I Remember February 26th

In two days, my Alex will be seven years old. And while we celebrate February 28th as the day he came into the world, a small part of me always privately remembers February 26th as the day I went into labor. Alex should have been born on Feb. 26th. My water broke early in the morning followed by strong and fairly consistent contractions… there was no reason to think I wouldn’t be holding my baby in my arms by the end of the day.

Except that by the end of the day, I wasn’t. And I wasn’t holding him by the end of Feb. 27th either. It wasn’t until almost the end of the third day, Feb. 28th, that he finally came howling into the delivery room of a small Japanese clinic.

I was in labor for 64 hours. Without drugs. Without an epidural.

Even now, I can hardly believe it. I don’t consider myself a person who has a very high pain tolerance. And yet I got through it. And then I went on to give birth twice more — without drugs and without epidurals.

Even now, I am amazed. Amazed at my own strength. Amazed that both I and my baby came through that experience safe and healthy. Amazed that it did not end in a c-section. Amazed that I had the courage to have another baby after that experience! Amazed at the miracle of life.

Someday, I keep telling myself, I will write this story down, in all its excruciating and beautiful detail. Someday, I will do it, but not tonight. Tonight, I simply remember and give thanks.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 5

Week 5 is about unplugging. You can read the entire post here.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on the Stay Awake Challenge. I’m not giving up on it, but the last couple of weeks have thrown off our routine somewhat — first, with spending two nights at my sister’s house taking care of her kids, and then Alex starting school three days a week. This week, we are at home, and then next week, we are taking a few days of family vacation and heading to the beach. And then hopefully, after that, things will normalize once again.

Anyway, back to unplugging. I sure do need to be reminded of the importance of taking a break from technology every now and then. (For me, time spent on the computer surfing the net is where I need to cut back, so that is where I am going to focus this post. I am not addicted to my phone — in fact, I forget to take it with me half the time! And I don’t really watch that much TV, although I enjoy a movie with Rusty every now and then.)

I love how technology keeps us connected in ways that just weren’t possible years ago, especially for people who live overseas. Skype, email, blogs, Facebook — they are all such a blessing! And what a wealth of information is right at my fingertips with the Internet! I can find information on practically any topic, answer my kids’ questions, find educational videos for them to watch, diagnose their illnesses (I’m not the only one who does this, right?), do my banking and pay my bills, search for recipes, look up Scriptures, and the list goes on. Sometimes, I honestly wonder what missionaries did before Google!

However…

It’s so easy for me to waste time on the computer — one click leads to another, which leads to another, and before long, you’ve frittered away an hour of your precious time. I do use my computer time as a time to relax, escape, and mentally decompress, but I also need to take a break from it every now and then, to remember that there is more to life than Facebook and Pinterest, and that no email is so important that it can’t wait a day for a response.

Shawn mentioned that she used to try to not be on her computer during the day when her kids were awake. I really like this idea, so I have been trying for the last few days to reserve my computer time for nap-time and after the kids are in bed. Funnily, I don’t seem to get any less done on the computer. And I’m getting more done around the house. In the last couple of days, I have made significant progress on a lot of little organizational projects. I should take another picture of my bedroom so you can see the progress I’ve made.

And I’m generally just enjoying being with my kids more.

The other idea that I’d like to get back to implementing on a regular basis is the idea of a tech-free day each week. I know some people who make Sunday their tech-free day in an attempt to reclaim something of the Sabbath that we seem to have lost in our modern world. Sunday seems to make the most sense for me — we are at church in the mornings and then the afternoons and evenings are usually devoted to rest and family time. So for the last two weeks, I have made a conscious effort to make Sundays “computer-free.”

Of course, I am cheating a little bit because I am on the computer right now doing my daily writing. But I only turned it on at 11 p.m. I took a long and lovely nap this afternoon, made pancakes for my crew for dinner, watched the end of “Fly Away Home” with my boys, had lots of giggles over a pair of Groucho Marks glasses, and did my Spanish homework, all before finally turning the computer on to write.

