would have me to be. 

I thought I was ok.
I thought my marriage was ok.
I thought my relationship with my kids was ok.

It was ok, but it wasn't what God wanted.  He wanted more.  More of me.

Little things started happening.  I was getting frustrated.  Blaming Satan for trying to mess with my head before my Bible Study.  My kids would be running around like crazy just minutes before I was to leave.  For example, last week my floors had just been cleaned, I was finishing up my lesson for the evening, when my daughter came into my room and said my son  dropped a watermelon.  He was rolling the watermelon on my counter and it rolled off and splattered all over the floor.  Watermelon, watermelon juice, watermelon seeds...everywhere.  Did I mentioned the floors had just been cleaned?  Poor Cody, he kept saying, "I'm sorry, mom.  I'm really, really sorry, mom."  Me?  I broke down in tears.  I told him to sit and not move while I cleaned it up.  As I finished cleaning up the watermelon mess, he spilled a cup of orange juice all over the table, and yes, all over the floor.  Poor kid.  I didn't handle the situation like I should have. 

My tears were unnecessary.  My words were harsh.

I cleaned up the orange juice, sent the kids to their room and I went to mine.  I cried.  "God, I'm supposed to lead about study about being a godly wife and mother, and here I am in my room crying over a watermelon.  What is wrong with me?  Why is Satan attacking me like this?"

This is when I heard God speak.  Not in an audible voice, but in my heart.  He reminded me that I had been praying for Him to mold me into a more godly woman.  And He is gently showing me areas in my life that I need to work on (ie how I respond to watermelon all over my floor). 

Once He started showing me things that needed to change in my comfortable life, I complained and blamed Satan.  He {Satan} gets too much credit sometimes.

I was comfortable being an ok mom, being an ok wife, being an ok friend.  But I asked God to mold me into His image, to help me to be a woman that pleased Him.  When He showed me what I needed to work on, I stiffened up a bit.  "But God," I said, "look at everything I do, isn't that good enough?"

No, it's not.

He wants more of me.  He wants my all.  And honestly, I wasn't giving it my all.  I settled into a comfortable routine and stuck with it.  I got lazy.  My husband deserves more of me.  My kids deserve more of me.  My God...He deserves ALL of me.

So, God, here is my life.  I'm ready to take it to the next level. To step out of my comfort zone.  To kick it up a notch.

To be like Christ, to be Christlike...this ought to be our goal as Christians. It's my goal.

Make me, mold me, fill me, use me

Help me to never settle for the mundane life.  I always want to press toward the prize, forgetting the things which are behind me (tears over a watermelon), and reaching forth unto those things which are before.


"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended:

but this one thing I do,

forgetting those things which are behind,

and reaching forth unto those things which are before.

I press toward the mark for the prize

of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Philippians 3:13-14

By the way, after my time alone with the Lord that day.  I called my son into my room and apologized to Him for being upset.  I asked Him to forgive me, and He graciously did.  Oh, to have the forgiving spirit of a little one.  His mommy is far from perfect, but she won't settle for living the mundane life.  

I understand I don't often show my heart like this, but God has been working and I felt I ought to share.  Hope it's an encouragement.  Don't always blame Satan, God is far more powerful, and He love you very much.
How about you? 
Are you living a comfortable life? 
Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone
and give the Lord more? 
Give Him your all?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Favorites and unfavorites

I'm getting low on questions. Please really do write to me, if you have anything you want to discuss!

From a reader: What is your favorite aspect of missionary life? What for you is the hardest aspect of missionary life?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

pancakes... WITH butter...

It was one of those things I gave up when we first came to Niger.  

Not the fresh-off-the-griddle-hot stack of fluffy pancakes.

Not the drizzled syrup.
(Sometimes, we even have friends walking off tarmacs bearing gifts of real maple...)

But the butter...

There were lots of reasons. Butter was... even more so now... expensive back then, and?

Not always available. 

So I just stopped eating it and then never started using butter on my pancakes again, even when we were back home in the States.

At least not until just recently. 

I'd forgotten just how delightful syrupy AND buttery pancakes could be.

So what does this have to do with anything? 

Three weeks until my family boards a plane that will take us away from Niger for at least the next year... maybe longer. My oldest graduates from high school - and knows he may never be back. And really, no one knows what the next day may hold, so that reality could be true for all of us.

We've done (or are in the midst of doing) the giving away, the selling, the distributing, the packing, the planning, the ticket buying, the scheduling... all of the preparing to be ready to leave. The freezer and pantry are mostly empty; we really are down to not much more than those things we'll take with us in our suitcases. There are a few books to return to the library, and two community garage sales to sell the remaining small stuff. Our three cats need homes, but even the rest of animal menagerie is spoken for. 

