What I’m Learning, Summer Edition 2018

I love to think about all I’m learning, maybe to a fault. At the end of each season, I try to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past three or four months. Here’s the I-just-moved-in-June Summer Edition 2018.

1. Not all spinach is equal. The spinach here looks so beautiful. I was in awe with the first packet I bought. For those of you who’ve eaten with us, you know I add vegetables everywhere and my children (mostly) comply. This spinach was grass. I felt like a horse. I couldn’t even eat it with a good attitude. I ate it but I need to rethink how it fits into our diet.

2. Mornings are so much better when breakfast is already made. Last week, my oldest begged me for crumb cake before he went to bed. I had more energy than normal for 9 pm so I thought, “Why not?” I finished baking it before 10:30 and left it cooling. The next morning, when a dear girl woke me up (why is she always hungry at 6 am?), I had breakfast at the table in ten seconds without having to talk. Since then I’ve tried an egg casserole and also a fresh whole grain bread delivery service (I hate to even tell you that. Please don’t be jealous. Yes, it’s amazing.). I’m trying to think ahead most nights so breakfast can be prepared ahead of time. My kids love to cook and I’m just not always up for the coaching and cleaning required by crepes lovingly created by small people.

3. Textiles make a home. Well, I really believe that people in community make a true home and that true home derives its meaning from the Maker of both people and community. But when trying to settle in, linens, rugs, curtains, placemats, door mats, duvet covers make it feel like home for me. When the floors and windows and beds are bare, I haven’t yet made it “home.” I’m grateful for progress in this home-making season. We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer.

4. Living overseas opens up the world for my children. I know this in theory. Yesterday I asked my daughter what she’d like to do for her fourth birthday and she said she’d like to have a juice drink, go to the Pyramids and get a teddy bear. I laughed because for her at four, all these things are possible!

5. Language is absorbed so quickly when you are three. I admit it, I’m slightly jealous of my daughter’s language learning opportunities. She goes to a local preschool where the teachers love her so deeply and only speak to her in Arabic. I was expecting her to grow in her language abilities quickly but nothing prepared me for that first time she turned to me after three weeks of preschool and asked me for a napkin in Arabic. I was utterly charmed although I didn’t understand what she was saying at first.

6. Buying more than one fly swatter is the wise thing to do. I am not always wise. Where did I buy that again? Time for a trip to the store.

7. Having outside space to play in a dusty, polluted city means that my floors will always be dusty. Having dusty floors is 110% worth giving my kids a place to play that isn’t inside a building. Even if it means mopping my entire house on a daily basis.

8. My husband really values my happiness. I have been looking for a rocking chair since I arrived and yesterday, I went to a craftsman who makes them by hand. He makes some beautiful rockers. I told my husband that I thought the price was 300 (from a previous visit) but later called him from the store and said, “Honey, I wanted to check with you about the price. It’s actually 800.” There was a long, unexpected pause. “I know you really want a rocking chair for the baby but that’s expensive!” I was confused until I realized we were dealing in different currencies. He thought I was going to spend $800 US dollars on a rocking chair!!! When I said it was in pounds, meaning $44, he starting laughing and told me to buy two. (I just bought the one.) A friend pointed out that he had earlier agreed to me buying a $300 rocking chair without question. He really values my happiness. (Furniture here that is imported can be very expensive. IKEA is not for college dorms here but for the fanciest and most Western apartments, and the one rocking chair I could find there did cost over $300 so I understand why he was confused. But the last time I spent $800 on a piece of a furniture was never.)

9. I want to help and serve more people than I can. I see needs and pain and grief, and I want to be part of the answer. Yet the needs around me are unfathomable when you mix such a large, multi-cultural city quite close geographically to many recent world events. So I’m learning to bless as best I can, and trust that the Maker of all people sees the needs of His creation. I’m listening for His voice to know when and how to help individuals who have begun to populate my new life here and I’m offering up to Him the burdens of those around me, while trying not to put those burdens on my shoulder without His direction to.

