A Glimpse of Heaven from Oklahoma City

Two weeks ago today, we arrived in Oklahoma City. All of us were sick. All of us were tired. We had cancelled the rest of our appointments for our “home ministry assignment,” but we still had to get ourselves back to Seattle. So, we were looking at several long days of driving across the U.S. in the middle of winter. We almost didn’t even go through Oklahoma City at all since the shortest route to Seattle from Nashville puts you through Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota up to I-90.

But our friends Lj and Kari had made arrangements for us to stay at the Mission House near the Oklahoma Christian campus. And so, thinking that at least we could rest there and not worry about bringing our germs into a friend’s home, we went. I’m not sure what I really expected from our time there. To see old friends from our Japan days, to see Rusty’s nephew Robbie, who is a student at OC, to rest and relax for a bit before we made our big push west.

I didn’t expect to be totally overwhelmed with love and care. I didn’t expect to be ministered to. I didn’t expect to wish we could just stay forever. I didn’t expect to catch a glimpse of heaven from Oklahoma City.

From the time we arrived, our friends poured out for us. Seriously — we have the best and most thoughtful friends! People came to visit. They brought my kids a Wii to play. They invited them over to play. They brought food — every single one of our meals during our 2 days there was taken care of! They took us out to eat after church on Sunday. They invited us to their small group. They hugged us and encouraged us, and we laughed and reminisced together. They laid hands on us and prayed over us and our ministry, and it was so beautiful and so needed.

On Sunday night as we were packing up to leave the next morning, I started crying. I told Rusty I didn’t want to leave, that I wished we lived here, near friends, near kindred spirits. It’s amazing how you don’t even realize how lonely you’ve been until you’re suddenly – not. For a little while, anyway.

It probably sounds strange when I say I caught a glimpse of Heaven from Oklahoma City. Because, really, there are more beautiful places in the world. I think even people who live in OKC would acknowledge that! But what makes OKC beautiful to me is the people. So many of our dear friends from our English-teaching days in Japan live and work there now. There’s just something about those relationships that we formed in the early years of our marriage, during our first stint in our first foreign country. Every time I go to visit, I sort of feel like I’ve come home. And I’ve never lived there! But I’m with my people, my family, my tribe. I’m accepted and loved and understood. I matter to them.

I think this is what I mean. This is what I imagine Heaven will be like – a great big homecoming. The homecoming to beat all homecomings. We’ll throw our arms around each other and we’ll laugh long and loud. And maybe we’ll shed a tear or two. We’ll tell each other the stories of how we watched God work in us and through us and in spite of us. There will be food and there will be light and there will be warmth. Everyone will matter and everyone will belong.

This is what Heaven will be. And this is what I caught a glimpse of in Oklahoma City.

(A million thank-you’s to our dear friends Lj and Kari Littlejohn, Kelsey and Lisa Herndon, Mark and Charity Chan, and Damon and Amy Britton. You encouraged my heart in ways you can never know. I am blessed to know you and to call you my friends.)

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Grateful for the Body of Christ

What a week it has been!

This time last week, we were still in Nashville, and Rusty and I were debating whether to take Elizabeth into a clinic as she seemed to be pretty sick (high fever, congested, having trouble breathing). He eventually left the house with her, the address of a local clinic programmed into his phone. Several hours later, when I saw them again, it was in the emergency room at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. We had been trying to avoid a trip to the E.R. by visiting a local urgent care clinic, but we landed there anyway, and even added a ride in an ambulance to boot as the clinic decided she was doing so poorly that she needed to be on oxygen for the brief trip to the hospital.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with croup and given steroids and a breathing treatment, and after several hours of observation, they sent us home. As has been the case every time our family has faced a crisis over the years, I was humbly amazed and unspeakably grateful at the outpouring of support we received from our church family. Terri gave me a ride from the church to where our car was parked so I could drive it to the hospital. Amy went with me to the hospital, helped me find it and figure out where to park, walked inside with me, waited with us, and went to the cafeteria and bought Rusty something to eat. She and her doctor husband, Nathan, kept Alex and Stephen at their house overnight and most of the next day. Jane stayed with Benjamin at her house and put him to bed. Nathan called us repeatedly to check up on us. Claudia brought dinner one evening. Henry and Jane graciously allowed us to stay a few extra days with them as we attempted to recover (our entire family ended up getting sick at the same time).

