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.

A Guest Post on TCK’s

So, apparently, when I say I’ll be playing hooky for a few days, I really mean a few weeks. I had to let a few things go when I found out I was pregnant with our fourth (surprise!), and as sitting in front of the computer was one of the things that tended to make my nausea worse, the blog went on an indefinite hiatus. I am 13 weeks now, so hopefully almost past the first trimester ickiness and hoping to get back into my daily writing practice soon.

I am breaking my radio silence today to let you know that I am guest posting over at Djibouti Jones as part of the Painting Pictures series on Third Culture Kids. I am so honored to be a part of this series and I hope you’ll take the time to read my post, When an ATCK Chooses a Life Overseas, and join in the conversation via the comment section. And then stick around and read some of the other posts in the the series — there have some wonderful submissions by some really talented writers and bloggers!

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 12

Week 12 is about making connections. Read the challenge here.

We have had a lot of opportunities for making connections over the last couple of weeks. Two new friends graced our home with their presence for several days at the beginning of May. It was such a pleasure to get to know Trent, who was in Ecuador on a medical campaign, and Shanaal, who is teaching at a university in Guayaquil. This past week, it seems like we have had people into our home practically every night. A group of Christians who wanted to talk about starting a new church plant in the neighborhood on the hill behind our house… one of the Kumanii evangelists and his lovely family… a German missionary friend from southern Ecuador and her two adopted Ecuadorian children. And on Sunday, we are hosting the Operation Ecuador monthly Praise and Potluck, which will include a 40th birthday celebration for Rusty — and hosting more overnight guests!

It’s been fun. But it’s also been exhausting, especially for an introvert like me, who finds being around people all the time to be draining rather than energizing. I may or may not have told Rusty today that if he invited anyone over tomorrow, I would shoot him in the head! I really am thankful for all these connections, these opportunities for deeper friendships, these possibilities for future ministry. But I do need times of silence and solitude in order to process it all and to see these connections as meaningful and important rather than just burdens to be endured.

It struck me today as I was thinking about this week’s Stay Awake Challenge and what I was going to write, that I could learn a lot about making connections from my children. The pictures that I chose to use for this challenge (below) reflect this. My kids make connections so easily and with so few inhibitions. When new people come over, it isn’t long before they are playing and chatting as if they’ve been friends forever. The other night, when Guillermo (the Kumanii evangelist) and his family were here, I watched Alex happily chattering away in Spanish with their two boys and was amazed at how completely open and unselfconscious he was. I so wish I could be more this way. What is it about growing up and becoming an adult that makes us want to put up walls and pull on masks and keep people at arms’ length? Or am I the only one who does this?

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Bedtime stories with new friends Shanaal and Trent

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New playmates

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More playmates

Unrooted Childhoods: Sara Mansfield Taber

The first section in the book Unrooted Childhoods contains essays from people who would describe their global upbringing as mostly enriching. They have positive memories of growing up abroad. Sara Mansfield Taber’s essay “Rain Light” recounts the 5 years of her childhood she spent in Holland as the daughter of an American diplomat. I loved her rich descriptions of the Dutch countryside. It was obvious from reading her essay that she became very attached to Holland, the Dutch culture, and the Dutch language. Her love for the traditional wooden shoes and her determination to become good at wearing them became a sort of symbol of her attachment to and affection for her new home. I can relate well to being very attached to a specific place, as this is how I feel about Kenya, having spent my entire childhood there. However, it is not something I give myself permission to dwell on too often or too long as it can lead to a profound sense of loss.

Sara describes how, in the first few weeks after moving to Holland, she had trouble falling asleep at night until her parents had checked her room (sometimes several times) for kidnappers. She writes, “It was as though my body remembered, even if my mind did not, that change, though rhythmic and regular, is still a ransacking and a threat (p.31).” This is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of change, at least for someone of my temperament, I have ever read!

She also tells about her first few difficult weeks at a new school, how she “stood at the edge of the blacktop, pretending to be interested in my fingers and swallowing tears. Then, and many times thereafter, it seemed to me that my whole life had consisted just of this: standing at the edge of the blacktop, swallowing tears (p. 31-32).” My heart just sort of hurt when I read this because — I get it. I so get it. I get the wanting to fit in, but being hesitant to take the initiative for the paralyzing fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. I get the acting aloof and pretending indifference, and all the while aching to just belong. I’ve been there, many times, and it is so not easy.

Sara took Dutch classes in her first year of school in Holland and developed a real affinity for the language. However, the following year, despite her desire to continue with Dutch, she switched to taking the school’s required French classes. She writes, “With that… I was left with a little lump of feeling, which has remained in my belly ever since, that, somehow, an important chapter of my life had gone unfinished, a self left off, half-begun.” Um, yeah. I can relate to this on so many levels… on learning Portuguese only to not use it or remember it… on working towards Angola for 4 years only to not go at the last minute. I feel like these “unfinished chapters” have left me in a state of arrested development. Like everything that’s happening right now is just a sort of interlude. I know in my head that it’s not, and I’ll never be able to go back and finish those chapters now, but getting my heart to recognize that is another matter entirely.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 9

Week 9 is about trying something new. You can read the original post here.