All that lingers is winding things up, purchasing a sufficient supply of malaria medications just in case, and remembering to "slather our remaining stack of days with butter." 

Sometimes missionaries play the martyr. After all, living in a place like this place should earn some brownie points, right? I can easily choose to focus on the dirt and poverty all around, all of the unavailable impossibles here, the myriad of possibilities back home laid aside and left behind, every one a carefully counted and mind-recorded sacrifice made. But often times, these thoughts about the cost of following Jesus evolve into habit and are no longer passionate, intentional, and worthy choices. Rather, they are just like the unbuttered pancakes that flipped into my life as the new normal.

Sacrifice is real. It is hard. But it is also true for anyone... no, for EVERYONE... who follows the Lord whenever and wherever that or they may be. Jesus warns those who follow Him to count the cost. International faith workers, however, often  relish in letting everyone know just how significant of a price they've paid... that they've spent the last however many years sacrificing, stacking and eating pancakes minus the butter all for the sake of Jesus, obedience and a worthy cause. They somehow get this idea that adding the voluntary doing without makes their sacrifice and service more worthy and impressive 

In that sacrificial mindset, in the throes of burnout and ministry fatigue and heat exhaustion and everyday-life-in-developing-country frustrations, God has been reminding me to go ahead and enjoy some moderate binge-ing as well as the luxuries that come with life in Niger. They DO exist! After all, we are making memories and stowing treasures that may have to last us and those who will miss us - for awhile.

So you can bet that for the next 20 or so days, I'm not only going to enjoy butter on my pancakes, but also:
  • munch on fried bean cakes with my friend at her restaurant on the side of the street, 
  • sip tea sitting on the terrace with visitors, 
  • devour doughnuts with the dorm one more time,
  • wave at and greet the gendarme manning the security checks,
  • relish the local peanut butter that my sweet friend makes and sells - and which will hopefully soon be featured at a local boutique,
  • chatter with the veggie man as I buy fruit and veggies and still find it amazing that I'm speaking a language other than English or even French... all of the time,
  • ask the parking attendant how his twin boys are doing,
  • go out to breakfast, order an omelet only to have the waiter inform me that the restaurant is out of eggs... then laugh and decide that a pain au chocolate will suffice instead,
  • buy baguettes right off the street,
  • deliver clothes and toys to some friends who don't have much,
  • invite playmates from many nations over to hang with the kids,
  • brave the heat of the kitchen and spend time cooking and sharing recipes with my friend and house helper,
  • eat street meat,
  • let bedtimes slide,
  • snuggle with the cats,
  • and the dogs,
  • watch the sun set over the river every night, if I can,
  • visit one more school where servant hearts teaching in seemingly impossible situations still try and meet the needs of a child with disabilities simply because that is what Jesus would do,
  • stand outside in a dust storm... if we get another one and then run inside to listen to the pounding rain on a tin roof,
  • sit at the side of the pool and visit with friends while the kids splash and play,
  • listen to water rushing over the barage when the electricity goes out,
  • sing my favorite hymns and worship songs to drum accompaniment and an African tempo,
  • laugh aloud and enthusiastically join in as the whole church sings and does the motions to a Sunday School song,
  • listen to the everyday music of an African tribal tongue... and my Zarma friends keep on keeping on, patiently helping me to communicate with them in their heart language......

Sometimes it is easy in the busyness and the hardness of life as an expat to flounder in the frustrations instead of basking in the beautiful - of which there is much if we only open our eyes to see and drop the martyr habit.

As we prepare to leave, we don't want to whitewash the hard, but we do want to celebrate and treasure the gift we've had to be a part of life in this amazing place. 

For, make no doubt about it - it is a gift.

Knowing the hard, we'd still overwhelmingly choose it again... and again... and again.

All of the prep up to this time has been to hopefully 
give us the luxury of time to finish well... 

Saying good bye... or even just an extended see you later... 
to places and people will hurt.

But it can also be done well and that helps the hurt to be worth it.

That's our prayer.


Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You just can't do everything!

Since welcoming our 4th bundle of joy into the world nearly 2 months ago, I've been keenly aware of the sometimes uncomfortable fact that I just can't do everything. Sometimes I feel like I can hardly accomplish anything! I know a lot of us often feel undue pressure when we read too many Pintrest-perfect blogs or just from our own self-imposed standards, so I wanted to do a little blog therapy here for all of you who might feel like things aren't always as together as you might like. Today's post is a tour of my home one particular day about a month back where there were messes literally as far as the eye could see.