I have not even allowed myself to dwell on how much our little trip to the E.R. is going to end up costing, but we have already had several people ask and offer financial assistance if we need it. As we began to consider the possibility that we might need to cancel our remaining speaking appointments for this trip and just head back to Seattle early, we had nothing but support and genuine understanding from all those we were considering backing out on. Many prayed for our family and offered words of encouragement via Facebook.

It’s enough to make you wonder what people who aren’t part of a church community do when things like this happen to them? I have wondered this often over the years. When your house burns to the ground, or there’s a death in the family, or your baby is 2 born two months premature, these are the times when I have witnessed churches pull together, rally the troops, and surround the one-in-need with real, tangible help, not to mention emotional and spiritual support. What happens if you aren’t part of a body like this? I suppose family members can provide this to some extent, but what if you live far from extended family?

At the end of the day, as we all collapsed exhausted into our beds, Elizabeth finally breathing somewhat peacefully, I was overcome by a profound gratitude for all the myriad ways we had been ministered to in our time of need by the body of Christ.

We spent the next several days recovering, decided to cancel most of the rest of our appointments for this home ministry assignment, drove to Memphis on Thursday, Oklahoma City on Friday, and tomorrow, we will begin the push westward to Portland, and finally to Seattle.

The Catch-Up Post

Whenever I start writing again after a long hiatus, I feel like I should do a sort of “catch-up.” Where I am, what I’ve been doing. Not just to satisfy this drive to have some sort of chronological record of those months that have passed, but also to set the stage for what I really want to say later.

Of course, when so much time has passed, the “catch-up” phase that I feel I have to do just begins to seem more and more overwhelming. Where to begin? What to talk about? And so I keep putting it off and putting off and getting further and further behind.

I could talk about our new job and ministry at Camp Bellevue. How much we are enjoying it. How settled we feel. How thankful we are to have followed God’s leading to this place and for the chance to do Kingdom work together as a couple and a family (which is something we never really had with the jungle ministry Rusty was involved in before).

I could talk about our new home. How beautiful the area is where we live. How much I enjoy living out in the country as opposed to the noise and congestion of the city. How these things come with a price, because now that we live an hour and a half from Quito, I don’t see my sister nearly as often and can’t participate in our homeschool group as much as before. How there have been times since moving out to the camp when I have felt profoundly lonely and out-of-place and found myself missing even more the camaraderie we had with the Angola Team.

I could talk about our new baby. How beautiful and perfect and amazing she is. How thankful I am to have a daughter and how much I am enjoying little girl clothes and hair-bows! How fiercely I love her and want to protect her. How she is changing the way I think about church and the “women’s role” issue. How desperately I want her to grow up in a faith community that values her gifts and her voice and doesn’t try to shunt her into a specific ministry based solely on her anatomy.

I could write about the week I spent in Brazil in October with about 50 other missionary women. How wonderful and refreshing and soothing it was. How neat it was to look back and see how far I had come emotionally since the first Continent Care Connection conference I attended two years before (I was really a bit of a mess at that first one — yikes!)

I could write about “home ministry assignment” and all the places we’ve been and people we’ve seen since coming back to the States in October. How special it was to spend Elizabeth’s first Christmas with my parents. How, despite how truly good it’s been, we are also so tired and really ready to get back home and back to our own beds and our routine.

So that’s the background — where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing over the past year and a bit. And if you read my other blog, which focuses more on family / ministry news, or follow The Campbell Family in Ecuador on Facebook, then you are already aware of most of the above. And if not, well, now you know! The Campbell Chronicles has been sadly neglected too, of late, so part of my New Year’s resolution of writing more will include trying to get caught up over there as well.

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!

