Posted in celebrating life, God's heart, JOY, living in their world, Mozambique

Their Surprise Porker

The little girls have given up and gained much in this transition and adjustment of moving to Africa. Here in this language and culture learning city, our little girls have had many adjustments. Their weekday routine looks pretty similar each day: get up, eat, entertain yourselves for three hours in the morning while Mommy and Daddy do language, play with the big sisters when they come back from school, eat, nap for 2 hours, play with big sisters again, many times watch a 30 minute film, many times family play time, dinner, baths, and bedtime routine. Then it’s “wash, rinse and repeat”. 😉

Emilia is many times a friendly playmate during the three hours of play during our language sessions, but the truth of our culture shift has left the little girls hungry for their Mommy and Daddy. It’s hard to explain how proud I am of them and yet how hard it is for them to have given up so much intentional time together during our otherwise normal homeschool hours. These girls are RESILIENT, but there is also the double-edge sword of our busy world here resulting in a lot more expectation of self-entertainment by these two. They have grown so much in creativity and their sweet little friendship, though here seven months into our schedule, our little ones are growing a little tired.

So one weekend, I worked to set up “table toy” bins again. Toys are REALLY hard to find here so I got really creative. Back came out the rice bin (never underestimate the power of pouring and filling for the preschool crowd). Magnetic toys made their way into a bin and another bin was donated to our magnetic dolls. Then came a clothes-pin gripping game in which I drew the outlines of a bunch of tiny items that the girls get to match onto the little papers by using “the claw” (a few different kinds/strengths of clothes pins). Then I used q-tips to make little designs and the outline of little pictures and letters to help the girls do a puzzle-type activity.

Toys here are VERY cheaply made and after playing with the same suitcase full of toys and reading the same 20 books for seven months straight, our littles are tired. But these little boxes helped recharge their batteries again. I put the bins out at the table and they can rotate through the seats at the kitchen table until they have played with each box’s contents independently. Many people refer to these little boxes as “busy boxes” but we refer to them as LIFESAVERS!

We also found some little colorful wooden building blocks by utter mistake in a store one day. When I speak of the rarity of good, solid toys here you must understand that you can wait for months and check every single store and find absolutely nothing of lasting quality here. So what does that mean for our girls? It means they randomly get a gift of a cheap little chinese store gift from school. They instantly fall in love with the gift and make HUGE plans (you know how kids are) about how that little toy is going to travel all over the world with them, etc. And then we cry big tears when that little item breaks within an hour of play. And for my girls that play really gently with things, this is heartbreaking. So as a Mom, we just avoid the heartache by avoiding the cheaper toys.

In an effort to help the littles more with their “I’m tired of the effect of language learning on my attention level” moments, we have been trying to divide and conquer where we can. This looks like Hannah running errands with Matt and his language helper. And that looks like Eden going with Suzana and I sometimes. Nope it doesn’t happen all the time – not even close. But we do try to involve them in more errands and get them out of the house more where we can.

One such errand I ended up bringing Hannah and Eden both with Suzana and I as we went to a clothing market. Suzana had a few things she was looking for and I was hoping to drop off a dress pattern to a tailor and the material we had previously picked out for a new dress for Hannah and Eden (hence their need to come a well, since it’s hard to measure a child who’s not in attendance). Here the cost of the material AND the handmaking of a dress is about $6 for a child.

The previous week, we took Hannah and Eden to the market to pick out their own material. They LOVED that freedom and ate up the opportunity to have their little opinions validated. With some slight nudging away from more scary choices ;), we all left the shops happily.

Oh and I forgot to tell you, when we are out together and it is language time, we speak Portuguese! Go figure! 😉 So this is nice too to keep the little girls building their vocabulary, forcing me to think on my feet when others approach us to talk about the kids, and allowing us all to be exposed to an ever-growing language and culture experience.

And it was here in the middle of our language and cultural experience one day at the market that we found Mr. Pig lying on a mat on the floor with other toys. Recognize him, Heather McKinney? Our girls absolutely MELTED! With a happy $2USD exchange, this face, that is pictured below, on my ECSTATIC four year old absolutely squealed in delight throughout the rest of our market trip as she and Eden discussed their plans for Mr. Pig (whom they named “Pinky” of course!). They also absolutely danced through the market booths introducing Pinky to their Africa. “And here, Pinky is a store that sells dresses and here’s one that sells beds!” Oh how those two little girls went ON and ON in utter ecstasy.