First, I had 4 simple goals this particular day:

1) Make sure nobody in my family was naked
2) Make sure nobody in my family was starving
3) Take a shower
4) Take the kids to have fun outside (This was my biggest goal since I felt that my "big kids" needed to have some fun with mom who had been so preoccupied lately. It was a big deal in and of itself requiring goals like getting out of my pajamas, wrangling everyone out the door, putting on I said, a big deal!)

I did mostly succeed in meeting these goals (minus one 50% failure of goal #1 as seen in the first picture below... I have no idea why my 2 year old wasn't wearing pants.).... and though I met my goals, from the looks of the pictures, you might surmise that "cleaning house" didn't make it near my priority list for the day. I came inside from taking the kids out to play (woohoo for meeting goal #4!) and was so shocked by what I saw that I had to photo document it, knowing that it would be much better to laugh than to cry.

You will see what happens with 6 people in a 2 bedroom apartment, 4 of whom are 7 and under and had been left pretty much to their own devices to make their own (messy) fun for far too long, 1 of whom was crying incessantly and thwarting any meager attempt at tidiness, another who actually needed to work and was out of paternity (clean-up crazy messes) leave, and yet another who had no time to put away groceries or laundry, or make the bed, or do the dishes, or...

Enjoy the tour of my home (which actually looks BETTER in the pictures than it did in reality)! Believe it or not, I did survive this day, as did the rest of my family and even my home, and nobody seems worse at all for the wear. Perhaps today's tour will make you feel like you are living in a pristine paradise or help you feel more ok about the things that couldn't quite make your list of priorities today. We just can't do it all sometimes, and that's ok!

 How about you? Are you feeling like there are more tasks to be done than hours in your day? What's your best therapy when you just can't do it all?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Meet Richelle

Hey y'all!

Yep... I've got a bit of a southern accent that gets a lot thicker when I talk to family and southern friends back home. I've really been looking forward to this chance to visit with you just a bit... wish we could do so in person, sipping honey sweetened sun tea - because it is definitely not the hot drink time of year here in Niger. And - we'd probably be sitting out under the tree in the front yard because we've been having lots of power outage lately - then we'd be able to take advantage of the breeze blowing up from the river.

Our most recent family pic - taken at Christmas.
The first thing most people notice about our family is that we're fairly numerous. I have, in fact, had local police stop my car to ask me if they all really did belong to me. Big families are the norm here in Niger - many men have more than one wife and the average number of live births per female is seven. So here, the only thing that is exceptional about us is that we are a white, expat family that fits that Nigerien demographic... well, except that I'm the only wife (and hubby says half the time he doesn't know what to do with the one he's got, so he's not the least bit interested in any more!). I love the fact that our family size usually gives us an automatic open door, with the people of this country as well as just about anywhere else we've traveled in Africa. If we were willing to arrange marriages for our girls with some of the local families, we could probably retire in style in just a few years! Seriously? We have had several offers...

People tend to make comments about what great parents we are... or how they could never handle having so many kids... or assume that I'm full of great parenting tricks and have all sorts of organizational or make-them-behave formulas figured out. Let me set the record straight. We aren't and we don't. We do the best we can, just like everyone else... and we grew into this space and place, one kid at a time. In reality, sometimes I feel like my kids are the hammers and my husband is the anvil God uses to shape me and change me... and I just needed a bit more pounding than your average person. 

What are my best tips for living internationally with kids? I'm sure I've got them, but not a whole lot is coming to mind right away other than staying flexible and rolling with the punches. And I'm preaching those words to myself as I type them. We're due to get on a plane and fly home in three weeks... and baby girl was majorly exposed to chickenpox this week. So we do our best, we hope and pray for the best (i.e. no pox - 'cause it is really, really awful timing), but also understand that it isn't the end of the world if I'm in quarantine and we have to change plans. 

Another thing I try to do is to follow my kids' leads when it comes to new situations, particularly cultural ones, particularly the older they get. One of the advantages of living in a large family is that my kids are pretty flexible and relaxed about almost anything. Our willingness to follow their lead has had a pretty cool payoff. They return the favor when it counts because they trust us. I also spend lots of time listening - when I drive carpool, when their friends are over, when we shove the furniture out of the way, blast the music and dance late into the night, when they just want to talk, or even when they want to read something they've found that they want to share. I try to say yes at least twice as often as I say no... within reason, of course.