My boys and me

My boys and me

I have been thinking for several days about a photo that would best capture what unplugging means to me. Finally, I decided to use a couple of photos that were taken out at Kumanii several weeks ago. Going out there forces me to unplug. No Internet, no cell phone service — heck, sometimes, there isn’t even any electricity! You are really cut off from the world when you are out in the middle of the jungle! And sometimes, it’s being cut off from the world that makes you come alive in a new way. I think this is why we all need to “unplug” every now and then.

Cayapas River from the canoe

Cayapas River from Kumanii Christian Center

Cayapas River from Kumanii Christian Center

Walking with Giants

Having been in Ecuador almost a year now, one thing I am starting to notice is the longevity of so many missionary families. 10 years or less in the country and you are pretty much still a “newby” by comparison. 15 years, and you’ve been here “awhile,” but not in a jaw-dropping way. 20 plus years, and you’re considered a veteran — but you’re not exactly an anomaly since there are quite a few veteran missionaries around!

Yesterday, I went to the homeschool mothers’ monthly planning meeting. I am one of the youngest moms in the group, with younger kids, just starting out in Ecuador, just starting out on our homeschool journey. Most of the other moms have large families, and years of parenting and missionary experience. As we were sitting around the table drinking tea and chatting, I stopped to silently marvel at the collective wisdom gathered there. How thankful I am to be able to learn from those who have walked this path before me!

Then, tonight, we had Neil and Ruth Wiebe over for dinner. The Wiebes worked as Wycliffe Bible Translators in Ecuador many years ago, translating the Bible into Chapalachi, the language of the Chachi Indians who live on the Cayapas River. They are back in Ecuador for a brief visit, and graciously agreed to have dinner with us so we could pepper them with all manner of questions. They are even going out to Kumanii with Rusty next weekend.

The Wiebes were in Ecuador for 38 years — 12 of them spent living in the jungle on the Cayapas River, and the remainder of the time in Quito. It is hard for me to even conceive of doing the same thing for 38 years. Let’s see, 38 years — it’s longer than I’ve been alive. In 38 years, I’ll be almost 75 years old. Anyway you slice it, it’s a long time. And it’s most definitely a long time to spend on the mission field!

I have the utmost respect for those who do the hard and often thankless work of translating the Scriptures into other languages. They come and they live among a people, often in a remote area. They struggle to learn a language that may not have a textbook, or someone who knows how to teach it, or even a written form. Then, they painstakingly translate the Scriptures, verse for verse, idea for idea, word for word, trying to stay faithful to the original text, trying to make it readable, trying to make the story of God accessible to those who have never had it before in their heart language. Neil was telling the story tonight of struggling with how to translate the word “priest,” because the Chapalachi word has so much religious and cultural baggage due to the heavy Catholic influence. Eventually, they decided to use a phrase describing what a priest does: “one who approaches God on behalf of the people” because they felt like that was a better representation of the idea of a priest, and one that would not immediately connote a Catholic priest.

It is so easy for us to take for granted the fact that we have ready access to God’s Word in multiple forms, in multiple versions. But there are still many people groups around the world who can’t read the life-giving words of the Bible for themselves because it has not yet been translated into their language. I’m thankful for people like the Wiebes, who have spent their lives working to change that — the New Testament, as well as Genesis and Exodus are now available in the Chapalachi language!

But there is still much work to be done. I don’t typically observe Lent in the traditional sense, but this year, I have been working my way through this 40-day e-book devotional called “Jesus Brings Freedom,” with a prayer focus on the Bibleless peoples of the world. Download your free copy here and partner in prayer with those who are working to make “God’s Word accessible to all people in the language of their heart” (Wycliffe’s vision statement).

The First Day

This morning, Rusty took Alex to Hansei for his first day of school. (Going forward, he will ride a “bus,” really a van, that will come to our house to pick him up, but they asked us to bring him ourselves this first day.) He was sooooo excited. He was up at 6:30 — he got dressed and made his bed without being asked and without waking his brother up, then came downstairs and got his own bowl of cereal. I could get used to this — wonder how long it will continue?

