Resolved

I’ve been feeling the itch for awhile. The itch to write again, to get back to this space. And January the first just seemed like an appropriate day to do it. After all, I began this blog on January the first two years ago.

Every year, I go back and forth… to make New Year’s resolutions or not? This year was going to be a NOT, but then I decided to blog, and somehow I found myself making them.

I therefore resolve —

To take my vitamins every day. To drink more water and less soda. To move a little each day, even if it’s just a walk in the sunshine or splashing in the pool with my kids.

To pick up my YouVersion daily Bible reading plan again. And stick with it this time.

To set an alarm clock for the same time each morning, at least a half hour before my children wake up. To go to bed on time each night (by 11:00) so I’m not tempted to just turn it off and go back to sleep.

To be intentional about time spent with my children. To participate in the things they are interested in. (This will probably mean I have to learn to play Skylanders.) To yell less. To listen more. To encourage and celebrate creativity even if it means I have to grit my teeth and put up with messes.

To start the practice of daily writing again. I may not will not blog every day, but I want to at least write every day. Maybe some of what I write will later turn into a blog post. Maybe not. Maybe it will end up on my other blog. Or maybe it will stay tucked away in my private, pen and paper journal. Whatever happens to the words, I want to write.

January first is a good day to begin again. But really, any day is a good day to begin again with God. I want to remember that the first day I fail to follow through with one of the above!

May 19th

Well, the day is finally over. We had a full house this evening with all the Operation Ecuador missionaries, including several new interns. Our house was full and LOUD with kids running and playing and the adults visiting and playing cards. The singing was amazing, the curry buffet was delicious, and the birthday cakes (for Rusty and Josh) were yummy too. It does my heart good to see people enjoying themselves in our home.

And to top it all off, today, some new friends arrived to stay with us for a few days. They are Neill and Julie, of OverlandBirds.com. They are currently in the middle of a 2-year trip around the world in their Land Rover Defender! They started in England, came down through Europe and Africa, and then shipped their car to South America. You can read all the fascinating details on their blog (click the link above). Rusty began corresponding with them a couple months ago and offered them a place to stay when they came through South America. They are excited to sleep in a real bed again for a few days and have a place to wash all their clothes, and Rusty is enjoying “talking shop” about Land Rovers and hearing all their amazing stories.

I know the wheels are turning in his brain, now more than ever, figuring out how we can do something similar — someday. Someday when our kids are older and we are independently wealthy — ha! I’ll admit, there is a part of me that finds the whole idea intriguing. And another part that can’t get past thinking what a hassle all those border crossings and car shippings must be! I told Rusty awhile back that I didn’t think I could do a “round the world” trip in the Land Rover, but I might consider a trip around South America. So, who knows? Maybe in 10 years or so, we’ll set out on our own continental journey.

It’s fun to dream about, anyway!

The Birthday Blues

Tomorrow is my husband’s 40th birthday. All day long, as the depression has been trying to creep in, I’ve been tying to push it down, ignore it, hope it’ll just go away. I’m not depressed because he’ll soon be 40. It’s just a number for Pete’s sake, one more than 39, one less than 41.

I think I feel bad because I just don’t do birthdays well. I’m not good at pulling off elaborate parties or even buying that special gift that’s sure to surprise and delight. I get frustrated trying to buy gifts for my husband, to be perfectly honest. He’s one of those people that either just goes ahead and buys what he wants when he wants it, or he has such a specific and specialized wish list (i.e. tools or electronics) that I’m uncomfortable buying them without his input — I’m afraid I’ll buy the wrong thing. What usually ends up happening is Rusty just decides what he wants and goes out and buys it and we say, “Well, that will be your birthday present this year,” which is really — lame.

And then there’s the whole problem of how we celebrate his birthday in a place where we just don’t have that many friends yet. I mean, we have lots of acquaintances, but few close friends. Today, we were talking about Rusty’s 33rd birthday, which we celebrated in Japan, surrounded by so many close friends, just a little over a month before we found out his mom had a brain tumor and the whole course of our lives was completely altered. Rusty still looks back on that as one of the best birthdays of his adult life. It was an awesome party, and it was awesome because of the people who were there. And I can’t gather all of Rusty’s close friends for a similar party to celebrate his 40th — they are too scattered, and it is logistically impossible. And knowing I can’t recreate that makes me sad.