An average day contains many household tasks - cooking, cleaning, laundry, sweeping the desert back out of the house and for the past several months, packing. I wish I had an immaculate house, but I don't... and sometimes you'll hear me griping that I'm the only one who even tries. That is the occasional truth, but not most days. I home school my preschooler and my 7th grader. I drive carpool. This year I make grocery lists and my husband braves the barrels and police checks to hunt down the items on said list. I teach 7th grade math and work in the Center for Academic Progress at the local English language international expat school. I sometimes consult with local schools trying to service the needs of exceptional children (i.e. children with disabilities) in their overcrowded classrooms with so few resources. I write accommodation plans and individualized education plans. I blog. I flit through Facebook several times a day. Lately, I've been trying to watch episodes of Burn Notice just to take a break. In the past, I've been very involved with women's bible studies, discipleship and literacy work in our church... but decided to phase myself out of that ministry this year, for several reasons.

People often ask me how I do it all. I guess I'm a natural multi-tasker who likes to keep busy. At home, I'm often having more than one parenting conversation at the same time: 2nd grader talking about his friend's birthday party coming up on Saturday while directing my currently home schooled daughter how to make doughnut dough. I make lists - but once I do, I usually don't have to look at them again. I do rely on a calendar that beeps reminders for important appointments and rendez-vous. I prioritize:  what must be done each day, what would be nice to have done, and what can wait for another day. I also mix, match and combine, trying to kill two birds with one stone when and where I can. I tend to use mornings for home schooling, housework, lesson planning. Early afternoons are spent at school most days. A different person is assigned "kitchen duty" each day of the week - with Mama almost always available. That includes prep, cooking and clean-up. It is great to be able to say to any of my four oldest what the dinner meal plans are and know that they can pretty much put it on the table for me. That lets me spend evenings with the "off duty" kids; we all spend 30 minutes cleaning and picking up the house most nights. But keep in mind - these strategies are what is working for this family right now, in this season of life. It might change next week and if it does, we'll figure out together what to do then and there. I've also got an amazing husband and some pretty cool kids who will  step in and help, if and when they see a need.

Someone once compared life to a juggling act - we all have too many balls we're trying to keep up in the air. The key thing is not to let the ones that will shatter and break hit the ground... I remind myself that people are always more important than an agenda or time schedule - which leads right into the final question I was asked.

Last night, the middle school grades of Sahel Academy performed the musical, Sheherezade. Three of my crew performed and it was truly delightful and just a lot of fun. I love this community!
What is my favorite part about living internationally? That's the easiest question of all! Hands down, at least in this particular locale - it is the community. I love the people with whom I interact on a daily basis - both Nigerien and expat, Christian or not. That's also the hardest thing when I think about leaving - not seeing this amazing extended family that God has gifted to us. It is really hard to imagine living, working and raising our family in any place other than this. It isn't the kind of place most point to on a map and say, "I'm dying to go live there!" I'm so thankful God decided He was sending us this way.


Now I'd like to introduce you to Ashley. She's a beautiful mama and you should really take a bit of time and get to know her. I've certainly been blessed by her sweet, humble  and generous spirit as I've interacted with her over the past couple of years!
     If we were to get together, I’d either invite you over to my apartment to share a cup of Starbucks coffee from my special stash, or we’d go to my favorite little bakery a short bus stop from my home. One of my favorite things to do is to connect deeply with friends over a cup of coffee!

     Some things that I am passionate about are my family (we just had our 4th child in early April... it's been kind of a crazy adjustment!), encouraging missionary moms, relating to moms in my community and using our common joys and struggles to point them toward Jesus, coffee (did I mention that yet?), Russian culture, and my home town of Seattle.  
   Never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d become a missionary! Like so many things in my life, I have not ended up where I had expected, and I am so glad! (Ask me about what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 10 years old, or where I thought I’d be less than a year before agreeing to go long-term to Russia, or about how we raised all of our support to go to a place we never went!) God’s plan far exceeds anything that I could have imagined! 
Feel free to ask any questions that you may have in the comments!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Help! My Man Is ALWAYS Around!

Dear God, He's Home!: A Woman's Guide to Her Stay-At-Home Man
Just me and my man.  It's not been too many years since we were dating and I dreamed of spending all our days together, giggling while we worked and inspiring each other as we bounced ideas back and forth over dreamy looks and picnic lunches.  What could be better than that, right?  Um, yeah.  Twenty years later, we got that chance when we moved out of the country to conquer the world for Jesus.  And reality set in.

Since our home is the base of operations here, gone are the days of seeing him off to work with a kiss each morning, teaching the kids and running errands all day, then having his dinner ready when he returns in the evening.  Everything from mealtime to homeschooling to who goes out for groceries has changed, and everyone in the house has felt the heat from the adjustments.