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These Are the Days, Summer 2018

These are the days of…

…new beginnings.

…first days of school for all of us.

…walkability. I can walk to grocery stores and schools and if I’m feeling brave and not too hot, restaurants and hardware stores and book shops. It makes not having a vehicle not mean feeling stuck.

…exercise at home. A floor mat and indoor bike have become my gym at home. I don’t think I’d ever exercise if I had to find childcare and get to a gym.

…slowing down. Boiling water on the stove instead of using an electric kettle. Hanging out laundry instead of loading up a dryer. Walking to the store instead of hopping in my car. The pace here is different as it tends to be determined by my own hands and feet and not machines. Overall, I’m finding the rhythm of waiting for water to boil and clothes to dry a kind reminder to walk without hurry through this life.

…missing home. That pure adrenaline that got me through the first few months, making dozens and sometimes hundreds of decisions every day, all that newness is wearing off a bit. I miss the people I know. I miss knowing that Andy’s slightly snarky comment was a joke as I wonder about the new senses of humor around me. I miss the people who know me. I miss the home that is the nest of relationships I left behind.

…scary, one-eyed cats in my tiled backyard. I’m seriously stuck back here, a cat staring me down. Send reinforcements!

Gifts

Choosing gratitude has been a theme in life lately. Cynicism and a disposition of complaint can be easy to slip into without realizing how poisonous they’ve become to my soul. I’m pressing into gratitude, seeing life as the gift that it is, even on hard days. Today I’m grateful for…

…eggs. I’m not sure there’s a more perfect food. I love eggs. Our family goes through two flats of eggs a week (30 eggs per flat). I seriously love eggs.

…chirping birds. I hear you, small heralds of creation in the midst of all the honking, hollering and blaring music. Thank you.

…grace for sleepless nights with sick babies. I know people were praying for me because I was more patient and capable than my own resources allow for.

…riding a metro. I love public transportation. I especially love it with kids who think a metro is better than a roller coaster. I love the small human kindnesses, like when people shift and create space for older riders or moms with babies (me!) or the disabled.

…”number one” (nothing about potty training). I love the little English phrases that become part of the vernacular of other cultures. Here one such phrase is “number one.” We’ve had so many taxi drivers tell us they are “number one.” Our favorite also told us his name is Crazy Mustafa, and we call him Crazy Mustafa Number One, which he seems to love. I hope one day I’ll have time to write about our most memorable ride with him, which included doors flying open in the middle of a roundabout and tools falling off the roof at full speed.

…watercolor painting with my kids. We took time to paint together last night. Even having a few moments to create beauty together is such a gift.

…hot tea. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had to pick between hot tea and eggs.

…frozen lemonade. Yesterday Joel and I squeezed a lot of lemons and made our kids lemonade slushies. Tart and sweet enough, they cut through 100 degrees and make me feel refreshed.

…running water. The water here cuts out enough to make running water seem wonderful and not enough to need big water barrels as Plan B. It’s great. Ditto for the electricity. Nothing like a few hours of no power to make a cold fridge feel like a miracle.

…the Nose Frida. This little invention replaces the bulb syringe for infants and babies too young to blow their noses (as a side note, it’s pretty amazing all the things we’ve learned in life, including how to blow our noses! I had no idea that was a learned skill until I was a parent.). It’s life changing. Thank you, Laura and Teague. If you need a go-to baby gift for new babies, get this. Parents will think fondly of you on their hardest nights.

…purpose. I’m reading a very interesting book called All Joy and No Fun. The author writes about how children impact parents (rather than the more typical reverse). One of her points is that modern day parenting is challenging because we don’t know exactly what we are preparing our children for. While I understand and even agree with her point, I’m grateful for a larger sense of purpose that my faith gives me because my long-range plan for my life and for my parenting decisions are grounded in something larger than my kids’ happiness or human success. I can not control the outcome of their lives and I don’t actually want to (anymore. Most days.) But I can make my choices rooted in love for God and love for others, which takes away a lot of the challenge the author writes about.