And then to discover at home after Pinky got a good bath and a fresh set of batteries that he actually works too?! Oh my goodness! This picture below was the face of utter delight EVEN BEFORE we had the batteries to test if he worked. Oh, friends! Oh, family! So great is the utter delight at this little pig!

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And it has brought me to a place of sheer thankfulness that God saw it fitting in His beautiful heart to so bless two little girls whom have made such sacrifices in these past seven months. How wonderful of a Father to reach down to these two little ones in such a beautiful little blessing that utterly rocks their world with delight. I think of His Sovereign hand gently guiding Pinky from wherever he was donated, orchestrating his placement on this very mat of this very booth that we would pass by.

Oh sure, I could give away His glory to some rare chance.

But I know better.

It’s Him, dear brothers and sisters. It’s all Him.

And it absolutely blesses my heart so.

And these precious little girls…

Thank You. Just thank You, Father.

Posted in BRAVO, celebrating life, Mozambique, That's so Africa, willing hands

Six

Today marks six months of being American Africans. SIX MONTHS!!!!

“Wow, that has gone fast,” my conversant commented.

“FOR YOU!” I joked. 😉

In some moments six months has surprised us and in some moments language school feels like a never-ending endeavor. 😉

Six months looks like having enough language to complete our normal needs/wants/tasks without problems, while still forgetting how to congregate some irregular verbs to say something simple like “I have gone to the doctor before.”

Six months looks like preaching and teaching Sunday School lessons. Some sermons even coming with less than 12 hours of notice. HA!

Six months looks like a toddler experiencing some culture shock, resulting in a regression to diapers again, a promise that this is a phase, and more intentional Mommy snuggles. And by the way, this same toddler is reminding me that she wants underwear sometime soon when she does a good job using the potty, so I am encouraged by the grace she has been extended.

Six months looks like knowing what pizza place the family likes and successfully avoiding some other “less delightful” restaurants in town.

Six months looks like moving beyond introductory language to really starting to learn friends’ testimony’s, cultural superstitions, and understanding different ways of life.

Six months looks like looking at future homeschool curriculum so you’ll be ready to order it when the time comes in the next handful of months. (It takes a while to get here, but it’s still an exciting promise of things on the horizon.)

Six months looks like being SO CLOSE to remembering all of Roman’s Road and culturally appropriate questions regarding these verses to engage others in conversation.

Six months looks like celebrating with ice cream while skyping my best friend and her little boy.

Six months looks like a third grader doing 95% of her homework all by herself and casually reading her first grade sister the Portuguese directions to complete her first grade homework. It also looks like two girls enjoying school, but looking forward to returning to homeschool in English (!!!) as well. 😉

Oh sure, six months still has it’s growing pains, frustrations and challenges to rise above.

But six months also finds this country dripping with home, these pot-holed streets and people not so foreign and these hands still open to whatever God would have us learn

here in Mozambique, Africa.

Thank you, Lord, for six completed months.

Happy six months, FPO family!

Posted in celebrating life, my heart, thankful and grateful

Not Forgotten

Sometimes I think how easy it can be to feel left behind. We go off on an adventure and all you get to see are pictures. But we don’t get to sit together in your living room anymore. Not for a very long time. We don’t get to exchange hugs and laugh as we tell stories over a shared meal. We don’t get to talk about the latest movies or news. We don’t get to share thoughts over the newest books we have read. We don’t get to laugh over things the girls said at church when they were running down the aisle to give you a hug. We don’t get to steal away after the kids go to bed to grab a cup of coffee and lose ourselves in conversations way late into the night. We don’t get to wear Spartans gear together and cheer on the victories (or desire for victories) in your living room.

We have left. And you stayed.

But I want you to know something that is very near and dear to my heart.

It’s you.

When I write my blog posts, I think of walking around my mom’s backyard with her, looking at the newest flowers blooming. Hanging out in the living room with my Dad, listening to his newest adventures and his newest thoughts on passages of the Bible. I think of sitting in the dining room with Barb and Rodger, playing another game of ticket to ride with Sarah, Ricky, William, Kourtney, Cousin Brittani and James.  I think about how we wait in anxious anticipation of Kat and Stephen visiting and I remember walking the streets of San Fransisco watching Hannah peak over your shoulder, Stephen. I think of standing outside in the yard with Ellen and Ron and the cousins, most of us are barefoot and laughing at the kids’ attempts at gymnastics and “soccer” or “football” in the yard. I think of sitting on the couch at Jes and Nayt’s house, laughing over the Lego movie as Nayt imitates that obnoxious song again and Eden begs for Aunt Jes to read another story with voices.