Defining a new normal has been an unexpected challenge, exacerbated by the fact that there just isn't much support out there for wives like me. So when I saw this book coming out, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on it.  Even better, this one was a freebie offered to me by the publisher in exchange for my opinions.  Let's just say it was a welcome addition to my e-bookshelf.

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION: What do you do when your husband calls and says he's lost his job? How do you handle a husband who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's and is now homebound? Will your routine ever get back to normal now that your loving husband who has been deployed for 12 months is now suddenly back at home? Regardless of the reason he's home, one fact is clear . . . he's home. Dear God, He's Home! is a practical, honest look at how women can deal with a spouse--regardless of the reason--who is forced to become a stay-at-home man.  (**Note: By clicking the title, you'll be directed to Amazon, where the e-book is currently $2.99.)

MY THOUGHTS:  Making the transition from what is considered a traditional family set-up--husband working outside the home, wife considering the house her domain--can be very stressful.  Not only has the author (Janet Thompson) dealt with the situation several times in her life, but she includes the stories of many others facing this change due to health complications, retirement, unemployment, a home office, or some other development.  I found that much of it applied to our situation, even though she didn't specifically include foreign missionaries on her list.  ;)

The book is divided into 14 chapters full of examples, practical advice, scriptures, a sample prayer, and journaling prompts--yet another reminder that I could benefit from journaling.  (Note to self:  Add personal journal to the to-do list.). Focus, Christie. Focus.  Okay.

Each chapter has several smaller sections packed with wisdom, short enough to do each as a daily devotion.  The big focus in on opening up communication so that both the husband and the wife understand the expectations each has.  Several tools are provided to facilitate coming together to shape these expectations into a workable reality.

Although the book is meant to be for the wife, there are parts that can be shared with your husband, such as the sanity tools at the end, and some of the personal stories are from the man's point of view.

The only complaint I might have is that I had a bit of a hard time keeping up with all the real-life examples.  There were so many, which is good for helping the reader connect to the book and realize she's not the first person to pass through this. But I began to confuse the stories and couples as the book progressed through snippets from these stories with each section.  It's possible that reading a print version of this book would have helped with this, but I had an ebook copy and can't speak as to how the layout affects the ease of reading.

I found the book very thorough, in that it dealt with the emotional, financial, spiritual, and physical aspects of this life change. I've definitely added it to my list of recommended resources for missionary wives coming on the field, and I think that going through it together before the big transition would maximize the benefits.

Is it possible I'm not the only one who struggled a bit with this change?  What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to just before the transition? 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Less stress hospitality

Ashley asked: Does anyone have tips for how to practice hospitality with minimal work/stress? Family life is pretty busy and exhausting right now and leaves me with very little energy for opening up our home. I want to be hospitable, but just don't have much to give. I'd love any ideas that you might have that make it easier to practice hospitality during the years with little ones!

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Real Life

"What's for dinner, Mom?" "Why don't they have (insert food/drink here) in Germany?"

When we first arrived in Germany in 2005, I felt lost as a goose in the grocery stores. I couldn't read German and so we ate the same foods over and over again. It was "comfortable" and I was already trying to deal with everything else that I literally didn't want to think about food. Baking and cooking is a stress reliever so this was an upset in my whole system and stress ruled until the "food giant" in my life was conquered. After a few months, something had to change and that something was ME. I was hiding. I was fearful.

I finally asked God to help me and here's what He did ...

On this particular weekly shopping trip, I kept looking through the strore. My nerves where just about shot as I looked and couln't find what was on my list. I asked myself, "Why did I even make a list?" Just as I was about to become a huge puddle on the floor, a woman came up to me and she spoke ENGLISH! She introduced herself as Mary Beth and asked me if she could help. I held back tears as I explained my dilema. Mary Beth and I spent almost an hour in the grocery store that day and I found just about everything on my list. A few days later I was invited to her house. I sat on her sofa and poured my heart out over a cup of coffee. She's been in Germany for over 25 years so she had some nuggets of wisdom to share. We sat at her kitchen table as she shared her recipes with me and spent time going over how to make things from scratch rather than open a box.
My life was changed from that day on. The "food giant" was conqured.

Since then I have enjoyed cooking and baking in Germany and now I spend way too much time in the grocery stores because I am simply fascinated with the differences rather than fearful because of them. Since the topic is about food, I had to include one of the recipes from Mary Beth. So simple and delicious! Enjoy!

        •  2 cups sugar                     1 cup flour       
        • 4 eggs                                2/3 cup cocoa
        • 3/4 cup oil                         1/2 t baking powder
        • 1/2 t salt 
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well.
Pour into a 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C for 25 minutes.

