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!

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Four Years Ago Yesterday…

With all the birthday party hullabaloo yesterday, I barely had time to reflect on the fact that it was also Stephen’s fourth birthday. It’s hard to believe he’s 4 now, the same age Alex was when we first moved to Portugal.

If I ever get around to writing my kids’ birth stories, Stephen’s will be short and sweet, very unlike my first labor and delivery experience. 4 hours from when the first contractions woke me in the early morning hours of April 6th to when I was pushing him out on a hospital bed with no one but Rusty and 2 L&D nurses in attendance. We barely made it to the hospital, checking in a mere 12 minutes before Stephen was born; my doctor wasn’t there yet, and the doctor on call didn’t make it to the room in time. She showed up later and gave the nurses a little bit of grief for delivering a baby without her. Whatever, lady. Like they could have stopped me?

And the difference in their birth stories is just the beginning of the differences between Alex and Stephen. Stephen is so different from his older brother in so many ways. Before he was born, I think I understood intellectually that all children are different, have different personalities, different needs, different aptitudes, different interests, but now I understand it based on my experiences these last four years. And yet, despite their differences, there is a bond forming between these two that is precious to see. I love watching them play together, interact together, imagine together, create together. Of course, it’s not rosy all the time — we have plenty of moments when they annoy each other, pester each other, or are downright mean to each other. I hold onto hope as they grow, those moments will decrease, to be replaced by a genuine friendship, like the one I share with my siblings.

My mom reminded me when we Skyped yesterday evening that Stephen was born in the middle of an April snow-storm, a Michigan winter’s last hurrah. We drove to the hospital through slushy streets that had yet to see the plows, and later, I nursed my newborn baby while watching the flakes softly fall outside the window. I’ve been reflecting on that moment today, as I look at my now 4-year old. How he’s changed and grown in the last 4 years! How many changes our family has seen these last 4 years. And how thankful I am that Stephen has been a part of it all.

My First Birthday in Ecuador

Today, I celebrated my 36th birthday on my 5th continent. It’s interesting — as you get older, your birthday really is just another day. We’ve been needing to go downtown to take care of some paperwork pertaining to our visas, and we can only go on Mondays and Fridays since Alex is in school the rest of the week. Friday was a public holiday, so today we trudged off downtown with the kids in tow to try to take care of it. We ate breakfast out, then went to the office… where we were told we needed to have color copies of our passports, visa stamps, and visa registration stamps. So off we went to find a copy shop, then back to the office… where we were told that now their computer was down, and could we please come back after lunch? We took the kids to eat at Burger King and let them burn some energy in the play place, then headed back to the office where we waited and waited for them to prepare the papers we needed. All of us had to stand for a picture, which was a frustrating process with Stephen and Benjamin. But finally, we were done and on our way home. Not the best way to spend your birthday morning, but it’s something we’ve been needing to do for awhile and we finally got it done, so that’s a good thing.

But we made up for it this evening — a double date with Julie (who coincidentally shares my birthday, although we are not twins) and Josh! The plan was to go see “Les Misérables,”and then eat dinner out. However, when we got to the theater, we were told that the showing we planned to see was sold out, so we ate dinner first at one of our recent finds, an awesome Middle Eastern restaurant. Then, we went back to the theater… where we were told that there were some problems with one of the projectors, so the next showing of “Les Mis” had been cancelled! The only other real option that would get us home at a decent time was “G.I. Joe,” which Julie and I rather reluctantly agreed to see. (It was our birthday, for crying out loud, and we didn’t really want to see a guy movie). However, what we didn’t know was that in the time that we stood there debating what to do, they fixed the projector, so Rusty and Josh actually bought tickets for “Les Mis,” but let us girls go on thinking that we were going to see “G.I. Joe!” It wasn’t until the movie started and I heard the familiar strains of the opening score that I realized what was happening.

Anyway, wow! What an amazing movie! Such a powerful story, such powerful music. It was hard to keep myself from bursting into song right along with the actors through much of the movie! I know “Les Mis” has its critics, but honestly, it seems like most of the criticism stems from people who can’t seem to expand their imaginations to see Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman in a singing role! I was pretty impressed with both their performances, actually. Even the noisy people in the row behind us who kept up a constant stream of chit-chat and giggling through much of the movie (ANNOYING!!!) couldn’t diminish the power of this film, although I do look forward to seeing it again in the privacy of my own home without all that obnoxiousness.

482322_10152708998005553_2013226771_nIf you are friends with me on Facebook, then you know that as his present to me this year, my sweet husband built me a scrapbook table for my craft room. He worked on it most of last week and finally got it done on Saturday night. The legs are made from shipping pallets that were in our container, and the top and shelves he made from a piece of laminate chip-board (counter-top) that he had cut up. Such a sweet and thoughtful gift! I look forward to finally getting all my scrapbooking and crafting stuff unpacked and organized, and to being able to work on my scrapbooks again.