I’m still trying to catch up on the Stay Awake Challenge. I kept putting off writing this post, mostly because I just didn’t know which direction to take it. Because, honestly? I got this one down, baby. My life is all about trying new things. It’s about all I’ve done for the past few years. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But seriously, with each move comes a host of changes and new things to try. It gets to be a bit wearying after awhile. There are some days when “routine” and “sameness” and “normal” and — yes, even “boring” — sound so appealing. I long for the ability to put my life on auto-pilot for awhile rather than having to continually, actively think about the smallest things. Maintaining a constant state of mental alertness can drive you to utter exhaustion. I think this is one of the things that makes those first few years on the mission field so difficult.

Here are just a few of the new things I’ve done just since moving to Ecuador:

  • studied a new language
  • moved into a new house
  • learned my way around a new city
  • learned to shop and cook in a new country
  • met lots of new people
  • started attending a new church
  • found a new doctor
  • driven a car in a new country
  • tried new foods
  • started homeschooling my kids
  • had “helpers” in the house for the first time
  • gone zip-lining
  • spent a week in Brazil by myself

If you don’t know me well, you may find this difficult to believe, but I don’t have a very adventurous spirit. I only live the life I do because I happened to marry an adventurer. Rusty loves to explore, and I am thankful for this, because sometimes we discover new favorite spots. Just in the last couple of weeks, we have been to a total of 4 new restaurants. The first, a grilled chicken restaurant that advertised “original recipe Portuguese chicken” had the yummiest piri-piri chicken I’ve tasted since leaving Portugal. The second was the Middle Eastern restaurant where we ate for my birthday. The third was a café and pastry shop called the Swiss Corner with yummy apple strudel. And the fourth, a Mongolian grill where we ate for our date last night, turned out to be a dud, and I don’t think we’ll go back, but hey — 3 out of 4 ain’t bad! When I was thinking of a picture to put in this post, the first thing that came to mind was a picture at one of these new restaurants. Would you believe that I forgot to take a picture at any of them? I even forgot to have someone take a picture of Julie and me the night of our birthday! And I have a camera phone, so I am really without excuse.

So, as an alternative, I am posting a screen-shot of a comment I made on another blog. See, I’m not normally much of a commenter. I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t typically join in the discussions or voice my opinions in the comment section. However, recently, I have started to comment on other blogs every now and then when I feel like I have something to add to the conversation. The screen shot is of a comment I made on a blog called Communicating Across Boundaries, and the post was about Third Culture Kids and reentry, which you can read here. If you care to read the comment, you can click on the picture for a larger view, or just click the link to read the post and all the comments in their entirety. Leaving the comment was one thing — but then I also had to learn how to take a screen-shot and save it as a picture file, which I have never done before. So, there you go… I taught myself to do something new on the computer today! Sometimes, life is best represented by a microcosm.week9

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)

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.

Unrooted Childhoods: A Chapter by Chapter Review

Last year, just after we arrived in Ecuador and desperate for reading material, I borrowed a book from my sister called Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global. It is a collection of essays from TCK’s from many different countries and many different walks of life. As I read it, I found myself identifying, as a fellow TCK, with many of the writers’ experiences. At the same time, I also found myself wondering how my own children will remember their experiences of growing up in other countries and cultures. I remember thinking that I should make a collection of quotes and passages from the book to revisit later… the only problem was that I found myself wanting to write down about every third sentence!

Now, almost one year later, I have decided to go back and read this book again. I will be doing a chapter-by-chapter “review” of it here on my blog. I use the term “review” loosely, because it won’t be so much a review as it will be an interaction with the essays and with the experiences and viewpoints of the authors. I want to explore both the positive and negative aspects of growing up abroad so that I can better understand and relate to my own children in the years to come.

See, I know from personal experience what it is to be a TCK, and all the blessings (and the baggage) that goes along with growing up abroad. But I don’t yet know from personal experience about raising TCK’s. I’m learning as I go, and I’m thankful to have not only my own life experiences to draw from, but the life experiences of others, like the writers of the essays in this book. I’m also thankful for all of the study and research that has been done in the last few decades on TCK’s. So much more is understood today about children who grow up overseas, about their unique gifts and also about the challenges they face.

As I re-read the introduction of this book tonight, the following sentence jumped out at me: “the paradox of nomadism is that its benefits are always tied to losses.” (p. 3) I think that neatly sums up how I hope to interact with this book: I want to recognize and give thanks for the benefits of an “unrooted childhood” without glossing over or minimizing the losses.

Why do I DO this to myself?