…my preschooler’s outrageous quotes. Just yesterday, she asked me why I was treating her like a rat. I have no idea what she was talking about, as I was making her dinner at the time. Pretty unratty, in my opinion. How she makes me laugh.

These are just a few of the gifts I’m grateful for today.

Ten Things I’m Grateful I Brought

“You’ve got to make lists in life….Lists are magical—that’s because they develop a life of their own. Once you start one, it insists on being continued ad infinitum…. A list is never complete, remember. One thing leads to another, and—bingo—it contains items you’d never thought of before. And all because you started to write them down…. I tell you, lists are the mechanics of the subconscious.” Aunt Poldi, from Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Every summer I read a lot of fiction. I aim for a book or two a week. I stay up too late reading and read early in the morning if I can. I’m not sure if this started in the 8th grade with my first summer reading list for school or if it has been a more recent development but summers are for fiction in mass quantities.

When I read Auntie Poldi pontificate to her nephew, an aspiring writer, about lists, I highlighted it. My mind has been in list-mode for months. Lists of things to pack, lists of things to sell, lists of things to do, lists of people to email, lists of lists I need to make. Upon arriving, my brain has kept making lists. I’ve started blogging again and most of everything I think to write about is in a list. With a nod to Aunt Poldi and without further comment, here’s a list of ten things I’m glad I packed.

1. Language learning toys. As I’ve mentioned before, we use a play-based, comprehension-driven language learning approach. This means we use a lot of toys and manipulatives as we seek to first listen and understand before we talk. I’m so glad I brought all the language learning toys I did. There are still some gaps in my language kit but I’m grateful I haven’t had to start from scratch.

2. Water bottles. No dishwasher, four kids and two adults, and significant heat yields a lot of dirty cups to wash at the end of the day. I brought water bottles for each of my kids and on the days when we have those ready for them, the dishes are much more manageable by bedtime.

3. My Ergo baby carrier. Herding a biggish family around a truly big city using public transport and walking means having my hands free is essential. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or accomplish anything without this baby carrier. It’s hot when I wear it and my son and I both sweat through a lot of layers of clothing but it’s worth every drop of sweat.

4. Art supples. I tend to focus on duty and responsibility to the exclusion of creativity. Being in a new environment reminds me of how much I like to write, draw, paint and letter as I process a new world and a new life experience. Sometimes I need to set my hand or paintbrush to paper and I’m glad I brought some supplies.

5. Kids’ books. We are currently staying at an apartment that belongs to some friends who are away on holiday and visiting family in their home country for about 6 weeks. Their generosity in opening their home to us has been such a gift. Since they have three kids and bookshelves full of books (and toy cabinets full of toys), our things have remained packed in our suitcases. We are essentially using everything we had in our carry on luggage over and over again. In the last few days, I had to search through some of our bags for some items needed in our language lessons. I started pulling out some of the children’s books I packed. Books are friends indeed. Ferdinand and Chrysanthemum, Frog and Toad and Toot and Puddle brought me great joy as I read them to our daughter. Humans are defined by story in many ways and the children’s literature that accompanies us first as kids and then as parents is a significant part of that.

6. A family journal. I have a simple notebook that I record things in for our family. New Year’s resolutions and intentions, reflections on experiences we’ve had as a family, gratitude lists. I brought it with us and have started asking a question a few times a week, like “What was the best thing about this week?” “What do you miss most about home?” and “What has been the hardest thing about moving?” I trust that one day these words will be a treasure for us all as we remember this transition.

7. Pacifiers. I get plenty of negative feedback about my three year old having a pacifier. My personal rule is that no one who has to make a major move or have a sibling has to give up a pacifier at that point, regardless of age. When you have to go through both in a three month period, your mom packs extra pacifiers. And she’s glad she did.

8. A learner’s attitude. I’m not doing it perfectly but I’m glad I packed the attitude of learning and exploration. I could have read a bunch of books about where I am and come in “knowing” how “they” do it. Instead I’m just watching and observing and delaying judgment. I feel like I’m learning a lot.