I think about standing in the kitchen with my best friend, Heather, and actually completing an entire conversation because my girls and Luke are so used to playing together that they’ve adopted him as their little brother. I think of taking a walk with Susan and Jade, talking about absolutely nothing because the girls keep interrupting to give Susan flowers, re-explain old stories and hold her hand. I think of playing at the park with Heather and Dilly, both Heather and I pushing the swings until our arms fall off but not minding in the least bit because being together gives us both an endurance we never thought possible.

I think about our Ms. Becky and how wonderfully dear she is to Matt and my hearts. How I loved “randomly” bumping into her while she was prayer walking at church. Hearing her fierce prayers for God’s people – Oh how our lives are ALWAYS ten times better because of our Ms. Becky and her beautiful heart.

I think about sitting on the floor in Darlene’s living room. Wes is in his chair covered in cats and Darlene is in her chair with the dogs at foot. And we could even steal a visit with Luanne too! And I am overcome by Darlene’s gentle heart, letting Rachael hold Allie as she marvels over God’s precious gift of the little baby.

I think of pool parties with the youth at Patty Thornell’s house and how we’d just sit on the patio together and share in life over a cup of soda and some pizza. My Jenney’s (Carrots) always prepared to be an encouragement, even though we both have missed spending as much time together as we have in the past.

I think about Dennis and Patti Stauffer with open arms at church, always ready to look past the girls’ crazier moments in light of their huge hugs and delight to see them. I think of Eden just desperately needing to hug Pastor Steve and Ms. Carla and how our Sunday morning wasn’t complete without saying hello to Sandy Vaugh and Lisa Walker at the piano. I think about Sara Fitch and how one of my favorite places to be at church was standing next to her in the praise team. Oh how sweet it is to break loose in worship of our Father over harmonies that ‘just happen’ by kindred spirits.

I think of Aunt Jes’ Housechurch (yes, that’s your official name now), oh my and sweet Ellie and Frannie, June, Suzie and Amanda, and how instantly at home we felt. How you wrapped your arms around us and still pray for us today. And how sweet Ellie still emails us asking about my girls and giving us the privilege of writing her back. And little Greta and Ethan just joining right along in the play.

I think about Ms. Betty and Ms. Patty in the nursery and how Hannah and Eden were always ready to run into their arms. Safety was found there.

I think about my Miranda Baker and my Amanda Parson and how even though schedules were hard to coordinate, spending time with them always felt like picking up where we left off. I always knew (and still do know) that at any point in time I can just pick up the phone (or the computer now) and call and they’ll always be there.

I think about Sarah Lockwood and Jenn and Dallas Russel and how Awanas was ALWAYS a blast enjoying some playful joking between kid session needs. Oh how fun it is to serve with family in the Body of Christ.

I think of Jess Herbst and how no matter how little I got to see her (it’s hard work seeing a Pastor’s wife) we could always just laugh and laugh about life. And how Brad and the “kids” (Can we even call them that anymore? Man, they’re HUGE) were always such a blast to see. Instant friends. Instant family. And then I get to thinking about Lifepoint church and how I loved to see Phil and Trish and Max and Dexter and so many ex- FBCM family. 😉

It think about Kassie Wysong and the kiddos and Papa Bear Jacob “doing voices” in the storybooks at night. And how the kids just rolled and were completely beside themselves, begging for just one more story.

I think about family reunions up with the Stauffer and Kelly clans and how much I looked forward to sharing in the food and fun together. From the organized games to the unplanned hang-out time when I got to hear about school happenings, church joys and new house building hopes.

I think about my FPO family: Jesse, Jenna, Angela, Elise and Jay, the B Team, Andrea, Troy and Alice, Rebecca, Chris, Maris, Cy, Peyton, Mrs. Carole, Brandi, Lara, Daniel, Emily and Alison, Joy and Jonathan, Taylor, our “North Africa and the Middle East”, “Europe”, “East Asia” and “South East Asia” friends … oh my goodness, the list could go on for days!!! And our appointment friends serving in hidden places. [I know many of you will not be able to comment or “like” this post for security reasons, but I know you will read it and feel our love.]