One of the problems with being a detail-oriented person is that you get stuck with all the jobs that require attention to detail. Most of the time, I don’t mind. In fact, I quite enjoy sorting, organizing, bringing order to chaos, making lists, cataloging things, editing and proofreading, etc. But I absolutely HATE any task related to keeping track of our family / ministry finances. And let’s face it — financial tasks require a lot of attention to detail, whether that be paying bills, balancing a checkbook (okay, I don’t really do this anymore, I just keep track of it all online), creating a budget, doing your taxes, or expense reporting. I hate it all!

And I hate the vicious cycle I get caught in over and over. I put off doing financial tasks, not necessarily because of my dislike for them, but because I am a perfectionist. Did you know that perfectionists tend toward procrastination? A perfectionist wants to do something perfectly, and if she can’t do it perfectly, she’ll put it off until the day she can… only that day never comes. Meanwhile, she gets further and further behind, until it (whatever IT is) becomes this huge and daunting task that she can’t possibly ever find the time to do perfectly. Kind of like leaving the dishes to pile up and pile up until it takes you a couple of hours to wash them all. I don’t do this… I wash as I go, and certainly after every meal. I don’t understand why I can’t be more this way with financial tasks.

I am attempting to be real on this blog, so I’ll just go ahead and confess: I am now almost 7 months behind on our expense reports. And the deadline for filing our taxes is looming in front of us and causing me a lot of stress because of how far behind I am. I am not organized AT ALL in this area right now. I haven’t established the systems to get and keep myself organized and on top of things.

Why do I DO this to myself?

This is not an excuse, but I don’t feel like I have the know-how or the right tools to do this well and efficiently. When we went through all our missions training (which was fairly extensive), we received almost no training related to finances. There was a little advice on fundraising and setting a budget, but nothing on accounting for your expenditures on the field, making financial reports to your sponsoring church, etc. I sometimes feel as though I’m bumbling around in the dark. I try out different programs, apps, websites. I design my own templates for things like expense reports and then I wonder if I’m trying to reinvent the wheel. Mission organizations, please, please, give your people practical training in finances, not just in how they raise their money, but in how they spend and account for it! This is probably just as important as training in cultural awareness, language learning, and spiritual preparedness.

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So, the other day, I just got mad. There were piles of receipts stashed in about five different places all over the house, and I was so tired of looking at them, and so angry with myself for letting it come to this. I gathered them up and sorted them by month and filed them in this little box. And then I sat down and made a “financial to-do list” — all the tasks related to finances that I need to do to be truly “caught up. Breaking the ginormous task down into smaller, more manageable ones. It’s a long list, but if I can manage to do at least one thing per day over the next two weeks, I should be caught up.

And when I’m caught up, I’m going to celebrate by drinking my last Dr. Pepper!

Driving (Legally) in Ecuador

If you read Wheel-Less (Part 3), then you know that I will soon have a car that I can drive. Which I am truthfully more nervous than excited about. Because having a car to drive and actually driving it regularly means that I need to be a legal driver in Ecuador. And that means an Ecuadorian driver’s license. An international license (which is what I have now) is really only acceptable for someone who is not planning to live somewhere long-term. By law, and in order to be covered by our insurance in case of an accident, I need an Ecuadorian license.

No biggie, right? I’ve done this before, right? Well, actually, I haven’t done this before. Despite the fact that I have lived abroad 25 years of my entire life, I have never had anything but a U.S. license (or an international license from AAA). I reached the legal driving age in Kenya (18) about 2 months before I left for college, so what was the point, really? Our first 3 years in Japan, we made the decision not to put me on our insurance because drivers under the age of 25 made the cost of insurance drastically more expensive. Since I wasn’t driving, there was no need for me to get a driver’s license. The second time we were in Japan, we were just getting ready to start the application process, having been there almost a year, when we received word that Rusty’s mom had a terminal brain tumor and decided to return to the States. In Portugal, we drove on international licenses since we weren’t planning to be there long-term.

So, my Ecuadorian license will be my first driver’s license from another country. And I find myself dreading the whole process — the gathering of paperwork, the multiple trips to this or that office to do this or that task, only to have to repeat it all the next day because the form wasn’t filled out in the correct color of ink (or some other absurdity). And I am dreading the tests, not the written test so much — even though it is in Spanish. But the driving test? I am absolutely petrified. I know this is carryover from when I took the driving test for my U.S. license (at the ripe old age of 20 — yes, this marks me as a TCK!). The only test in my life I have ever failed. It took me two months to work up the courage to go back in and try again.

I keep telling myself that it probably won’t be nearly as difficult or unpleasant as I’m making it out to be in my mind. But I am a worry-wart, and this is one of the things I fret over at night as I’m trying to fall asleep. Hopefully, soon, it will all be over, and I will stand on the other side and say, “That wasn’t so bad. Why was I so worried?” We are taking two weeks off language classes starting next week in order to take care of some paperwork, including applying for our Ecuadorian drivers’ licenses.

Wish me luck! And I’ll try to blog some about the process, once it’s done.