Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Role in Work Overseas and Being a Mother

I have so so many emails and blogs half written and unposted and unsent. There's something about this stage of life that has made me need to write but unable to write anything cohesive enough to finalize. It's like I'm so in the middle of so many things, in the need of processing but not past the middle enough to be able to reach the end of thoughts, to see the whole way around the story. But I need to write, and we have nearly been here six months now, so I think I will begin writing bits of some of the things I grapple with here.

First is motherhood and my role here. Some snippets I've written over the past months:

 The last couple of weeks were tougher for me psychologically, maybe because Isaac has officially started work and it's so beautiful to watch him doing his thing. He loves teaching, he loves planning to teach, he loves studying, and doing it all here where it really feels like good teaching is meaningful... well, it's a privilege, and it's really cool. As a wife it's so great to see your husband in his element.

On the other hand, it's tough by comparison. I am always wrestling with questions of what my work is and whether or not I am meaningful. Here, for now, my work is at home with the kids, but the fact is that I do not feel fulfilled by that work. I watch Isaac with some envy, wishing I had one thing that was mine, that I know I am called to and gifted for. I wrestle with questions – what is my work here? Yes, a mother, but other than that? What is my place?

And so it is that I've had days where Isaac says, “Okay, I'm off to work! Love you guys.” And I've turned away because I don't want him to see my tears, to have to carry the burden of my own longing for my own work outside of the home. Of course he sees and turns around and holds me because he's great, but in any case what I'm working through right now. 

And this one:

I knew that on arrival I would be at home without a formal role, but I assumed I'd find a way to minister informally. That's been more challenging than I expected. I haven't found ways to be involved in the neighborhood and get to know people there. I will continue to look for opportunities at church, but that's tough to do while juggling kids too. A lot of the things I would do to be involved and get to know people.... are just a lot more limited than I expected because of the kids.
It is a mix, I think, of learning to be a stay at home mother and wrestling with my role in our work overseas.

  • I want to learn contentment when this is simply the life I am called to right now. My heart needs to learn fulfillment and joy in the right things. I need to learn the honor of the simple things, serving a meal, weeding the yard, playing with my kids. There is some internal definition of what is “meaningful” in me that needs to be adjusted. That's happening now. 
  • On the other hand, I do not want to learn contentment “because a woman's place is in the home” or because “this is the highest honor of life”. It grates against me that people think that or that I may be conveying that impression. I believe my kids need to be cared for and raised and nurtured and taught. Right now it is my turn to take the role of doing all of that full-time from home because of their ages, the resources around us, and the fact that we have just made major transitions and the kids need a strong and stable home.  But I am not here to, "Raise babies while her husband works."
  • The fact that I long for other things, that my heart is restless, does that mean that God has put in me a call to other things, that He is gently leading me towards other ministry too? Or does it mean that hearts are restless and always seeking for fulfillment and meaning, never satisfied? I don't know if there is a way to know this right now, so I pray, I look for opportunities, and I take one step at a time. I have no idea what next year will look like. I have no idea what 5 years from now will look like. 
  • That's not totally true. I do know that my kids will get older, be out of the preschooler/toddler stage. Right now there is no other option but homeschooling them. Honestly, if another option comes up, I'd jump at it. I am still entirely unsure about the homeschooling thing, not sure at all that I will enjoy being a teacher.
  • Although I wrestle with my role overall, the daily rhythm of our home is in place and going okay. The kids are thriving and I cook and clean and run this ship without falling apart or being overwhelmed most of the time. I am thankful for that!
  • I have been surprised to find unanimous agreement that counseling and training in counseling is desired here, formally at the school and informally in the community. I see a lot of ways this can be used, and it's what my degree is in. Because of that, and my longing for defined work, I am looking at ways to get that MA in counseling I've pondered for so long. 
  • Although I am grappling with the limitations of being a stay at home mom of little people, I am also sure that as we settle into home here, my informal role will unfold. It will take time, but I will find a place in this community. As I manage to get to a few events, as my kids begin to finally ease into this life enough to play with other kids at events rather than clinging to me.... we make progress. I start to know some people well enough to use them as my resources to ask them to guide me. We have a group of students or staff in our home and I get excited about some project we're in. These things will blossom. It just takes time. In Dallas it took two years to feel content. It hasn't even been six months here yet.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Grieving when great evil is done unto someone you love

 I wrote most of this blog this summer as I reacted to my sister being brutally assaulted. I initially wrote it without naming her, but since then she has publicly told her own story. You can read her own brave words here. Her fiance Josh has written his own thoughts here.