On the Eve of Moving Day

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. I’m not entirely sure why I picked it back up tonight of all nights. We are moving tomorrow, which means that for several days now, we have been packing, packing, packing, trying to get everything (or at least all the big items) ready for the moving truck. I am so tired… and yet, I also needed some way to commemorate this last night in our Quito house. Writing is (and always has been) one of the primary ways I process through complex emotions.

While a part of me is excited about our move and all it entails — living in a beautiful place out in the country, new opportunities to be involved in ministry together — another part of me is sad to be leaving Quito. I won’t necessarily miss all the traffic and noise of city life, but I’ll miss being close to my sister and her family, and close to other homeschooling moms. I’ll miss our big, spacious house. The house we are moving into is quite a bit smaller than this one. We plan to add on eventually, but we will have to squeeze in at first! There are so many things that I love about this house, and I feel sad that we weren’t able to really fix it up the way we wanted. We only lived here about a year and a half (the first nearly four months without any of our stuff), and there were so many projects we just didn’t get around to.

I know it’s just a house, just bricks and mortar, pipes and wires, walls and a roof. Still, I feel as though we’re abandoning someone we just barely got to know. I thought this house would be where we would break our record of the longest time spent in one home (3 years in our first apartment in Japan).

I suppose I’ll have to hold out hope that we do that in our new home at Camp Bellevue (where we will be living and working as the camp administrators). People ask how long we plan on staying, and I want to say “Forever!” After all the moving around we have done in the last several years, if we never have to move again, it will be too soon.

When the First Language Becomes the Second Language

No, this is not a post about how I am afraid that Alex is starting to forget English now that he is immersed in Spanish at school three days a week. It is a post about how children subconsciously alter the way they speak their first language when they are in their second language environment.

All the kids at Hansei learn English as a foreign language, starting in pre-K. (I believe Korean is also an option when they get older.) Today, we attended an English open house at Hansei. All the kids participated — the younger grades sang songs, while the older grades put on plays and did poetry readings. Alex’s Kindergarten class sang several songs, like “There Was a Farmer Had a Dog,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” and “The Hokey Pokey,” complete with actions and motions. At first, Rusty and I noticed that the other kids were looking to Alex, rather than their teacher, to know what to do. Which I guess is probably normal, as he is not only a full year older, but also a native English speaker.

But then, we realized that he had adopted a very Latino accent in the way he was pronouncing certain words like “little” (LEE-tell), and “goodbye” (GUDE-bai). I was thoroughly amused by this, and it reminded me of a similar time in my own life when I spoke English with a perfect Kenyan accent…

When I was in first grade, I was chosen to recite a poem for an end-of-the-year program at my school, Victoria Primary School, in Kisumu, Kenya. I practiced my poem at home for weeks in my normal accent (and to this day, I still remember the first verse of it by heart), but when the time came for me to stand up and recite, I did it like a Kenyan. My mom says if she had closed her eyes, she would never have known it was her own daughter standing up there. Of course, my parents were in fits of laughter, and trying to hide their faces behind the people in front of them so I wouldn’t see and become flustered. I was blissfully unaware of all of this. I finished reciting my poem and left the stage.

Later, on the way home, my mom asked me to recite my poem again. I obliged, of course in my American accent. She said, “No, I want you to recite it like you did at the school.”

I was confused. “That is how I recited it at the school,” I said. I had absolutely NO IDEA what I had done or why the fact that I had used a Kenyan accent in a situation that OBVIOUSLY called for it was so very funny to my parents. Years later, of course, I can see the humor in it, and that is partly what made hearing Alex do a similar thing so funny today.

One of the great benefits of growing up a TCK is the exposure to other languages. And, additionally, the exposure to other ways of speaking a language (other accents, different words for the same thing, etc.). I find that I am a sort of chameleon when it comes to accents. Leave me in a certain place long enough, and I will start to adopt the local accent. In the South, I start to drawl and say words like “ya’ll,” and up North, I order “pop” and speak through my nose. But I do find that I can more readily understand different accents than a person who has spent their entire life in one geographic location. And I’m better able to understand ESL speakers with heavy accents.