Friends and family, there are SO MANY of you to list that I’m sure I failed to include someone of you that I’ll soon be kicking myself over for not including. Oh like Theresa, Will and sweet baby Ellie. And then there’s Jackie and Lydia (sorry, you guys always come together in my mind). And Jill Turner and her precious faithfulness in friendship. And my dear Vicki Ralston! And Aunt Yvonne, Aunt Joanna, Aunt Gayle, Aunt Greer, Cuz Christi. And Kari, Josh, Shepherd and now sweet little Griffin Ortega! And, oh my, sweet Victoria Singerman who I can’t wait to see her on this side of the ocean!!!! And Cortney Tipton and her beautiful heart. And Lynn Parson – oh man, Lynn you are always a blast with your sense of humor.

Oh friends… there are just so, so many of you wonderful people that I cherish so!

Matt, the girls and I do not deserve such a HUGE cloud of wonderful people in our lives.

And I just want you to know that when I sit here across the ocean and create these blog posts,

When this blog post world seems so one-sided, I want you to know that you are on my mind. When I write “friends and family” I see your faces in my mind.

I went online and stole some of your more recent family pictures to put into my computer’s slideshow. And the girls and I love watching it (even my conversant and I have watched it together) and we LOVE talking about you. The stories we have shared still find their way into conversations at the dinner table here in Africa. Because you’re our people. And you are not forgotten.

I want you to know that I don’t write this to you because I am feeling forgotten. No, quite on the contrary. I write this to you out of a heart overflowing in gratitude because I am overcome in thankfulness at your love for Matt, the girls and I.

Please, don’t take our time-lapse between communications personally. We are fighting to share life with you. How we love to walk this road with you all even if we’re working with third-world internet and it’s hard to fit all of you into one schedule without never serving the people here too. 😉

But I just want you to know, precious family and friends, that we are honored to take adventurous steps through the support of your love.

So to our people in Ohio, Minnesota, California, Nevada, Virginia, Peru, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Senegal, Niger, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, “Europe”, “North Africa and the Middle East”, “East Asia”, “South East Asia”, and anywhere else our people are planning on moving in the near future: 😉

Thank you for being used of God.

Thank you for being our people.

Wow, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

– We love you all so, so, so much!

Posted in celebrating life, home decor, honesty, life thoughts, Project Satisfaction, thankful and grateful, that's just life

Project Satisfaction: The Dining Room Table

She has a gimp leg bandaged in metal bandages. I remember sliding her over, the beastly thing. She’s sure solid wood that’s for sure! And then I looked down at the crack. Her leg was splintering off. Hmmm, pretty sure that’s a problem. I thought. I remember Daddy coming to the rescue one time when they were in town. A trip down to the hardware store, a few L brackets, wood glue, and some piping fasteners later and she was strong again. Not gorgeous. Not increased in monetary delight. But back to being fully functional.

She has bubbles in her polyurethane finish. And usually some playdough in her cracks. Sometimes I’ll sit there with a butter knife and clean out the sand and glitter from kid projects. She has a little piece of magnet superglued to one area. Oops. I’ve got to scrape that off some day.

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Her chairs are mismatched. I love how it’s a combination of the old and the new. I remember those chairs with the knobs from our first apartment together. Just you and me, Love. And Cheddar. My fat orange and white baby. Remember how the chairs were nice wood and the table …not so much? Wasn’t it funny how big that four seater table felt in our one bedroom apartment? And we had such high hopes of sliding that extension in to bust out a whopping six chairs.

Now we have ten. And we fill six of them. And the four empty remind us to invite someone over for dinner regularly. The empty ones remind us to keep our table open for family, widows, and orphans coming through the foster system. It reminds us to be on the lookout for those needing a friend. Even just for a season. Someone to share a meal with. To remind them of their value. It reminds us to be ready. And open.

I love how there’s those big captain’s chairs for the ends. Only one is replaced by the littlest’s highchair booster on a regular chair. That highchair doesn’t really fit up as close as I ever want it to fit. Maybe it’s that the table sags low. Maybe it’s that extra 1 by 4 that hangs under the edges of the table on the ends. Still not sure why that’s there. Or maybe it’s just that the chairs are too tall. But I love that she can sit there with us. No one is too small to be a part of the family meal. Even when you can’t quite hold your head up.