Recently something terrible happened to someone I love, worst nightmare kind of a thing. In the mornings after I heard I would wake up at four or five AM, find myself staring at the ceiling (this never happens to me) and instead would come out to living room and open my Bible and pray, and pray, and pray as the sun rose over Manokwari.

Evil. There is so much evil in the world. The Western humanist perspective that I am steeped in likes to think the world is so sanitized, but even we usually can't excuse things like rape, especially when premeditated, especially when acted against the innocent and uninvolved. How can it be? I find myself calling my daughter my sister's name because I remember her that age as well, big blue eyes and toddling around.  I can't even describe it, the horrible evil my sister experienced. How can someone do such things? For the first time I read the imprecatory Psalms as my own. They are suddenly are real, with accusations of evil men making plans against the innocent, and my heart cries that it is not right, it should not be, and that God sees this horrible injustice.

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises...
His victims are crushed, they collapse; 
they fall under his strength. 
He says to himself, "God has forgotten; 
he covers his face and never sees." 
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless...
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. 
The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. 
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; 
Call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out...
The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.
You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; 
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, 
defending the fatherless and the oppressed, 
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. 
- Psalm 10

Why? This question doesn't stay with me long. It is the biggest question, but it is one I have come to peace with before this moment. I believe there's evil in the world, it's not a question of why for me, evil will affect us, tragedy will come, in different ways and different times and different degrees to different people.

But oh, that it happens, that it happened to one I love! I shake my fist and wish I could erase pain and the affects of evil, because they are there. I think of the family of my friends who were at the Boston bombing. All the medical help in the world doesn't give back legs. One act of evil and physical bodies are forever in pain. Now, while I am amazed by my sister's confidence and grace, still I know the road is long, and I wish I could take that away.

I dissolve in tears over a meal as I talk about it, because when I think about the darkness of a room and the terror there and the brokenness that can be inflicted on a human being, a soul, one I love, I am undone. My husband holds my hand as the kids babble over their lunches and I pray with a shaky voice, praising God that if the gospel is true, there is redemption. In the deepest of darkness, in the most shattered of places, there is always healing, always hope, evil does not win, and there is always always redemption. Even there. In these moments I cling to that.

She is living it out, actually, as the days go by. She laughs. She writes. She shows that when some one's foundation is built on the strength of God, even when a storm comes that shakes the very core of life, the foundation does not come apart, the most essential things remain. You come through the worst of nightmares and the love and joy of Jesus are still there. I am amazed to see it. But then I see the bruises still visible on her neck and there is still grief, still processing.

We went to the beach that Saturday. The children run and build castles and splash in the water and collect shells. Picnic lunches are eaten. It is beautiful. Just a couple of people know the weight in my heart, and that my mind is partly on the other side of the world, and I am in constant prayer for her and them. How do you live in a world where kids play and giggle in the sand and a man assaults and attempts murder? I put on a snorkel mask and wade into the water alone. It's been 8 years since I last did this, and it's indescribable. I swim to the drop-off, where the reef drops lower to white sand that sinks deep. Here where there is space the tropical sun filters through the ocean water in brilliant green rays that make me catch my breath in wonder, all senses are captured. I am surrounded by tiny brilliant blue fish, thousands of them, and I reach out into the rays and the fish swim between my fingers. I make my way to a spot on the reef where I can sit on a clump of coral and I sit, water all around me, cocooned in ocean. It's breathtakingly beautiful. I pray.

The contrast between the beauty and the ugliness in this same world is unsettling. I think of the movie Noah, the way he was portrayed as fighting the growing ugliness and then growing desperate when he realized the root of what he was fighting was present in him and his own family and would not be washed away with the flood. Most evil people act out partly because evil was done unto them. What was done to this man? The beginnings of evil are so tame. The end is so ferociously destructive.

Do not be afraid. It's said many times in scripture to people who have every right to be afraid. Mary is about to be an inexplicably pregnant teenager, shamed by her community, then a refugee fleeing a murderous king, and she would one day watch her son tortured to death. Don't be afraid? Safety in this life is an illusion. Life is not safe. Following God is not safe. There is much to fear for me, my children, my family. It's not just a “what if”. Things WILL happen. I am watching them happen this week. But I am struck that I need not be afraid. There is plenty to fear but I need not be afraid. . Because when the very worst nightmare happens, He is there. Because in the aftermath, the Spirit will fill, will be there in the midst of grief, will bring healing. Because in the end, all will be made right, justice will be done, all things will be made new.


The shock has passed now. The shock waves of crisis have faded and now she walks in the daily small acts of healing and processing.