God is faithful in every situation. He's concerned with every detail of our lives.

What did you do to adapt to the "food" culture of your new country?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Meet Liz

Well hello there!  I wish I could sit down with you face to face and share a great, steaming cup of Costa Rican coffee (did you know I live in coffee country?  Seriously, we live at the perfect altitude, just over 4,000 ft with the perfect volcanic soil to grow some of the world's best coffee!  And there is a coffee field right across the street from my house).

Someone asked what my favorite type of coffee is...really, anything from Costa Rica, made strong with cream and a touch of sugar.  I am really not into all the frape latte whateverness, which is just as well, because they really don't make those here.

Anyone want some mango cobbler?  It's just ready from the, wait for it, crockpot!! Yes!  I just discovered this and wow!  What a great thing.  We have pretty consistent electricity where we are, and this has been revolutionary to me!  Anyway.  So let's talk food.

I am sure that a lot of you deal with this, a lack of prepackaged convenience foods.  We didn't use a lot of those things in the States anyway, but it's been cut back even more by living here.  Sure, there are places we can get some of that stuff, but it's a fortune.   And really, it's not good for us either.  So, we've headed further down the road of whole foods and cooking from scratch.  And it's amazing what you an find with The Google, did you know you can make yogurt?  Or half and half?   My approach to cooking is the closer it is to the way God made it, the better.  I also focus on using ingredients that are found readily here.  For us that means using lots of fresh produce from the local Feria (open air farmer's market) and sticking with the staples; meats, fish, flour, sugar, spices.  I've learned how to incorporate things like mangos and avocados and ayote (just like pumpkin!) and other things we've never seen before, you know like mamon chinos.

I am been using a book called Nourishing Traditions (yes, it's available on Kindle) as a guide.  One of the things I have been experimenting with lately is fermented foods.  Right now I am feeding a ginger bug (to make homemade pop).  All I needed to start it was fresh ginger root (in abundance here) and sugar and some water.  Anyway, I'll let you know how it turns out.  I am also excited because there is the possibility that in a few weeks there could be an organic market opening up near us.  Costa Rica is a world leader in pesticide we'll see. 

I have learned some different Costa Rican dishes over the last two years.  We do picadillo (a chopped up veggie with ground burger, sweet peppers, cilantro, and garlic of course!) beans and rice, gallo pinto (beans and rice and scrambled eggs) and this year at Christmas time my landlady taught me how to make tamales!  I know that I make adjustments to the reciepes and they don't turn out completely Costa Rican (a LOT less oil!!) but I know they are healthier and my family is more likely to eat them.

Someone asked if we have house help.  Welllll....we did last year and it wasn't a great experience.  In fact it really stressed me out.  She did do some cooking for us and frankly she wasn't a great cook. I think that was the turn off to a lot of Tico dishes for my family.  And when she made American dishes, they just weren't right either.  So I have no help for you all on teaching house help to cook your favorite comfort food.  So sorry.  Oh, hang on, I hear screaming...I'll be right back.

Sorry for the break...I just had to go take legos away from the puppy and comfort the heart broken 4 year old because his favorite lego piece was beyond repair.  Good grief.  You know, motherhood is just hard, no matter where in the world you live!  Someone asked what my biggest challenge is with three little boys...oh boy, I don't know.  Maybe it's the relentless day in and day out of three kids.  There is always someone who needs attention, and usually it's more than one at the same time.  There is the mediating, the instructing, the noise, goodness the noise!  I saw a quote the other day and thought, "yep, that nailed it!"  Boy;  noise with dirt on it.

Someone asked me how I manage being mom and being part of our ministry here.  To be honest, I don't.  Ha!  Really, our boys are 6, 4, and 10 months right now, and I am doing all I can to keep my head above water at home.  I feel like there is plenty of time for me to do things outside of the home, right now, my boys need me most.  They are my first ministry, and I am the only mama they have.  There are other people that can fill in at camp where needed.  I need to be here.  And really, I am ok with that.  I can be part of what goes on in the ministry by cooking.  College kids love to eat no matter where in the world they live.  So I bake.  Most ticos don't bake at home, so homemade goodies are a HUGE deal here.  Cookies, cakes, breads.  We also do English night once a month in our home and I make an American meal. 

Ok, totally changing subjects.  Can I tell you what is driving me nuts about Costa Rica right now?  The DRIVING!!!  Seriously.  I find myself just getting angry when I get in the car.  The lack of rules, the crazy one lane roads that need to be shared by two lanes, the mountains, and just the craziness of traffic!  Ahhhgggg!