9. My Kindle. Having access through my library account to new books has been so important to our whole family. We’re able to read aloud books with our older two without having to buy them all ourselves. We can get new books and expand our repertoire without having to buy a book we end up not finishing. Being able to use our Kindles here has meant we can keep reading, feeding our minds, hearts and souls with stories and ideas.

10. Kitchen supplies. My husband and I had differing opinions about how important it was that my pots and pans came with us. He assured me I could buy high quality pots and pans here (and I’m sure he’s right). Still I’m glad I brought my nice pots and pans. I wish I had made room for cookie sheets and muffin tins. But those things I wish I had brought belong to another list on another day.

Ten Ways I Know I’m a Beginner

In keeping with my list-making posts recently, I’ve been recording ways I know I’m a beginner. Before I moved, I listened to a podcast that reminded me to be a beginner. For someone who has lived overseas before and could, without humility, do the “I’ve already been here, done that” thing, this was great advice. Especially because I haven’t been here and I haven’t done that. I’ve been there and done those things. But now I’m a beginner and instead of striving against it, I’m trying to learn from it and laugh with it.

Here are ten ways I know I’m a beginner.

1. I can’t find hummus. I live in one of the biggest (maybe the biggest) city in the region and I can’t find hummus. I can find tahini salad, I can find chick peas, I can find baba ghanoush, I can find cucumber yogurt salad, I can find olive oil. I can’t find hummus. I am a beginner.

2. I greet people enthusiastically by saying things like, “How am I?” and “Good morning!” (at 6 pm). In other words, I make so many mistakes over and over again.

3. I get lost within walking distance of the apartment where we are staying. I’ve recently figured out that only riding in the back of taxis and Ubers is a serious disadvantage when it comes to finding my way around a city. I keep asking my husband, “Is that the intersection where we pass the Emirates’ office?” and he doesn’t know. He can look up and I can’t. I only know ground floor landmarks and don’t even know that we’ve passed through a roundabout until it’s almost over. His experience as a man in the front seat is vastly different from mine as a woman in the backseat.

4. My stomach is a beginner in this place. I had to stand up an Uber the other day when my food poisoning persisted. Even my body is a newbie in this place.

5. I don’t have friends. It’s normal but hard. I’m a beginner.

6. I buy my groceries from the supermarket. There will come a day when I have a vegetable seller that I regularly use and can even call for delivery if I can’t make it to his stand. I will also probably go to a butcher with cow carcasses handing in his window (my kids think this is fascinating, awesome and gross, depending on the kid). But right now I buy things clearly marked and wrapped in plastic wrap because as a beginner, I can only handle so much at once.

7. I stand at the cheese counter forever. When I still haven’t figured out how to order, I walk away. I’m definitely not doing the cheese counter correctly.

8. I’m tired. I had a friend once explain that when you are experiencing everything as new, your sense of time stretches. It feels like you live five days in the span of one. He was right. When everything is novel, my brain and body work hard to process it all but I have to live smaller, in slower chunks, and take time for silence and solitude to work through my daily experiences.

9. The familiar brings comfort. Last night we went to a club with a playground and green space. It’s for expats. Like exclusively. To be honest, it’s not the kind of place my husband and I like. But when you are beginning, sometimes you end up places you don’t love to take breaks that you need.

10. I repeat to myself, “In a year, I’ll be able to….” I tell my kids, “In a year, you’ll be able to…alone…or in Arabic…or without fear.” I tell my husband, “In a year, we’ll be…”. I hold out hope for what it will mean to not be such a beginner.

Right now we are beginners. It is good and necessary for now. Still I long for the skills I’ll have in a year, when I can order ground beef from a cow hanging on a hook in the window using words the butcher understands after I greet him appropriately for the time of day. I will have walked there without getting lost or I will have directed a taxi without needing to get out in tears (I’ll tell that story soon, I hope). Here’s to being a beginner.