Sometimes we act as though we hold to faith despite the evil and suffering of the world. I think it is in times when evil and suffering is real that each simple line of what I believe intersects most clearly with this world and life. In these times I am not afraid that it is trite, instead I speak each line with trembling voice because of the power of what it means to this situation if it is all true. A beautiful world, broken and lost. No shit, when you really see it like we did this summer, it is so lost, and we just tasted some of the oppression that so many experience repeatedly, even daily.

A coming judge who delays that deserved judgement in order to instead come and take judgement on Himself and offer redemption to all who would follow Him. Including that man. Even him. And so we follow Jesus. Hard pressed and struck down sometimes, but not destroyed. We carry around death in our bodies but the life of Jesus is revealed in us.

I said earlier that I was clinging to the belief that somehow there was redemption here, even in this. Now the tragedy of this story is flipped on its head and in Jesus everything is inside out and instead of brokenness and anger there is my sister safely loved, praying for her attacker, newly engaged, healing and joyful and vibrant. I don't want to be triumphalistic, because pain and struggle is real and it is not a sign of a lack of faith. It is not uncomplex, there is counseling and night terror and much to process, but just go and read her words. Not all stories end this way in this life, but this, for me, has been a taste of the glory that will be revealed when all things are made new. This was not a victory for evil. I'll quote her:

Through the oppressive darkness of that hour he allowed you to be all the more captivated and yes, even liberated by the light, and to learn that the mightiest powers of evil and the darkest hour of night cannot keep you any more than the grave could keep him all those years ago, which is not at all. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Homemade Yogurt from Milk Powder

When I started trying to make yogurt overseas to satisfy my son's insatiable love for the stuff, we had a number of failures. We were using hard-to-come-by fresh milk and recipes that included scalding the milk. When it struck me that I might be able to use powdered milk I wondered if I might be crazy and I could hardly find anything on the internet about it.

Since then I've received great feedback and have pieced together several peoples' advice (most of all my friend Sarah's recipe from her blog here) into a recipe I make every week. Every morning my kids eat yogurt and honey. There's very little dairy around here, and the yogurt is also really good for helping our stomach's handle the many new things we're exposed to here.

Bonus - this recipe is so easy I'll probably make it in the US as well. All you need is warm water, powdered milk, and active yogurt.

Homemade Yogurt

  • 8 cups warm water (warm but not so warm you can't hold your finger in the water without being scorched)
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered milk (full-cream only! I'm told in the US this is available in Walmart from a Hispanic brand?)
  • 1/2 cup active yogurt

Whisk powdered milk into the warm water.  Gently whisk in yogurt. Put into insulated container and incubate for 3-6 hours or until yogurt is set. I use my rice cooker for this. Don't even turn it on warm, it's just a nice big insulated container for the setting stage. Store yogurt in the fridge.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tough Things and Things I Love

We have now been in Manokwari for three months. 

Timehop is showing me all of the same stages of adjustment to Salatiga a year ago: first trip to the open air market on my own on the motorcycle, rounds of sickness as we and the kids adjust, amazement at the beauty, struggling with the d├ęcor options for the house. I have a post I wrote and never posted that listed the things I loved and the tough things about that move to Salatiga. Much of the same things are true here, but unfortunately for Papua, a lot of the things that were a delightful return to “home” in Indonesia were new in Salatiga but as a result aren't new and freshly experienced as a part of this move. I am now used to having rice all the time again, I am used to the tropical greenery, I am used to driving a motorcycle with one rule – don't hit people. I know the products I like and the foods we enjoy.

So moving back here was actually filled with some... hesitation? Fear? The joy of returning that I felt when we got to Indonesia was a little tempered by the fact that this actually is where we stay, and I wondered – what if it didn't feel like home? What if this is really hard? I was afraid.

The first two weeks are always crazy. Exhaustion from travel, high highs and low lows as everything is new and we are unsettled and disoriented. We love some things and treasure them, the things we don't like we sit with for a few days until the disappointment fades and we adjust. We grit our teeth when we kill 40+ cockroaches on our first night in the house. We gasp in wonder at our first Saturday afternoon at the beach. And eventually....

So here we are on the other side of that transition. Sort of settled. Home! But truly it takes longer than this to actually settle. It's just the crazy transition is past. Before it fades in memory I thought I'd detail the great and hard things that have been a part of this adjustment.