When they got to school, the director wanted to do a basic evaluation of Alex to verify that they were placing him in the correct grade level. We had told them yesterday that he should be in “segundo de basico,” which is the equivalent of 1st grade in the Sates, and they agreed that based on his age, that is where he should be. However, after the evaluation, they informed Rusty that they were going to put him in “tercero de basico,” (2nd grade)!

Honestly, I was a bit perturbed when Rusty called later in the day and told me about it. Of course, every mother thinks her child is smart and gifted, and it’s nice to have your opinions verified by an objective professional… but really? 2nd grade? He’s only turning 7 next week! Age-wise, he’s a year or more younger than most of the other kids in his class. Because he’s so tall, he looks like he belongs, but is he ready academically for 2nd-grade level stuff? Especially in another language?

The director assured Rusty that Alex will be fine, but I really think their decision had more to do with the fact that the first grade class was already very full, whereas the second grade class has only 6 other students (all boys). So, in some ways, I can see the wisdom of the decision — Alex will be much more likely to receive personal attention and individualized instruction in a class with fewer students.

However, I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s better to hold kids (especially boys) back in the beginning rather than push them ahead. Then again, Alex is not really at Hansei so much for the academics as he is to learn Spanish. I do wonder what the results would be if we had him tested in the States. Would he test at a 2nd-grade level? I’m not a professional teacher, but I’m pretty sure he’s not yet reading at a 2nd-grade level, although he is improving rapidly.

We’ll give it a few weeks and see how it goes. In the meantime, is it safe for me to say I’m the mother of a gifted child?

A New School for Alex

Sometimes, change is a long time in coming, giving you lots of time to prepare. But other times, it happens so fast and with so little warning that it leaves your head spinning. This is one of those times. I can hardly believe it myself, but Alex is going to be attending Hansei International Christian Academy for three days a week, starting tomorrow!

Here’s the short version of how it all happened: Last Friday afternoon, we attended a Valentine’s Party for the kids in our homeschooling group. While there, I was talking to a couple of the other moms who have recently enrolled their kids at Hansei part-time. Today, Rusty called the school; we went in and met with the director; and tomorrow will be Alex’s first day! If you know much about me, you probably know that I typically don’t deal with change all that well. I wanted to wait until at least next week to start, to give myself time to adjust mentally to this. But Alex practically begged to start the very next day — he has no fear and leaps into new situations with enthusiasm (he gets that from his father!). So tomorrow it is!

Here’s a little more background: For some time now, we have been thinking that it would be a good idea to enroll Alex in a local Ecuadorian school. We had a very positive experience with both the schools he attended in Portugal, and it really helped with his language acquisition. We knew we needed something similar here if he is going to learn Spanish well (and our window for him to learn a new language quickly and naturally is quickly closing). However, we were only interested in part-time because we intend to continue home-schooling as well. And we were growing very discouraged, because the more we talked to people, the more we realized that most Ecuadorian schools would probably not let us send him only part-time. (Home-schooling is practically unheard of here, therefore, most schools are not very “home-school friendly.”)

However, Hansei happens to have a director who lived and worked in Canada for many years, knows all about home-schooling, and is very amenable to the idea of Alex attending Hansei part-time in order to learn Spanish, and continuing with his English studies at home! How awesome is that? Additionally, the school is a Christian (not Catholic) school — actually founded by Korean missionaries (hence the name). It is fairly close to our house. And Alex already has a couple of friends who are going there, which should make his transition a little easier.

So, even though this all happened so fast, we can really see the hand of God at work in all the details. Praise Him! Alex will attend Hansei Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and continue homeschooling activities with me on Mondays and Fridays. Please say a prayer for him as he sets off on this new adventure tomorrow!

Awesome AIMers!

Right after the medical campaign, for a couple of nights, we kept five students from the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program who are currently doing their field assignment in Sucre, Bolivia. They came to help with the medical campaign and stayed afterwards for about a week to do some sight-seeing before going back to Sucre.