 

Twenty Things I Didn’t Know About Living Overseas (Twenty Things I’ve Learned in the Past Ten Days)

I flew across the world about ten days ago. A few days ago I wrote about things I had forgotten about living in another culture but was bumping into like old friends as I adjust to this new place. Today I am writing about twenty things I had no idea about before I came. It’s been fun to keep a list and begin to grow in unexpected ways. The growth I see in me and my family is likely one of the biggest gifts I receive as an expat and one of the important reasons I wanted to transplant a semi-large (for an American) family to another culture.

I didn’t know…I have been learning about…

1. How to use Uber. This is my main means of transport right now as it’s very hot (for walking) and my language is at zero (for giving directions in regular taxis or on a bus). I had never used an Uber and I’m terrible at getting the pick-up spot nailed down. Still, I’m getting better.

2. The volatility of emotions in jet-lagged, culture-stressed kids. I’ll leave the examples to your imagination.

3. Life in a world with a non-Roman script. Learning how to read and write and decipher numbers in a completely “other” writing system is taxing my brain. I do better with spoken language, apparently.

4. How my children make me braver than I am. I explore more because I want to show them that exploring is a gift.

5. How many different kinds of feta there are.

6. That one buys baby formula at the pharmacy. Cue rising panic when neither my husband nor I could find formula at the most Western of grocery stores. Thankfully Facebook groups exist and are full of good advice. (Also, one buys dental floss at the pharmacy.)

7. How overwhelming it is to pick a “neighborhood” in a city of 20-30 million people. If you are a praying person, you could pray for us to be wise and to find a home that fits us as a family and fits us in terms of budget. In the words of a dear friend, I might have “champagne taste on a beer budget” (really, I just want a tiny bit of dirt or grass but that comes with a hefty price tag).

8. How rude some expats can be to their hosts. I had my groceries delivered (it’s a thing here!). I wrote my address as best as I knew it but left off the apartment number. There are three apartments on my floor and as I waited for my groceries to arrive, I heard a loud and ugly, “NO!” screamed out in the hall. I opened the door and another expat was slamming the door in the grocery man’s face. I tipped him times three and learned where that “ugly expat” stereotype comes from.

9. How consistent electricity makes all the difference. It’s hot here. But since I lived in “the hottest inhabited country in the world” for four years, I thought I knew what I was getting into. We haven’t reached the highest temperatures that will come our way this summer but life with consistent electricity in a hot, hot place is really different than life without consistent electricity in a hot, hot, hot place.

10. How hot places make afternoon naps seem like the best possible thing.

11. How glad I am that I allowed my boys to buy a Nintendo before they came here. Sometimes.

12. How much green living things restore the soul. (Okay, I probably did know that but I had forgotten.)

13. That I could fall asleep sitting up, fully clothed, holding a baby and consider that a good nap.

14. How at home and brand new I could feel at the same time.

15. That stationary stores would be my happy place in a big city. So many pens.

16. That public libraries count as some of the many official buildings I am not allowed to photograph. Sorry, Mr. Guard at the library. I know I didn’t make your day happy. The unhappiness was mutual.

17. How crazy my stir-crazy kids can make me. If only “go outside” worked here. Instead we are going on lots of errands.

18. That pickled lemon is a thing. A very good thing.

19. How awesome fourth babies are. Maybe I’m just ready for the awesomeness as a mom. Maybe I pay more attention. Maybe I’m more aware. Maybe he’s just a super amazing baby. Whatever the reason, we are enjoying this kid more than we knew we could.

20. How much I hate ironing. Okay, I knew it. But still. Six people and no dryer leaves a lot of wrinkled clothes to iron. Ugh.

21. Bonus. How cute it would be to hear a three year old say, “I’m so tired of walking. Call me an Uber!!!” I don’t know why but this cracked me up and made me feel grateful for this completely difference growing up experience my daughter is having, even if I would like her to ask more politely.