It seems that Alex, for his part, is well on his way to becoming an “accent chameleon” like his mother!

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The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 14

Week 14 is about honoring your body. Read the challenge here.

I’m coming to realize something about myself. I’m really not that great at self-care. I’m especially not good at taking care of my body. Regular exercise, getting enough rest, drinking plenty of water, even flossing are all things I struggle to incorporate into my life. That probably sounds funny coming from a thin person — but just the fact that someone doesn’t have a weight problem doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy. In fact, I would venture a guess that sometimes thin people are some of the most unhealthy people — because they don’t have to eat right and exercise regularly in order to maintain their thin physique.

Over the past month, I have been taking steps to change that. I purchased The Ultimate Homemaking E-Book Bundle when it went on sale at the end of April, and my purchase included a 2-month free membership to Fit 2 B Studio, a sort of online health club with tons of workout videos that you can do in the comfort of your own home. I decided I wanted to start small with maybe some ab workouts to try to flatten out my “belly pooch” that has been there since after Ben was born. So, I started poking around the website and trying out some of the videos, and I discovered that I have something called diastasis (a separation of the abdominal muscles, very common after pregnancy) that can’t be fixed with crunches, sit-ups, and other traditional ab exercises. I’ve been doing some of the exercises on the Fit 2 B website for almost a month now, and I am very pleased with the results I’m seeing — and I haven’t had to do a single sit-up! I also set up our Wii Fit so I could use that for exercise as well.

For this challenge, I am supposed to write a list of 5 things that I will do to help me honor my body. Obviously, exercise is one (my goal is 3-4 times per week for now). The others are — to drink more water, start taking my vitamins again, go to bed by 11:00 (need to revisit the sleep challenge), and limit myself to one soda per week.

The picture I chose to use for this challenge was taken during our anniversary get-away to the Black Sheep Inn. We went on an invigorating hike and ate our picnic lunch at the top of a ridge with amazing views of a peaceful valley. My legs were burning when we got back to our cabin, but it felt so good to be so physically tired. Later that afternoon, we soaked our sore muscles in the hot tub, and I even painted my toenails (something I rarely do). I need to be better at making time to pamper myself occasionally — even if it’s just a bubble bath or a pedicure or a haircut (desperately need one of those!).photo(1)I am more than my body, it’s true. But I also inhabit this body for now, and hopefully for many years to come, and I need to make sure that I honor it by taking care of it to the best of my ability.

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?

What I Like Best

Today, Alex and I met with the school counselor at Alliance Academy International, the Christian missionary school here in Quito. When Hansei first asked us to consider having Alex tested for ADD/ADHD, the main challenge was finding somewhere that would do the testing in English. My sister (who works part-time at Alliance) made some inquiries, and they graciously agreed to allow him to be tested there, even though he is not one of their students. We were there about 2 hours, but I was not in the room while the counselor was administering the tests, so until we have our follow-up appointment in two weeks, I won’t really have any answers. But my initial impression, just from the few words I exchanged with her after the tests, is that he performed well, but had a hard time concentrating and staying focused. Which is fairly consistent with what I have observed and experienced as his mother/teacher.

While Alex was doing his tests, I was given a bunch of forms to fill out in the lobby. Forms that ask questions about your child’s behavior, academic performance, social skills, etc. Most were answered simply by circling a number, but there was one that had a few open-ended questions with lines for writing your response. About halfway into this form, I encountered the question, “What concerns you most about your child?” followed by, “What do you like best about your child?” That second question brought me up short because I wasn’t expecting it, given the context. I mean, wasn’t I there because of my child’s problems, whatever those are perceived or determined to be? I wasn’t there to talk about his good characteristics or skills; I was there to get some answers for how to deal with those things society deems unacceptable!

