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.


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?

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).

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.

Wheel-Less (Part 3)

Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Okay, I’m not really wheel-less right now. At least not all the time. But when Rusty goes out to the jungle, I am usually left without a vehicle, sometimes for days at a time. When Rusty does leave his truck here in Quito (because he’s traveling down by bus or plane with a short-term group), it just sits until he comes back. It’s a cool truck, but I am loathe to drive it for a couple of reasons:

Our Landrover Defender

Our Landrover Defender

  • It’s so big. I mean, really, this car is ridiculously big. It will hold up to 9 people comfortably, and with the roof-rack and the luggage rack that attaches to the back, all their stuff as well. So, it’s perfect for treks to the jungle and back, but it’s not exactly an ideal car for driving in the city.
  • It has a manual transmission. I can drive a stick, but in Quito with the stop-and-go traffic and all the crazy drivers, I would just prefer not to have to. It’s just one more thing to think about.

So, for the last year, my husband has been my chauffeur when he’s here, and when he’s not, we usually stick fairly close to home. I try to stock up on groceries before he leaves, but if I do run out of something, there is a well-stocked little store in our neighborhood. There is public transportation here in Quito (in the form of buses and trolley lines), and sometimes I think to myself, “I really should try to learn my way around on the buses and trolleys.” And then I see one, usually packed to the gills, and I remember all the stories I’ve been told about pickpockets and the like. As a gringa, I’m an obvious target in a situation like that. I can’t decide if having my kids with me would make me less of a target (because people might take pity on me) or more of one (because people would assume I was distracted).

So, if I need to go across town when Rusty’s away, the other option is to take a cab. Taxis are plentiful and fairly cheap in Latin America, but they are not without their own risks. Every time I take a cab, I’m literally trusting someone I don’t know from Adam to get me (and usually my 3 kids) safely from point A to point B. My kids ride in the taxis without their car seats or even safety belts, since most cabs don’t have them in the back seat. I don’t like that one bit, but it is what it is. In addition, there have been several stories in recent months of people being robbed in a taxi. This usually happens when the person is alone and the cab-driver (who is in league with a gang of thieves) pulls over to let them into the car. They steal your money and then push you out on the street. Rusty actually met a lady from South Africa several months ago who had just been the victim of a taxi-robbery.

For some time now, we have been looking to purchase a second car, something smaller and more conducive for city driving, something with an automatic transmission, something that I could drive when Rusty is away. We were having a hard time finding something that we both liked, that fit our budget, and that was also a good, solid car. Buying a used car in a third-world country can be a tricky business. Unless you can buy a vehicle from someone you know and trust and believe took good care of their car, you really just don’t know what you are getting. No Carfax in Ecuador!

Then, a couple days ago, we found one, thanks to my sister, who has been scoping out the For Sale boards at Alliance Academy, where she works! The owners are long-time missionaries to Ecuador who recently returned to the U.S. They accepted our offer; our mechanic confirmed that it is a good vehicle; now, all that remains is to arrange the bank transfer. So, perhaps by the end of next week, I will have a car that I can drive!

Honestly, up until recently, I was really okay with not driving. Driving is stressful to me under the best conditions — American roads, American drivers, American rules. Quito traffic and the aggressive drivers here really freak me out, and it’s not even as bad as it is in Africa! But lately, I have begun to feel slightly “handicapped” because I don’t drive and sometimes don’t even have a car. So now I (almost) have a car… I guess that means it’s time for me to conquer my fears of driving in a foreign country and get out there in the fray!

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!

Wheel-Less (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago, our Land Rover was out of commission for about a week. We stayed close to home and took taxis when we needed to go somewhere further afield. One day, after Rusty had walked to the store in the rain to pick up a few things he needed, I asked him if it made him nostalgic for the good ol’ days of not having a vehicle. He actually rolled his eyes at me, so I guess the answer is no, but it got me to thinking on the two times in our married life where we have been completely wheel-less.

The first time was right after we moved to Japan as newlyweds. We didn’t buy our car until we had lived there six months. We took buses occasionally and rode the train, but our primary means of transportation was our bikes! We rode them to school and home each day, to church, to the Soken (Board of Education) office every Friday for our AET meetings, to the grocery store, to friends’ houses for dinner, to the park and Lake Senba, all over Mito really.

Of course, it’s easy to romanticize it now, to remember being out in nature — the fields of wild-flowers, the plum blossoms, the leaves ablaze with autumn colors — the feel of the wind in my face, how fit I was just from riding my bike everywhere (hello, toned calves!). But it was also so cold in the winter that I actually got frostbite on my toes and so hot in the summer that I was drenched in sweat after my 5-minute bike ride to school in the morning. Riding a bike in the pouring rain with a basket full of groceries is just not fun. And then there was the time I almost got hit by a car.

After we bought our car, we both felt as though our world had opened up. We could go more places, do more things. We weren’t bound by how far we could reasonably go on a bike or by train schedules and bus routes. We experienced a new-found sense of freedom. The world was ours for the exploring.

I continued to ride my bike to school and back each day since my school was only a 5-minute ride from our house. Rusty started using the car for his commute. I may or may not have occasionally begged him to drop me off at school when it was cold or raining. It was nice to have that option, but I actually found that I really enjoyed my daily ride. Since we left Japan, there have been times when I really miss just hopping on my bike and pedaling down the road, feeling the wind in my face as I ride and the rush of endorphins afterwards.

Part 2 coming tomorrow.


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.

A New School for Alex

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome AIMers!

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

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

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

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

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

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