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 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.

 

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.

 

Compliments

Last night, my eight year old son and I went on a couch-to-5K run together.  His friend, our neighbor, joined us for the first part of the walk/jog.  After we dropped the neighbor off, we decided to keep walking and have a little time to talk.  (I love that my son wants to do this so much that I could do cartwheels in the street.  But I act cool.)

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I noticed a beautiful butterfly, brown and blue and yellow wings struggling, resting on the pavement.  My son knelt down and started to cup his hands around the hurt creature.  I told him instead to find a twig and we would coax the butterfly onto the twig and off of the street.  We did, it worked, and the butterfly stayed in the grass.  As I walked away, I said, “He will probably die.  But I hope he will die better than if he got run over in the road.”

My son answered, “I wonder if someone wants to give us a compliment.”

I pressed, interested in what he meant but totally clueless.  

“God, Mom.  I bet God wants to give us a compliment.  Because we took care of one of his creatures.”

I loved that my 8 year old son knows that God sees us and actually likes us and the things we do.  I didn’t learn that until I was well over 30.  

We started guessing what kind of compliments God, our heavenly Father, would give us.  I started listing ones I thought he might give my son.  As a parent, I think I had some good ideas.  Some my son accepted; one he told me was just dumb.  (I acted cool again.)

It was fun but by this morning I had completely forgotten the entire exchange.

On Wednesdays, I often a join a community that fasts together for 24 hours.  I hate love it.  It is just what I need but it can feel like a bitter medicine.  With no lollipop afterwards.  

I sat in the lobby at my YMCA so I could accomplish a few tasks while my daughter was in the free childcare.  The invitation to fasting for me in this season is an invitation to silence.  Since I cannot control the amount of silence in my outer world, I ask God to show me how to enter inner silence and hear his voice.  

My heart was quiet and a voice piped up.  I don’t even know if I can write down all it said but there were no compliments.  I started listening.  If you would plan better, your house would be clean.  If you exercised more faithfully, you wouldn’t still have 10 pounds of baby weight.  You don’t do enough.  You’re actually pretty lazy.  You should do more.  If you tried harder…  

Wait.  Stop.  This was not the voice of God.  Condemnation comes from someone but it isn’t the Triune God.  I know his voice.  He tells me hard truths.  He invites me to drastic change.  He has journeyed with me through massive transformation of the soul, mind, body.  His voice is not always easy but it is always love.  

Seeing a blank note card in my bag, this crazy idea floated through my mind.  Write yourself the compliments you think I’d give you.  

I’m in the middle of the Y lobby.  I’m already a little teary.  I’m hungry.  I’m going to cry in front of a lot of old men who are having coffee after their morning swim.  Oh, alright.  

So I do.  And I do (cry, that is).
What compliments would God give you today?  He will always be honest and he will always be love.  

The Best Advice

I listened to a podcast this afternoon as I cooked dinner that featured the best advice people had ever received.

The one piece of advice that stood out to me was given to a young mother with 4 children.  She said that she spends the bulk of her day doing things that will be undone: feeding children who will get hungry again, washing clothes that will soon be dirty, cleaning up toys that will be on the floor tomorrow.  The best advice someone gave her was to do one thing each day that cannot be undone.

She writes in a journal, or paints one wall in her home, or does one other long-lasting thing each day, grounding her life with meaning and permanence.

I really liked this idea.

I thought about the many ways I could concretize (is that a word? I don’t think so.) my days into something with permanence.  I could write more on the blog.  I could do things that make my largely invisible existence more visible. I could finish painting the fourth wall in my dining room.

Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 came to mind: “establish for us the work of our hands.”  I could definitely (and might) choose to do one thing each day that can’t be undone.  It sounds like a fun thing to add to my list of things to do.  But mostly I think I will pray that God’s grace (Moses prays that God’s favor would rest on his people directly before asking for the establishing of the work of their hands) would make the largely unseen and mostly undo-able work I do each day count for something permanent.

In the lives of those I love and in the humility I learn, establish for me the work of my hands.

 

These Are the Days, December Edition

In August I posted a list inspired by Emily Freeman sharing the moments and ideas that were making up my days.  Using the same attention to my true moments and days, rather than the ones I want to have or have vicariously through some form of media, these are the days of:

Grief.

Being thankful for the history of the Church, and how it informs my daily life today (in particular, for the Council of Orange)

Creativity: starting painting classes again, trying to draw more, writing

Reading less: I’m noticing a pattern.  I gorge myself on books that others have written and suddenly I don’t have the appetite to write or paint or draw.  The year that I deliberately limited my reading was one of my most creative.  I think it’s time to go there again in 2016.

A baby learning to walk.  When did she get so big, and could this really have been my last first year as someone’s mother?

Returning to the Psalms

New habits.  I read Better Than Before and have been thinking a lot about habits, and how to have ones that reflect who I am and who I long to be.  One new habit that came out of a small group we led this fall: I can only check my social media after I’ve spent time meeting God in Scripture.  There have been some weeks where I haven’t checked in to Facebook at all.  But more, I find myself able to make time to read the Bible when before I might have mindlessly scrolled through a lot of status updates.

Attending to God in the midst of activity.  My one year old can open the fridge by herself.  That’s probably enough to summarize my whole life right there.  I’m needed and loved and interrupted by the moment.  I’m learning to love God and listen to his voice in the midst of serious motion.

Reading Geronimo Stilton.

Loving those fresh moments right after a young child has woken up.  I can’t explain it but those first few minutes of I’m-just-waking-up newness feel as magical as when I first held them.

Ice chewing.  (I’m not anemic.  I just really like to chew ice.)

A technology-free bedroom.  (New habits on display here.  Try it.  It will change your life–no phones, no laptops, no iPods, nothing.  People, books, beds.)

Transition.  A church move, and soon enough: graduation and a move for us.

New possibilities.  The canvas is in front of us and it feels very blank.

PG Tips.  Worth every penny.

Morning pages.  Three pages, written long-hand, every morning as a creative act.  Never to be shown to anyone, never to be mined for ideas for publication.  Just there to get the brain dumped on paper so I can attend to the creative work of crafting my life, including my normal writing.

New beginnings.

Anything marking your days that you’d like to remember them by?

Needing to Blog

I don’t know if I want to blog but I do know that I need to blog.

Last year I managed three posts.  That means it takes me over 100 days to remember to blog again.  

As I’ve sat with the nuns at the Community of the Transfiguration the past two days and reflected on the past year, I’ve come up against one major obstacle: my memory.  I have never had a great memory.  I am terrible at taking pictures or building scrapbooks to help me remember.  I regularly find myself anxious about what I will and won’t remember in a few decades, about all the wrong stories I’ll tell my children, about how they will feel when I tell them something they know isn’t true as our memories collide.  

I can’t seem to remember to blog but without blogging, I’m not sure I’ll remember the shape of my days.  So I want to set an intention to blog with regularity.  To share the moments of my days, to chronicle what I’m learning and how I’m growing, to explore my spiritual formation out loud on my blog.  

I only hope I remember to do it.