And then I realized, I have been so focused on problematic behaviors over the last several weeks — ever since he started attending Hansei — that I have failed to recognize all the things about Alex that are wonderful and special and endearing. I have allowed the notes being sent home by his teachers describing the ways he is acting out to stress me out to the point where I am struggling to see and praise him for the things he is doing well. Several hours later, as I sit here reflecting on the events of the day, I am so grateful for that question! I’m grateful because it forced me to stop thinking about all the things that are “wrong” with my child and look, really look, for all that’s right and good, unique and precious. I’m a perfectionist, as I’ve mentioned before, and I think I’ve realized that I need to be careful not to let my perfectionism extend to my children, holding them to an unattainable standard and causing them endless frustration in the process.

Here, then, is my answer to the question of “what I like best about my child.” I tried to remember everything I wrote down on the questionnaire. I have also added a few additional thoughts and explanations:

  • He is smart and inquisitive. He knew all the capital letters of the alphabet by the time he was 2; he’s learned not one but 2 foreign languages well enough to communicate with other kids his age (and he’s only 7!); he has an amazing memory and vocabulary; and he soaks up knowledge and information like a sponge. He figures things out so quickly, sometimes it is hard to keep one step ahead of him!
  • He is tender-hearted and compassionate — when he wants to be. He generally plays well and is careful with children who are younger and smaller than him (he has been used to being “bigger” and “older” most of his life). He loves giving gifts, and he is very affectionate. Already, at 7 years old, he understands that there are many poor and disadvantaged people in the world and that he has a responsibility as a person of privilege, to do what he can to help them.  For his sixth birthday, he agreed to collect money for needy children instead of receive presents of his own, and every time he goes out to Kumanii, he takes a backpack filled with little toys to give away to the children he meets on the river.
  • He is outgoing, friendly, and social. He makes new friends easily and loves to be around people. (He gets all this from his father, I know, because this is not my way AT ALL!)
  • He leaps into new situations with confidence and enthusiasm. He is not usually fearful or timid — in fact, sometimes, I wish he was just slightly more cautious so he wasn’t getting hurt so often! He tries new foods without complaining and has a pretty varied palate for a 7-year old (he likes snails, green tea, and Indian curry, for example). We have traveled the world with him since he was a tiny baby, moved many times, enrolled him in school in 2 foreign countries now, and he just takes it all in stride. He handles change better than many adults I know, including myself!

Perspective is so important, and I’m thankful to have regained a little of it today. No matter what happens in 2 weeks, no matter what the results show, no matter how we decide to proceed, I want my son to know that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that I am so very proud of him, so grateful that he is a part of our family, and so blessed to be his mama!

Unrooted Childhoods: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer’s essay “Living in the Transit Lounge” serves as an introduction to the entire book, Unrooted Childhoods. He starts out by describing — no, romanticizing — the globally nomadic life. I don’t relate well to this right now because, in recent years, I have become increasingly disillusioned with this lifestyle. Oh, it seems exciting and adventurous and romantic to someone on the outside, and I’m not denying that there are many benefits to all the moving around our family has done in the last few years. We have certainly seen some amazing places and had some very cool experiences. But there are times when I just long for stability, for normalcy, for roots.

I was glad to see Iyer move away from romanticizing the life of a global nomad into an honest treatment of its pitfalls and problems. “What is the price we pay for all this?” he asks on page 14, then goes on to say, “Seasoned experts at dispassion, we are less good at involvement or suspensions of disbelief; at, in fact, the abolition of distance. We are masters of the aerial perspective, but touching down becomes more difficult (p. 14-15).” I definitely feel like this is a good description of where I’m at right now. With each move, each painful goodbye, each difficult transition, it becomes harder and harder for me to “attach” the next time to a new people, a new place.

At the same time, I think that my faith grounds me in a sense. I am not completely lost in the world, bobbing about like a cork on a vast sea. When Iyer asks, “What does the Transit Lounger feel? What are the issues that we would die for? What are the passions that we would live for?”, I feel that I can answer those questions. I find my purpose in Christ, and this gives me roots. Oh, they aren’t geographic roots, to be sure, but they are roots all the same. And all of my global wanderings have had a purpose as well, a purpose that goes beyond myself and any desire I might have for adventure or cool experiences.

In the end, a missionary is not so much a Transit Lounger as an Ambassador: “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19-20)