I have written before about the blessing of having visitors in our home here and here, and this time was certainly no exception. These kids (can I call them kids since I am twice their age?) impressed me so much with their servant hearts, their attitudes of gratefulness, and how they played with and loved on my children. The girls were constantly in the kitchen asking if they could help with food prep; they washed dishes without being asked; the guys did puzzles with the boys and played Mario Kart with them; and they even made their beds every day! One night, the girls all sat and watched with keen interest a film called “Real Love Stories,” in which Rusty and I were featured. (A friend of ours made this film years ago to show the youth group at the Metro Church of Christ in Portland, where we were attending at the time.)

(If any of you AIMers read this post, feel free to pass it on to your parents and let them know what awesome kids I think they raised! I hope my boys turn out just like all of you!)

Rusty and I so enjoy being around young people with a heart for missions. In fact, working with teens and college students was one of the aspects about this opportunity with Operation Ecuador that Rusty found most appealing. He has always enjoyed working with this age-group, from back when we lived in Japan and he got to take the Pac Rim students from Oklahoma Christian University around Tokyo and Nikko for three days. In fact, if we hadn’t gone into missions, I probably would have strongly encouraged Rusty to pursue campus ministry — he has both the heart and the giftedness for it.

For my part, I find the enthusiasm and zeal of young missionary apprentices both heart-warming and contagious. I wouldn’t really call myself an “old” or “seasoned” missionary — we haven’t even been in Ecuador for a year — but we’ve been around the world enough and lived overseas enough to experience the occasional slumps, to have to fight the tendency to become jaded. And sometimes it’s good to remember why missions is so exciting, that it truly is a blessing to join God in the work of reconciling souls to himself. Young people just starting out, just getting their feet wet in the mission field, can help remind us of that.

I have had many positive experiences with AIMers through the years… from a college roommate who went through the program, to my brother-in-law, to several fantastic AIM teams that we had the privilege to know in Mito, Japan. And I now have another positive experience to add to my list with this team from Sucre. Thank you, AIM, for your high caliber program, and thank you, Sucre Team (Andrea, Kacie, Kaylin, Brett, and Cameron) for staying with us and letting us get to know you!

My Least Favorite Holiday

It’s no secret that Valentine’s Day is my least favorite holiday. It always has been. When I was younger and before I was romantically involved, I used to think this was because I didn’t have that special someone who would buy me flowers and chocolates and treat me like a princess all day. But even after Rusty and I started dating, got engaged, and got married, I just couldn’t shake my distaste for Valentine’s Day.

Now that I have kids, I try to not be very vocal about my opinions of Valentine’s Day. After all, for them, it’s fun! There are cards to make and cookies to decorate (and eat) and parties to go to — and candy, lots of candy! And of course, it can be argued that Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love in all its forms — not just romantic love, but the love between parents and children, friendship, and God’s love for us. Still, there is no denying that the holiday in many ways revolves around romantic love. And there is such pressure to show that love in the conventional and contrived ways… with cards, with flowers, with chocolate, with sentimental gifts, with expensive dinners, and so on. In other words, with money.

In many ways, it just seems so fake.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like flowers as much as the next girl. I like to get dressed up and go out to a nice dinner with my husband. And I like getting thoughtful card. (I’m not big on sentimental and impractical gifts, but I get that some women are.) But I don’t buy into the idea that there is just one day a year for these expressions of love. And I certainly don’t buy into the idea that these are the only ways to express romantic love.

This Valentine’s Day was pretty much just an ordinary day for us. We were taking care of my sister’s kids, so we didn’t get to go out to dinner. And we didn’t even get each other cards. Rusty did bring me a rose, but that was all. And you know what? It was totally fine! He brings me flowers on other days. He writes me sweet love notes. We go out on dates on a regular basis thanks to a trade-off childcare arrangement with Josh and Julie.

But beyond that, Rusty shows me he loves me every day by helping out around the house and with the children, by encouraging me, by telling me I’m beautiful, by showing his appreciation for the things I do for our family, by being affectionate, by making me laugh, by listening to me. This is real love. And I am blessed to rest in it every single day, not just once a year.

If Valentine’s Day one year ends up being just another ordinary day for us, so be it. I know I’m loved — I don’t need a fancy bouquet or a teddy bear to reassure me of that fact!