It’s been a good day, and even though this morning wasn’t exactly fun, I got to spend my day with some of my favorite people in the world — my hubby, my kids, and my sister. I’m loved and I’m thankful.

A Second Car

It’s official. Today, we became a two-car family again when we brought home our Nissan Patrol. It has been almost 7 years since we owned two vehicles at the same time (not counting the first few months we spent in Ecuador when we were still trying to sell our mini-van in the United States). In fact, we have been a two-car family for only a handful of our nearly 14 years of marriage. And if you read my “Wheel-Less” posts, then you know about our experiences with not owning a vehicle at all.

I confess: I sort of resisted the purchase of a second car for a long time. Not because I was afraid of driving in Ecuador (well, maybe that played a teensy part), but more because owning a second vehicle just seemed so — extravagant. I mean, we’re missionaries. We already have one car, which is more than about 95% of the rest of the people on planet Earth. Do we really need a second one? For that matter, do we really need the first one? Is it right for us to have so much when others have so little? Two cars means we will spend twice as much on transportation — two cars to maintain, two cars to fill up with gas, two cars to insure, two cars to pay the yearly tax on…

But several things have become apparent over the last several months which have slowly shifted my thinking in regards to this. The first is that Rusty is probably going to be away from home a lot more than either of us thought he would be when we first came to Ecuador. The second is that, although cabs are a viable option, they are not an option I am entirely comfortable with, for various reasons (see Wheel-Less: Part 2). And the third is, that while my husband never complains at being asked to chauffeur me around, I know that he would like for me to be a little more independent (to be able to drive myself to the store, for example). So while I’m not completely thrilled at the idea of being a two-car family again, I recognize that this is a blessing for our situation. And my attitude should be one of gratefulness for the blessing of having found this car, for the blessing of being able to afford it, rather than accepting it begrudgingly.

Oh, I am excited at the prospects of independence and the ability to go places on my own that this car represents. Now, to conquer my fear of driving in Ecuador, and to get my Ecuadorian driver’s license!

My new ride

My new ride

Wheel-Less (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

The second time we were without a vehicle for an extended length of time was when we moved to Portugal for what was supposed to be 9-12 months of language study, but ended up being almost 2 years, thanks to a complicated Angolan visa process and then a surprise pregnancy.

Our situation was a bit different this time around than when we moved to Japan as newly-weds. For one thing, we had two children by this time. Alex was 4 when we moved to Portugal, so he could walk and get on and off buses without much assistance, but Stephen was only about 9 months old, so he had to be carried. We quickly discovered that strollers are a royal pain when riding public buses, so Rusty opted for the Kelty kid carrier, and I just used my sling. We only bothered with a stroller when we knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking, like if we were spending the day at the zoo.

The second difference was that we used public transportation much more in Lisbon than we ever did in Mito. At first we thought we might like to ride bikes from time to time, like we did in Japan. We bought bikes right after moving to Portugal, but Rusty decided he didn’t like his and sold it to a friend right away. Mine sat outside our bedroom window the entire time we lived there, and then I gave it away when we left. I don’t think I ever rode it. We lived within biking distance of our language school, but there wasn’t a route that didn’t involve either giant hills or a busy road with no shoulder. I also don’t think we really thought through how we would bike with two kids in tow. (Hint: It’s not as simple as biking solo.)

But beyond that, the public transportation system in Lisbon (and across all of Europe, really) is so efficient and accessible, and for the most part, safe. We bought monthly bus passes that allowed us to ride a bus line and also included the Metro (subway) and trolley systems downtown — convenient when we were going sightseeing. We rode public transportation to school, to take Alex to school and pick him up, to go to friends’ and teammates’ houses, to church, to the mall for Date Night. And we walked — A LOT. European neighborhoods are laid out in such a way that most everything you need for daily life is within walking distance. We were a 5-10 minute walk away from a bank, post office, supermarket, green grocer, butcher, bakery/cafe, doctor, dentist, pharmacy, park, several restaurants, etc. Europeans don’t NEED a car for daily life in the same way that many Americans NEED a car, mostly due to the appalling lack of decent public transportation options in all but the largest cities. When we lived in Nashville, our (church-provided) house was in a VERY affluent neighborhood, but it was 15 minutes by car from the nearest shopping center with supermarket, ATM, restaurants, etc. And of course no public buses came to that area!

Of course, there were some things that were frustrating about relying on public transportation — waiting in the rain at bus-stops, crowded buses, not remembering that the schedules change on weekends and holidays, barely missing your bus, and getting on the wrong bus without realizing it (I remember a particularly frustrating afternoon when I did just this while trying to get myself and the two boys to a team meeting on my own). Rusty chafed more than me under the restrictions of not having his own vehicle… he loves to get out and explore on his own, to not be bound by bus routes and schedules.