She has some marks on her. Most are washable. Straying markers imagining artwork. The occasional crayon jetting off the Math mazes. The occasional pencil scratches or pen mark from immature overly-concentrated penmanship of beginning letters and numbers. Homeschooling evidence gives her such character. And love.

Sometimes there are grease spots from time-out foreheads. Spilled milk still in her crevasses from toddlers learning from “big girl cups”. Worn sections on her chairs where this Mommy sat to nurse her baby while balancing eating lunch or correcting a pattern worksheet… or both. Chair rungs reglued in from rocked chairs while learning to read. Motion can help so much when the brain is focusing so, so hard. Or sometimes it’s just hard to sit there and wait. And wait. And wait to be dismissed from dinner. It can feel like an eternity those five minutes! Just ask the toddler with an empty bowl of ice cream and a full belly. Not everyone is served at the same time. Patience training wears on her chairs.And oh those hard chairs. They give no support to the tired bones. Fulfilling their purpose of keeping a tired Mommy awake after long nights of broken sleep because the open Bible is more important than napping so many times.

It feels like a lifetime of memories is stored up in that loved piece of wood.

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Someday I’d like to refinish it. I’d like to wash away the old stain. Maybe sand some of the needed places. And sit with my older girls and restain our beloved table. Teach them the value of hard work. And the delight of the end project while we recall old memories at that very table.

She’s simple. A wonderful hand-me-down to us. A hodgepodge of two tables’ worth of chairs. Some faded stains. Some scratches and scuffs. One gimp leg.

But she’s wonderful. And she’s treasured. Even with those ridiculously heavy chairs that tend to smash preschooler toes when used as prep chef stepstools. And those crevasse that hoard all things sticky, glittery and grainy, refusing to release them from her clutches.

She’s still wonderful.

And we are thankful, grateful and blessed.

God is so good to us.

Posted in celebrating life, everyday schooling, honesty, Project Satisfaction, thankful and grateful

Project Satisfaction: Intro

I enjoy Pinterest. Who doesn’t right? Where else can you be bombarded with 400 posts a day from complete strangers who have a similar interest in Type A organized craft rooms using only recyclables, underwater photography or even DIY personal hygiene? (Does that topic not scare anyone else out there?) I love looking at “never gonna happen” rooms in imaginary houses just as much as the next person. It reminds me of walking through the Ikea set-ups with my kiddos and imagining living in that exact home… all 500 square feet with my four kids. We enjoy laughing about taking rotations sleeping in the one kid bed and then go get our free Tuesday kid lunches. (Cha-ching!)

I have enjoyed Pinterest and its delightful ideas in homeschooling, housecleaning tips, organization and inspiration. I love being able to serve my family better with a new way of caring for what we already have. A new way of organizing, sorting and decluttering so we can better use all that we have been blessed with and release some of that blessing to others. And if you step foot in our home you’ll see the footprints of Pinterest around little corners and in my cabinets. Pinterest has really benefitted our lives in so many ways.

But there is a danger in Pinterest as well. No, not a stalker hazard signs; though it does seem a bit odd and borderline creepy that a complete stranger could design your dream home, know your whole history of favorite childhood memories, or know your exact child’s favorites without ever having met you. But that aside, the more pressing danger in Pinterest speaks to a far deeper level: Satisfaction.

Do we make changes because we’re unsatisfied with what we have or because it’s fun to have a refresher?

I’m guilty. I will admit it freely. I can easily be caught red-handedly rearranging the furniture when my husband is away on a trip. I get antsy. I like the new. The fresh. A changed perspective. Why do I make changes when Matt’s gone? Simply because I have more time on my hands in the evening. And he can almost expect whenever he’s gone, or sick, or at a conference, that at least one thing will be different when he returns. It’s fun to make improvements. But I must be careful not to let unsatisfaction drive those changes.

So I’m starting Project Satisfaction (insert: fanfare). I’m going to highlight things in my home that may not scream “You know you want one just like me,” but indeed are great blessings, some more hidden blessings than others, in our home. Nope, they’re not the antiques or the heirlooms. They’re not the expensives or the impressives for that matter. But there is great value in liking and even loving what you have. Because, dear friends, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that will change your life: Gratitude turns what you have into more than enough.

– God is so good to us.