Life With Seven Kids

Four days it’s been this time since I did my daily writing. Every time I take a break, I feel like I should offer some kind of explanation as to why I’ve been gone from this space. I really do enjoy the practice of writing just a little each day. It’s something I do just for me, not for anybody else, and that’s a good feeling. Especially when you are in that season of life where it seems like your world revolves around caring for others and making sure they are dressed, bathed, fed, taught, loved, kept organized, and so on. It also forces me to think in a different way than I normally do when I’m at home all day taking care of my kids.

So, here’s my explanation this time — for the past two nights, we have been staying at my sister’s house and taking care of her kids along with our brood. Seven kids, ages 7 and under, altogether. Josh and Julie spent the week in the Galapagos, playing tour guides and translators to a group from the States, and we volunteered to keep the kids for two nights while they were gone (the kids spent the other two nights with their grandparents). It’s been fun, but crazy, leading me to wonder how people with lots of kids actually DO this all the time!

Of course, I know that it’s physically impossible for all these kids to be ours, considering their ages. And I also know, from experience that you “grow” into your family. God normally doesn’t dump seven kids in your lap all at once! You have one, and then awhile later, you have another one, and so on. I remember, when we just had Alex, I would look at people with two or more kids and wonder, “How do they do it?” I felt like I had my hands full with just my one, and couldn’t imagine adding a second one to the mix. And then we had our second, and we just — adjusted. We learned to make things work with two kids. And the same thing happened when we had our third. So, I know this principle would hold true if our family continued to grow.

At the same time, though, I am thankful we DON’T have seven kids right now. Before I had any children of my own, I used to think having a large family would be cool. And don’t get me wrong — I still think large families are awesome! I know there are lots of benefits to growing up in a large family, and I stand in awe of families like the Duggars with their 20+ kids. But the more years I put under my belt as a mother, the more I think that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be the mother of lots of kids. And a smaller family is definitely more conducive, logistically speaking, to life on the mission field!

We have had lots of fun these past few days with seven kids. We made Valentine cards; we had pizza for dinner one night; we made and decorated Valentine cupcakes — and ate them of course! I read stories at night with a tangle of children all either sitting on my lap or pressed in against my sides or hanging over my shoulders. I brushed and braided my nieces hair. I walked them to school this morning, and they proudly showed me their classrooms. It’s been an enjoyable couple of days!

At the same time, I think I’ll be glad to go home tonight with just my 3 boys! These days, being a mom of three is enough for me!

Reducing Birthday Stress

We are entering birthday season here in the Campbell household. 4 out of the 5 of us have birthdays within 3 months of each other, starting with Alex at the end of this month. And I’m starting to feel the stress that always accompanies this time of year — the stress of deciding how to celebrate and planning the parties. Of course, Rusty and I don’t typically have parties anymore, although I feel like we should do something special to celebrate Rusty’s 40th birthday this year! But Alex has had enough birthdays that he expects some kind of celebration, and Stephen, who will be turning 4 in April, is starting to figure it out as well.

Over the years, I have tried hard to curb the excessive consumerism that often accompanies birthday celebrations and be creative in the ways we celebrate. For each of our kids’ first birthdays, we did a first birthday time capsule (to be opened when they turn 18) and asked party attendees (family, close friends, and teammates) to bring a small token for the time capsule in lieu of gifts. The second birthday party for both Alex and Stephen involved playtime (at the Taco Bell play-place for Alex and a local park for Stephen), and we will probably do this for Ben’s 2nd birthday party as well.

We have done “venue” birthday parties a couple of times at Bounce U. I am always surprised at how expensive venue-type parties are, even when you just go with the basic, cheapest package. I wouldn’t normally choose to do these kinds of parties, but when we were in the middle of a big transition and just couldn’t host the party in our own home, it was pretty much our only option. We have also done venue parties where we didn’t pay for the party package — we just went and played and then had cake and ice-cream at home. We have done this at both Chuck-E-Cheese and Jungle Java, and it was just as fun and a lot less expensive!