When we realized that we would be in Portugal longer than we had anticipated, and also that we were going to have a baby there, we began looking into getting a vehicle. We purchased one from some Brazilian friends at church who were leaving Portugal and returning home. Of course, as a pregnant woman with swollen feet and an aching back, I appreciated not having to walk so much or haul my whale-sized self onto and off of buses. But the biggest thing I noticed once we were driving again was how much more quickly we could get places in our car. Going to church via bus and Metro took the better part of an hour, depending on all the connections. In our car, we could do it in about 25 minutes or less. Getting to the beach on public transportation was a huge feat that involved about 2 hours each way — thus, a trip to the beach was typically an all-day affair. But in our own car, the trip took 30 minutes, so we started going more often, sometimes just for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was surprised at how much riding public transportation for over a year had skewed my perception of how far away certain things were.

Of course, many things are easier when you have your own car. But I will always be grateful for the experience of doing without a vehicle while living in Japan and in Portugal. Through that, I learned that it IS possible to live long-term without a car, even with small children, and that there can be many benefits to this life-style — better health, lower transportation costs, and a reduced carbon footprint. I also learned a respect for those who live this way, whether because they can’t afford to own a car, or by personal choice.

I am also VERY thankful for our car!

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.

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!

We Made It!

Thankful tonight…

  • to have my husband home safe and sound, smelly laundry and all!
  • for my washing machine and running water
  • for the sound of my boys wrestling with their daddy
  • that we made it through the week unscathed and without any trips to the emergency room (always my greatest fear when Rusty is away)
  • for a productive and fun homeschooling week
  • for a coffee break with my sister in the middle of the week
  • for sleepovers with cousins
  • for the two hard-working ladies who come during the week to help me with the cleaning (a definite perk to living in Ecuador!)
  • for all the fun I had with my kids this week (The “When Dad’s Away Activity Jar” was a big hit!)

I didn’t accomplish as much as I would have liked on all my projects, but I am not allowing myself to dwell on that right now! Just reflecting with gratitude on the past week and looking forward to a whole week of having Rusty home before the medical campaign. We’re even going to get to take our Date Night on Monday!

Water

We arrived home from our trip today, tired and dirty. Two days in the jungle will do that to you. I had been looking forward all day to a hot shower — as the rain dripped down my neck on the canoe, as the mud spattered my feet while we were loading the car, and as we spent several hours packed to the brim with bodies and luggage on the way back to Quito. But when we got home, there was only a trickle of water coming out of the taps. And soon the trickle slowed to nothing. No water.

You don’t realize how much you rely on water flowing out of your taps until suddenly it isn’t there. It really is one of the simple things in life we take so much for granted. Without water, I can’t shower. I can’t bathe my children (who were probably dirtier than me). I can’t wash dishes, or the wet clothes in our bags that will soon start to mildew. I can’t flush a toilet or even wash my hands. I can’t sanitize my fresh fruits and veggies or refill our water filter so we have water to drink. I have long said that I could probably live without electricity quite comfortably for a long time (oh, sure, it would take some getting used to). But to live without running water, especially in a house with 3 small children, would be nigh impossible.

Thankfully, my ever so handy husband was able to figure out the problem and rig a temporary fix. Just long enough for us to wash the jungle grime away, and then he turned the water off until he can buy the things he needs to fix the problem permanently. But tonight I’m going to bed with a renewed appreciation for running water — and a renewed appreciation for my handyman husband as well!

1,000 Reasons to be Thankful

At the first of last year, I shared on our family blog my intent to take the Joy Dare on Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience, and count 1,000 gifts in 2012. I got a little behind what with the craziness of December, and then I lost December’s print-out on our trip, but this afternoon, I stole a few quiet moments to sit outside on our veranda and catch up. The idea is to list three things you are thankful for each day of the year, resulting in over 1,000 gifts listed by the year’s end. If I numbered correctly, then there are exactly 1,098 items on my list! That’s a lot to be thankful for!

This has been an interesting experiment for me. I’ve certainly become more aware of all that I have to thank God for. Sometimes, my eyes were opened to gifts that I probably would not have recognized otherwise. At the same time, it was a stretch for me to discover gifts that were “ugly-beautiful” or the gifts that Ann calls “hard eucharisteo,” those things that are difficult to give thanks for, that maybe don’t even seem like gifts at all.

On her blog, Ann points to research that suggests that people who develop an “attitude of gratitude” are generally happier, and have less stress, more energy, and better relationships. I can’t say that I really found any of that to be true for me this year. I think I would like to try this again at some point in the future when I feel like I’ve regained my equilibrium somewhat, when I’m “normal” again (whatever that means – ha!). Honestly, at times this year, I felt like all my gratitude practice was doing was keeping the depression and the discouragement at bay. I suppose if being thankful does at least that much, that’s probably a good thing.

Ann is doing the Joy Dare again this year, if you are interested in joining in. Click here for all the details. And if you don’t subscribe to her blog, well, you really should!