Twenty Things I Had Forgotten About Living Overseas

Moving across the world with four kids last week has made me reflect a lot. Thankfully this isn’t my first time living overseas (I say thankfully because otherwise I would be freaking out right now). I am in a new-to-me country but this feels a little like having a third or fourth baby: I have a general idea of what to expect and a general idea of my own skills and limitations. I don’t mean by any stretch that I know the specifics of what to expect; I’m being delighted and frustrated by new things in a new place with new people speaking a new language. A lot of new things. But I do have an idea of what might be different and how I can respond to these differences with a sense of humor and at times, a sense of skill. To that end, I’ve been making a list of things I had forgotten over the past six years of living in my home culture.

I had forgotten about:

1. Carrying my own toilet paper, just in case. “Just in case” happens a lot.

2. Not flushing toilet paper in the toilet.

3. How long/how many trips to the same store basic errands can take.

4. How my back feels after sleeping on a mattress on the floor for four days.

5. What jet lag feels like. (It’s way worse with four kids.)

6. How impossibly confusing washing machine symbols are. (I’ve read a manual for a household appliance TWICE in four days.)

7. Needing to do mental math all the time (currency, temperature, distance, volume and weight are all measured differently here).

8. All the meaningful letters, affirmations and gifts I would receive upon leaving. I also literally forgot about these items until our second or third day, and finding them in my purse was such a gift.

9. The hot kitchen conundrum: no fan because of a gas stove but so hot without a fan.

10. Cold showers.

11. How bravery begets bravery (more on that later, but I’m learning this from my kids who are doing new things with courage every day and then are trying old things with new bravery).

12. How often I boil the kettle.

13. The taste of boxed/UHT milk.

14. How to pour out of a box without spilling.

15. Using charades when I don’t share a language with someone.

16. How glad I am to have my husband doing this with me.

17. How fun it can be to make a home in a new place, with radically different “raw materials.”

18. The incredible privilege of being a guest in another culture.

19. How much more I ask for help in a host culture, even in the little things. Maybe especially in a host culture where I am a guest.

20. Gas stoves. (How I love them!)

I’m sure I will keep bumping into things I had forgotten about. These forgotten-now remembered parts of life feel like old friends. It’s been a while and I’m not certain how well we will get along these days but I feel hopeful and happy to see.

These Are the Days, Spring 2018

It’s been a few years but I hope to start writing here again in a semi-regular way. I will have to hold that hope loosely as our family makes some major transitions but I am going to try. Although Yoda would disagree, in my world there is credit for trying.

These days are busy and chaotic and sacred and full. They are also quiet and spent holding an infant for hours on end. These are the days of…

…watching a baby unfurl and feeling my heart unfold with greater love than I had a month ago. These children. They test my sanity, unveil the darkness and frailties of my soul and convince me I’m more capable of love than I ever knew. I don’t know what mark I will leave on this world but I will leave these four breathtaking human beings. They are my legacy and these days are full of them.

…packing and sorting and purging and giving and selling. It’s time to winnow down our belongings. This pilgrim life brings me back to what’s important every time.

…so many doctor’s appointments. Between having a baby and getting ready to move overseas and also coping with a headache disorder for one family member, we are visiting the doctors in our lives like they are our best friends.

…tulips and daffodils and snow. This spring weather in Kentucky.

…missing church. I haven’t been to church in a few months. A very hard last month of pregnancy and these first few weeks with a newborn have kept me at home. I miss church. I miss my church and my people there but I also miss the Body. I miss being with God’s people.

…blessing. We have seen God bless us in direct, tangible ways. We’ve seen answered prayer. We’ve seen provision. But there is also the literal blessing, bestowed on us through God’s Church. Last night, during Joel’s ordination service, a bishop blessed my newborn son. I don’t know why but having people extend God’s blessing in verbal and physical signs over my children has become a marker for these days. I feel a little like Jacob, saying, I won’t let go unless you bless me. And God through His Church makes the sign of the cross over my children and me and says, “I bless you.”

…grief. We’re moving. We’re moving away from people we love. We’re moving away from our church We’re moving to another continent, even further away from our first families. There are a lot of tears and a lot of tissues. As one child said recently, “I’m feeling ALL the transition, Mom.”