Alex had a “traditonal” birthday party the year he turned three with friends, games, presents, cake, and party-favors, and although I really thought I kept it simple in comparison to other parties, I was worn out by the end of it. I’m sure part of it had to do with the fact that I was about 8 months pregnant at the time, but it was an exhausting day. And it wasn’t just hard on me, but on some of the kids too, including my son, who were over-stimulated and overwhelmed by all the activity.

And then there is always the issue of the gifts. Really, do my kids need anymore toys? They don’t play with and appreciate all the ones they already have! But they have been to enough birthday parties of other kids, that they are starting to associate a birthday party with “getting more stuff.” So, what to do? Once, Alex went to a party where the birthday girl did not open her presents at the party, but opened them later after the guests left. I had never seen this before, but I thought it was a wonderful idea! No awkward moments of realizing you gave the same gift as someone else, or something the birthday child already had. No feeling bad because you gave a $10 gift, while someone else gave a gift that obviously cost much more. And the other kids didn’t have to stand around and watch while one person opened present after present. Older kids understand this, but it is SO difficult for the younger ones.

Over the years, I have tried different things to combat the “have party, get stuff” attitude. A couple of times, we had a “no gifts” party, and we explained to the kids beforehand that they wouldn’t be receiving any presents at the party. They were usually having so much fun playing that they neither noticed nor cared. And they still received presents from family, and from grandparents (things they either really wanted or needed), which they opened later at home, so it wasn’t like there were NO presents, just no presents at the actual party.

Last year, for Alex’s sixth birthday, we asked guests not to bring presents, but to consider a cash donation, which we would then give to World Vision. You can read all about it here on our family blog. I love the idea of using a birthday party to bless other less fortunate children. I have also heard of parties where instead of presents, the birthday child has a toy drive or a book drive, and they donate everything to a local charity or children’s hospital. I would like to continue this tradition, but I’m still trying to figure out how it would work now that we live overseas.

In some ways, we are naturally insulated against the big-birthday-party-with-lots-of-presents tradition. Since we homeschool, it’s not like our kids have a bunch of classmates to invite to a party. When we have Alex’s party at the end of this month, we’ll probably invite his cousins and his good friend Micah from the homeschool group, and maybe of couple of the kids that he’s met through T-ball, but that’s it.

The older my kids get and the more birthday parties I plan, the more I feel like what I really want their parties to be is a time to celebrate their lives and have a good time with a few close friends. I’d love to hear ideas for creative and frugal birthday celebrations and traditions. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

A Little Break

I’ve taken a little break from the writing project for the past couple of days, for several reasons:

  1. After spending all week at home with my kids, I sort of feel like I’ve run out of things to say! Not really true, of course — I have lots on my mind, lots I want to and could write about, but at the end of the day, I am usually just so tired that all I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or my computer, not think about putting words to some of the thoughts rattling around in my brain. It has been raining a lot this week, so every day, I would think, “Tonight would be a nice night to build another fire after the kids are in bed, and just relax in front of it,” but then after I got the kids in bed, I couldn’t even muster up the energy to actually get the fire going.
  2. On Thursday night, the older boys had a sleepover in my bed. They watched a movie on my laptop before they went to sleep, so I couldn’t use my computer during their movie, which is usually a good time for me to write. I could have gone out and used our desktop Mac or even Rusty’s old laptop, but I decided cuddling with my boys and watching “Cars 2” for the 542nd time was more important.
  3. Yesterday, we spent the afternoon at my sister’s house. We celebrated Jana’s fifth birthday with a Hello Kitty party and TONS of kids (just including cousins from both sides of the Marcum’s family, there were 13 kids, plus there were a few from Jana’s class at school). It was a crazy fun time, and after everyone else left, we stayed for a sleepover. After we got the kids settled and asleep, we watched a movie, and by the time it was over, it was late and cold, so I just went to bed.

Rusty will be home TONIGHT, and we are all so excited to see him. I am so very thankful for all the folks from the States who come and make sacrifices of time and money to bless Kumanii and the people along the Cayapas, but I’m also thankful that we don’t have another short-term group on the calendar until June! 5 groups in 6 weeks has been a little much for us with such young kids.