We are hosting the Operation Ecuador monthly Praise and Potluck in our home tomorrow, and it is going to include a curry buffet and a birthday cheesecake in Rusty’s honor, but it’s not like we are particularly close to anyone in Operation Ecuador, with the exception of Josh and Julie. So, in some ways, it’s like we’re just tacking the party on to an already existing event, which is kinda — lame.

So, yeah. Husband’s 40th birthday — fail. Maybe going to see the new Star Trek movie on Monday for Date Night will sort of make up for it?

On Mother’s Day…

Today was Mother’s Day. If I were feeling more eloquent, I would write a post about the innumerable ways my mom has blessed my life through her love, her teaching, and her example. But the truth is that for most of the day, my thoughts have been going out to all those for whom Mother’s Day may not be a happy day, to those who may have wounds that are reopened somewhat by all the hype about mothers and motherhood today.

And so this post is for my friends…

…who have recently lost a mother,

…whose mother has been several years gone,

…who are struggling with infertility,

…who are walking the adoption road,

…who suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of a mother,

…who are dealing with a rebellious or wayward child,

…who have lost a child,

…who have suffered a miscarriage,

…who are separated from their children,

…who are raising their children alone,

…who are single and childless…

…whose children have chosen a life of service on the other side of the world.

See, I’ve been in church services where they asked all the mothers to stand and gave them all a rose. And I appreciate the sentiment behind honoring mothers and motherhood, but it never really occurred to me until recently that something like that could be painful for many women. And so, I just want to say, in case today was hard for you, that today, you were close to my heart. Today, I prayed that you would know the peace and comfort of the Lord who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Today, you are loved.

A Joint Birthday Bash

Whew! It’s been a busy few days. I feel like all I’ve done for the past couple of days is get ready for Alex and Stephen’s birthday party this afternoon. I’m not much of an “event planner.” I love having people over for dinner or a few of the kids’ friends for playdates, but being responsible for a full-blown party with decorations and activities and special food stresses me out. And because Alex and Stephen have birthdays so close together (a little over a month apart), I find myself stressing out around this time of year as I start thinking about planning two birthday parties back to back.

Back in February, I wrote about creative ways to reduce both the stress and the consumerism that seems to accompany kids’ birthday parties. One thing I had never considered at the time was the idea of a joint birthday party. But a few weeks ago, a light bulb sort of went off in my head… and I thought, why not? I can throw myself into it, plan a big shindig, kill two birds with one stone (if you’ll pardon the expression), and then sit back and put my feet up and not worry about it until next year. And at this point in my kids’ young lives, a joint birthday party really does make a lot of sense. They have the same friends; they like the same things. I remember having joint birthday parties with my sister when we were younger. It wasn’t until we were older and going to a bigger school where we had different groups of friends (I was in middle school; she was still in elementary school) that we started asking for separate birthday parties.

So I asked the boys what they thought, and they got really excited about it. Alex had already decided he wanted a Mario Kart party, and Stephen was happy to go along with that, as he has really gotten into Mario Kart lately too. There isn’t a lot available here in Ecuador as far as store-bought decorations and such for a Mario Kart party, but thanks to the Internet and other moms with a lot more creativity than me, I was able to cobble together some ideas for homemade decorations, simple activities and games, and a race-track cake that worked very well for 2. (I will probably post pictures on our family blog at some point, so I won’t repeat all that here.) We invited the cousins, as well as a few families with young kids from our homeschooling group — 10 kids in all, a very manageable group!

Anyway, it was a great party, and the kids had a lot of fun. I, however, am worn out and very glad that I don’t have to turn around and start planning another party. For me, to put on my “event planner” hat is truly a labor of love for my children. Don’t get me wrong — I am happy to do it because I want them to know how special and important they are to me — but since I don’t feel like I am naturally gifted in this area, doing things like this will always create more stress than enjoyment for me.

Celebrating Passover

We celebrated Passover in our home for the third time this year. Friends introduced us to the idea of the Messianic Passover years ago when we were living in Japan. Since then, we have also experienced it in a church setting, but it wasn’t until we were living in Portugal that we tried hosting a seder dinner in our own home. And ever since our first one, I knew I wanted Passover to become a part of our Holy Week / Easter remembrances and celebrations each year.