Things I love 

  • Tropical rain.
  • Cool tile floors.
  • Lucious greenery everywhere.
  • A yard, with fruit trees in it.
  • For the first time ever, growing my own plants! I'm a gardener!
  • Tropical fruit … and tropical fruit shakes.
  • Fish. I love that I can buy fresh fish at the market and we can get cheap grilled fish at roadside dives.
  • A car. I love love love driving a motorcycle, but I feel much safer transporting my kids in a car
  • A car with AC! My AC didn't work most of the time in Texas, and the borrowed car we've had here didn't have any, so I am very thankful to not be sweating the entire time we're driving around town running errands.
  • Internet and data. We are surprised that both are pretty good. The week before we got here the President of the country came in and inaugurated a new below-the-sea internet line that sped everything up.
  • Pay as you go everything. This is a little strange, to where we think before we do anything on the internet, run the AC, etc, because we buy these things in increments and when they're used up, you buy more. It helps us to be better, more careful consumers. Strange to say things like, “I have to go buy more electricity.”
  • Bottled jasmine tea. Better than Texas sweet iced tea. Just good stuff!
  • Our home. I don't know how long we will be here in this home, but we could be here a long time. Having a place that is sort of actually ours (even though it's really not) and is more permanent than anything we've ever lived in before... it's quite a treat.
  • Neighbor kids. God gave us so many kids around that are little boys Judah's age. I'm super thankful for friends for him.
  • Papuan tribal culture. It's amazing to have a pig hunt happen by our house, to have cook fires and murmured village languages floating around us as we sit with students from the school. Papua is a unique place and it's such a privilege to see these cultures firsthand as they change.
  • The beach. I've actually never lived so close to the water – just minutes to walk to the coast, and a 40 minute drive across town to a stunning beautiful white sand and blue water beach. Every time we go I come back so soul-refreshed by the peace and beauty.
  • Owning my own schedule. I set the pace for the home. I plan the meals. I guide nap times and bath time and media intake and discipline. I like managing things.
  • Watching my husband do what he is gifted and called to do. His job is needed, he is so suited to it, he thrives in it. That's super cool.

Tough Things

  • Bugs. We killed around 40 roaches our first night here. We spent the first two weeks clearing out the infestation and it was GROSS. Cockroaches are my least favorite thing.
  • Rats. In our house. We got rid of two in our first week and a month and a half later had another intruder. In two nights he ate through two tupperwares, a paci, two spatulas, a cheese slicer, a three packets of hot sauce. Luckily we got him too.
  • Heat and humidity. We sweat all the time. I plan my day so that I am in under a fan or AC during the middle of the day, but that's pretty limiting. Cooking uses heat in the kitchen, and it all ends up sweltering. Making trips anywhere midday guarantees being covered in sweat. As a result I rarely feel pretty and put together.
  • The aesthetics (or, in my perception, lack thereof) of household goods. Sheets, curtains, material, furniture, decor.... they all are made for a different culture's tastes, and I just don't like the look? I long for a cute Target pattern. Paint colors, bad paint jobs, bad grout jobs, etc. All of that doesn't ultimately matter but I've been trained by my culture to love a Pinterest-worthy household scene and that's hard to give up. Oh for a Joanne Fabrics to find curtain material!
  • Shopping in so many places. There's one store in town that sells wheat bread and big bags of oats and prepackaged meat. However, I can't get a number of produce items there, so I need to make a trip to the open air market as well. But if I want chocolate chips or raisins or tomato paste, I need to go to a random store on the other side of town. There's one store that sells pork. There is definitely no one-stop shop.
  • Lack of variety of restaurants and entertainment. Like shopping, you end up finding good options but they are all spread out and hidden and it takes exploring all sorts of unlikely places to find a variety of good food. And as for a fancy-ish spot to go out on a date? There really isn't any such thing here. We are adjusting, trying to shift from American style outings to taking advantage of the unique things here. 
  • The paparazzi. The toughest thing for me. I think it's more extreme here than in Java, and it was extreme in Java. We cannot go anywhere that is public and not have people come up to pinch our kids' cheeks, try to take the kids and take pictures of them, or just stand at a distance and take pictures in general. I understand that people are just being friendly and we are unusual and interesting, but on days when we are out at an event and can't move for the crowd that forms around us, it is truly exhausting and can make me want to go and hide. My kids have reacted by now pulling away from and resisting all of this attention, and so they are perceived as rude, which I feel bad about but feel their response is totally understandable. It also is hard because I want to connect to people and really talk to them, but this type of attention can be sort of objectifying and dehumanizing, and results in less conversation and more swarming.  We want to be a part of the community, not be a spectacle.Obviously I'm still processing this, but I can't tell you how many times I've headed out to socialize and then had to head home to protect my kids, feeling defeated.