Another thing that has been a hard adjustment for us is how Ticos are welcoming but not intimate.  Let me explain.  In general (and you all know there are exceptions to this)  Ticos are very friendly on the surface.  But rarely will someone invite you to their home, or imitate a deeper relationship.  We are finding that the onus is on us to make the first move in relationships.

But there are things I like about this place.  I like how things are slower here (well, sometimes this drives me nuts too, heheh).  I like how people first try home remedies before just rushing to the doctor.  I like how because we're here by ourselves, our family is growing closer.

Well, seems as if our coffee is gone and the baby is hollering now.  Such a nice chat.  And now can I introduce you to my friend Richelle?

I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t love Jesus. But somewhere around the age of five, I realized that even though I loved Jesus with all of my heart, just loving Him wasn’t enough to guarantee that I’d spend forever with Him… instead, I had to agree with God that I was a sinner and accept His gift of salvation made possible only by the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus. One night after church, on the way home, I prayed and asked Jesus to become my Savior and Lord. That night I also promised Him that I’d be a missionary for Him when I grew up. Like all kids, my ideas of what I wanted to be changed - but missionary the missionary part remained… missionary cowgirl… missionary swim instructor… missionary doctor… missionary teacher… I am so thankful for how the Lord first called my into missions and then preserved not only that call but my desire to serve Him ever since. It was a long journey to end up in Niger… growing up in Oklahoma, university in central Pennsylvania, camp counselor in rural Pennsylvania, my first “cross cultural” missions experience in inner city Boston, short term missions (including a year in Bangladesh and a month in Thailand), teaching as part of a special education program…

I could not have imagined and certainly never would have dreamed that when God finally placed me in a  long-term missions assignment, it would be in an African capital city, on the back side of the desert, speaking French, learning a local tribal language, writing children’s radio programs, working with illiterate women while mustering the gumption to eat fried grasshoppers… all as the wife of a wannabe red-neck techie and the mama to 8 amazing kids!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Our Family Motto

I've been trying to find a beautiful photo or piece of art to hang in our home that would remind us of why we are here {not necessarily here in Australia, but here on earth}.  This thought: Love God, Love Others - Serve God, Serve Others has been on my heart for awhile.  It comes from Mark 12:30-31:

"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,
and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,
There is non other commandment greater than these."

Since I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, I decided to go to Picasa and see if I could make one myself.  I recently had it printed.  Now to get it framed and on my wall!

Do you have a family motto or statement?  Please share yours?

For more about my family and ministry, check out my blog - Be Thou Exalted.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Red Tape

Yesterday we had to get our finger prints done for the Costa Rican government.  We've been putting this off for a while now (for a whole slew of reason), but our residency (visa in other parts of the world) was granted and we finally needed to take care of it.

It worked out well today because my Mom is still here, which meant the bigger boys didn't have to endure a day of what could have been endless lines.  I say could have been.  My goodness, we hit the jackpot!  We took the baby with us because here in Costa Rica babies do a great job of getting you to the front of the line.  Today we were escorted ahead of everyone!  And we were done in an hour!  An HOUR folks!!  Back in Novemeber we were told we would have to wait in line starting at 3:30 or 4:00 AM to get an appointment.  Not today!  ¡Gracias a Dios!

Someone shared this video with me a couple of weeks ago and it cracked me up.  While it's in Spanish, there are English subtitles and while it takes place in Spain, I am going out on a limb here to say that it applies to pretty much everywhere in the world, hehehe.  Watch and laugh along with me.


So, here's to all of you, in your daily grind against the machine.  May we all one day get one step ahead of the system!

Come on, you gotta great bureaucracy story...let's here it!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Kids learning language

Amie asks: How do you help your kids learn the local language in places where there is no school available? Do you view it as important, why or why not? Also, to make it more general, how do you help your children learn language in any situation, where school is available or not?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Hounds of Hoarding

I wonder if this happens to every first term missionary?

Before ever arriving on the field, this really long list from soon to be colleagues arrives informing:
  • what is available and affordable in country;
  • what is available but expensive;
  • what is available in country but such a poor quality it might as well not be;
  • what is occasionally available under rare circumstances and when it is, it is super-expensive; and
  • what you'd better kiss goodbye for the next few years, OR figure out a way to bring it in your suitcases, OR beg and plead with friends who might be willing to mail you some of whatever it is - but only if feasible,of course, OR just be blessed enough to have friends take the initiative and surprise you with those little bits of home!
Treats received via the post!