Why would a Christian family observe a Jewish holiday? Here are a couple of reasons we have made it one of our traditions: Every time I participate in a Passover dinner and service, my understanding of the Christian practice of taking communion is deepened and enriched. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples, and it wasn’t just a quick 10-minute service where trays of tiny crackers and cups of grape juice were passed around. It was a lengthy service built around an entire meal with many symbolic elements. Jesus “re-imagined” the Passover and some of those elements, when he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But beyond that, I think there is much that Christians can gain from the study of Jewish culture. Not only were Christ and the apostles all Jews, but the early church was heavily influenced by Jewish culture. I think Christianity does itself something of a disservice when it ignores that rich heritage entirely. Passover was my first foray into Jewish tradition, but I am interested in learning more about other Jewish holidays and festivals, such as Purim and Hannukah. I’m sure that there are faith lessons I could take away from those holidays as well.

If you have never participated in a Messianic Passover, I encourage you to try to find a way to do so, either in a church setting or in your own home. There are many excellent resources online for planning and hosting your own seder, including free printable and downloadable copies of the haggadah (the script that you follow during the service).

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!

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.

Putting Away Christmas

So, I finally made myself put Christmas away today. The ornaments are tucked back into their tissue paper; the tree is in its box; the Christmas dishes have been replaced with my everyday white dishes. Soon, the Christmas cookies will be all gone. So, I guess Christmas is officially over.

I like to leave the Christmas stuff up until at least Epiphany (a.k.a. Orthodox or Ethiopian Christmas) so that I get a chance to enjoy it after all the hubbub is over. I didn’t get much of a chance to bask in the soft glow of the Christmas tree and the warmth of a crackling fire before Christmas because it seemed like every night after the kids were in bed, I was baking or shopping or wrapping gifts. The day after Christmas, Alex told me he wished every day was Christmas. I remember having the same thought when I was a kid, but now that I’m a grownup, I’m glad it only comes once a year! It’s a lot of work to make Christmas special for your family. And of course its work I love doing, but I’m still worn out by the time it’s all over!

So after it’s all over is my time to just sit and enjoy the tree and the lights and some peaceful Christmas music. I know people who are obsessive about getting Christmas put away before the New Year, and I always think to myself, “What’s the rush? Just relax and enjoy it for awhile.” Of course, I know some people decorate for Christmas in mid-November, so maybe they really are just tired of looking at it all by then. I always wait until after Thanksgiving to do anything Christmas-related, and by then, it’s only 4 weeks (or less) away.

Putting Christmas away is a big job, almost as big as getting it out, and not nearly as much fun. But it’s done for another year. All that remains is to haul the boxes to the attic. But I think I’ll wait for my strong and manly husband to come home from the jungle and help me with that part!

Christmas Cards

Yesterday, Rusty brought home our mail from the Bible college, which included three Christmas cards from friends. With the Christmas holidays and then his trip to Kumanii, it had been awhile since he had been able to pick up our mail, so there’s no telling how long those cards had been sitting in his box. But I was ridiculously happy to receive them, even if it was two weeks after Christmas.

When I decorated the house for Christmas, I hung up a length of ribbon on a hook by our front door and clipped a bunch of little clothespins to it so I could display our Christmas cards. But the weeks went by… and Christmas got closer… and still there were no Christmas cards to clip to the ribbon. It made me kind of sad. So eventually, when I was cutting up old Christmas cards to make gift tags, I pulled out a few of the pretty ones and put them up just so that empty ribbon wouldn’t keep staring me in the face day after day.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we haven’t exactly made it easy for people to keep up with us through the years with all the moving around we’ve done. It seems like every year, we’re changing our address again. But I don’t think it’s only that. There seems to be this growing trend to go digital with our correspondence, and that has extended even to Christmas cards, birthday greetings, and thank-you notes. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I just don’t think an email or an e-card or seeing a digital copy of someone’s Christmas card on Facebook is quite the same as a handwritten note or a card you can display. The digitized versions lack that personal touch, that sense that someone thought enough of you to take the time and effort to write a note, to find out your address, and to get it in the mail.

I know finances are a big reason why people cut back on sending Christmas cards or don’t send them at all. And we have had to cull our list pretty severely through the years to include only family, close friends, and supporters. Even so, our list still includes almost 100 names! We actually don’t send Christmas cards; we send New Year’s cards, a carry-over from our days in Japan. And sometimes, they don’t go out until the end of January (or February). But we do try to do them every year. I think there have only been a couple of years during the course of our marriage where we haven’t sent anything.

If you are one of the few who sent us a Christmas card this year, please know how much it was appreciated! Your card is still displayed proudly by our front door, and if you sent a picture, it will find a place on our refrigerator eventually.