…mess. My house is so messy. Walking away and starting over isn’t an option but some days I’m tempted.

…organized sports. We’ve never signed our kids up for organized sports. We haven’t wanted to make the commitment and they are happy playing tag in our backyard with neighbors. This spring we let them each pick a team sport at our YMCA. I love the sideline of a soccer field.

These are the days of spring 2018 and I love them.

These Are the Days, Fall 2016

This is how I remember my days.

These are the days of…

…cooler weather, finally.

…two-year old tantrums!  (She has some gems, including: “go ‘way Mommy!” “Leave me ‘lone!”)

…watercolor painting and “wasting” my expensive Arches paper by learning and not always trying for frame-worthy pieces.

…fall break, when I realize how much I wish I were still homeschooling my third grader.  Third grade in our public school is good for him in many ways.  But having him home this week makes me miss him more.

…sending lots of mail.

…football in the backyard.

…a first Ohio State football game at the Horseshoe for one lucky 8 year old.

…choosing self-care over constant productivity.

…freezing cold floors first thing in the morning.

…falling more in love with my husband and my kids.  I love these people.

…inspiration.  Something about the change in the weather has pushed me to paint more, write more, think more.

…carefully cultivating my friendships.

…catching up on my gratitude list.  I’m at #749.

…kids sleeping in past 6:30 am.  Yes.  This is of course all over my gratitude list.

What about you?  What things are making up your days this fall?

Gladiolas in the Fall

I have a terrible habit.  I buy plants out of season.  I do this because I’m cheap and I love flowers.  Frankly, it’s a little ridiculous because if I thoughtfully purchased bulbs and flowers at the right time, I would save money and have a beautiful garden.  I know this.

But if you drive by my house right now, you’ll see some mums my in-laws bought me (right flowers for the right season) and behind them, the swords of gladiolus flowers spiking out of my brick planter.  I bought them at Dollar General (another foolish way to waste money is to buy bulbs at the Dollar General) when they were 50% off and planted them several weeks ago when the summer was holding on to September.

As I planted them, I told myself they wouldn’t grow.

Then to my surprise, the sword lilies starting growing.  They kept growing.  They reached respectable heights and then did what plants in the wrong season do: they refused to bloom.

Today I was looking at them and pondering a prayer that my whole parish prays each week.  After Eucharist, we thank God for the Body and Blood of Christ and then say, “Now, send us out into the world to do the work you have given us to do….”  The first Sunday I visited this church four years ago, I wept when we prayed that.  It took me months to be able to say it out loud because I am a woman passionate and completely clear about the work God has given me to do in this world.  The tears would stop the words in my throat as I wrestled with God for two years about how Kentucky figured in to the work He has given me to do.

(The wrestling is done.  The work is still clear.  I remain passionate and walk with a bit of a limp from that wrestling match.)

Back to the gladiolas.  These flowers that are growing but won’t bloom remind me of that prayer because I did not plant them in the soil to do the work they are given to do.  If I had been thinking of the work they have been given, I would have planted them in early spring.  They are meant to bloom but I planted them at the wrong time to do their work.  They essentially can’t do their work through no fault of their own.  (Mea cupla.)

Lately some opportunities have been given to me to do things I love.  But they fail the “work I’ve been given” test.  I actually ask myself most mornings what my work is because I am easily distracted by things I like to do that are not my work.  Loving, caring for and discipling my children is my work during this season.  When I act like they are an impediment to my work, I’m just plain wrong and need an attitude adjustment.  Focusing on building a support team so we can return overseas is my work during this season.  When I delay building important relationships, I fail to do my work.

My husband and I got to share about intentional self-care in marriage at his seminary alma mater this past Monday night.  We shared with a packed house of couples.  We didn’t do it perfectly but it was fun.  Still I question whether it was my work.  Several more opportunities have floated into my inbox and I pray that, although I love what they represent, I will actually choose the work I’ve been given to do.  I can choose to do the work or I can say yes to many things that are lovely but not my work.  I can plant my life in the wrong things at the wrong time, and not blossom as I’m meant to.