Our first time out we brought all sorts of stuff; it literally felt like TONS - sunscreen, shoes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes, ranch seasoning packets, spices, baking soda, pens, pencils, sharpies, swimsuits, feminine supplies, M&Ms, chocolate chips, underwear, razors, sensitive ear earrings, hats for all the kids, sunglasses, adult and children's acetaminophen and ibuprofen, Sudafed, antihistamines, boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese, hairbrushes and all sorts of hair bands and doodads, bug repellent, blank CDs and cassettes for the studio...

The list could go on and on and on... I honestly cannot recall all that we felt was necessary that many years ago. So many things we were certain were so important if we wanted to make Niger feel just a little more like home.

We got here and I carefully stored away those treasures, figuring I'd need to diligently ration them, parceling them out bit by bit if they were going to last us for the next couple of years. And then, of course, some just had to be tucked away for those very special occasions. If you're an expat or international worker reading this, you know just what I mean: six M&Ms per person on Friday nights after pizza as the highlight desert for the week!

It really was a great plan!

Except I got busy, discovered the many unique treasures easily and only available here, and I mostly forgot what I was hoarding... until one of the kids (or the husband) remembered, uncovered, stumbled upon or in some other clandestine manner found a hidden and forbidden without permission treat - and then began the incessant hounding to consume said delices, immediately.

I'd either cave or find a better hiding place.

And time flew by. All of a sudden we were purchasing tickets and it was time to start cleaning out cupboards, packing and storing things for home assignment, and distributing or selling what I didn't want to pack or store. I discovered that I'd forgotten about a lot more stuff than I'd actually remembered was there.

Anyone else been there, done that? Do you recognize that sheepish, somewhat guilty feeling that steals in where you start looking through all the stuff you've been hoarding for just the right moment, find out you're out of right moments and there's still more left sitting around than you could possibly use in the normal every day of the next 8 weeks or so? Anyone else's family fussed at you for the package of M&Ms trapped in an ice pack in the bottom of the freezer - and the awful waste it will become if you don't manage to somehow rescue them without drowning them in the requisite thaw?

I sure hope I'm not the only one. I don't think I am, since I've heard many local expat friends joke about it on more than one occasion, and I've been to too many moving away slash leaving for home assignment sales littered with stashes of processed food from the States.

To prevent this from happening to me my family this time, about a month ago I emptied our chest freezer, defrosted, cleaned it really well and then we gave it to recently married Nigerien friends of ours as a part of their wedding gift. They hope to get a restaurant business started, so they were delighted! Not only that, but now the frozen, freezer burned cauliflower bag that had disintegrated, dumping its contents all over the freezer floor is already checked off that to-do list.

About two weeks ago, I started culling through my cupboards and pantry. As I make my menu plans these final weeks, I striving to use up at least a couple of items, including the remaining "treasure" stocks. I can't can't wait to teach my 7th grader (who's being home schooled this year) how to make a pumpkin roll with the last can of pumpkin from a package friends sent last fall. It will be a fun treat for us... and for the family after dinner some evening. 

This gives me time to identify those things that I know I'll use as well as those things that I'm pretty sure I won't use to set them aside for the upcoming moving out sales or give them to a friend I know hope will appreciate them.

We are a family of 10 and we often have company (think lots of teenagers) hanging around, sometimes staying for dinner. That means I tend to cook and buy in bulk. Now, however, I'm aiming more to buy just the amounts needed for each meal - 1 L bottles of oil instead of the 5 L, small cans of mayo and mustard instead of the jumbo ones. The pantry full of non-perishables that all expats are told to keep accessible and available, just in case something makes grocery shopping hazardous or impossible? We've pretty much eaten our way through our always-less-than-recommended-store.

Just last weekend, I went through our medicine cabinet... and I did pat myself on the back. Most of what's left I'll be taking with me as we travel, just in case someone has a headache or our daughter's allergy induced asthma starts acting up as we leave the dryness of this desert climate. As we do laundry, we pull out those clothes that don't look quite as faded by the line drying under the Sahara sun and stash those in suitcases. Most of the rest of our clothing will be given away.

I could keep on going with additional examples of how each couple of days, each weekend, I continue to direct my family through this gradual culling, but I'm pretty sure you get the picture. 

Frankly, it feels great - the confidence that we've stewarded our little treasures and delights well and that when we get to that final pack and our last few days in country, I won't be discovering anything forgotten... or have my family demanding that I seek therapy due to excessive hoarding.

This week, in fact, we're enjoying Craisins on our salads!

How do you keep from being hunted by those hounds of hoarding?

Do you feel this is a stewardship issue or not?

Can you share about a time in your life where a fear of inadequate provision for the future prevented you from thoroughly celebrating the moment?

Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field: