Friday, August 23, 2013

Moving? Again??

It's time to move again, but don't worry, this will be a lot less work. For me, at least. Maybe a little bit for you.

I'm moving my blog. See, that's all - nothing crazy. You can keep reading about our ever changing lives at my new location HERE. 

If you follow me by email, there's an option to do it there as well. If you follow me in a feed, please change the subscription. I'll keep posting in Twitter and Facebook so you won't miss any posts (because I know that you wait for them with bated breath).

I'm still hoping to tweak it to look uber awesome, but people already seem to finding it so I thought it was time to roll it out. I hope you enjoy the new look and location!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Eye of the Storm

We haven't yet had the full force of hurricane season here, but I anticipate that it will be interesting. In our kids' school binders, several of the teachers have typed in a "hurricane alternative" curriculum for the days we're stuck at home. Like a snow day I guess! I'm sure we'll get to know the weather reporters on the local news well.
I feel like a weather reporter myself sometimes when it comes to updates about our transition, "The subtropical storm depression Gina from last week has temporarily subsized, but from the north side of the house we are detecting a storm surge from potential tropical storm Ethan. Parents, be advised."
Yes, if it's not one of us, it's another. As I lay awake the other night praying about this, God reminded me that He has seen thousands, hundreds of thousands, nay probably millions of people, through transitions. He walked through those with them; He will walk with us.  He controls the wind, the rain. He is my eye of the storm, the shelter.
"Seek the Lord and his strength. Seek his presence continually!" Psalm 105:4

Friday, August 16, 2013

Keep Climbing

You know those guys who lead mountain climbing expeditions up Mt. Everest? The ones who seem unstoppable, who go without oxygen and on whom you can trust your life? My husband could be one of those guys. That's how he lives, like he's got 6 extra hours in every day and nothing phases him. You think I do a lot? He can run circles around me (actually, back when we first tried running together, he literally would run circles around me. Not great for my self-esteem. Hence, we do not run together).

If I were on an expedition to Everest . . . well, I just probably would never do it. It sounds hard and cold and life-threatening, and I tend to avoid those three, certainly any combination of them. This is why I have my husband - he helps me keep climbing.

In coming back to Orlando after a wonderful summer in Minnesota and Colorado, I feel like I'm coming back to a mountain climbing expedition in the form of continued transition. Over the summer we had a glorious break from trying to figure out how to do life. Within 24 hours of getting here, I had this vague, overwhelmed, tired feeling and I realized, "Oh right, I have to go back to climbing this mountain."

There's no way around it. It's the steep learning curve of finding our bearings. Transition can feel like that - you're striving toward that place where it's easy, where relationships are already formed, where routines are established, where you've got this, but you're not there yet. You won't get there if you just give up and stop climbing.

We've made a lot of progress in the right direction and I'm thankful. Still, even though we've been in the States for almost a year, this is our first fall in Orlando and it brings lots of new experiences to be conquered. We're getting higher but we're not done.

So I have to daily ask God for help to keep climbing, to put forth the effort to initiate, to seek out what we need, to face the areas where I still feel unsure, to keep engaging with our hearts. I know eventually we'll get to a place where the terrain evens out a little and we can just enjoy the view for a little while. Until then, deep breath, one step at a time.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

No More Fear

I've noticed many people lately have posted a link to a video about the danger of having location services on when we take photos with our phones. I confess, when I first watched the video, I was rattled for the first couple minutes. Then I got to the part where it told me that all I had to do to save myself from the certainty of someone hunting me down and doing me ill was to turn off my location services.

Really? That's all? Ok, that's the kind of information that you should lead with! Like, "Hey, it's probably quite unlikely that someone is trolling the internet looking for this, but just in case, you might want to think about turning off your location services if you're concerned that someone could know where you are." But that's not how media works these days, I've come to understand since I'm back in the States. This is a culture where we are encouraged to fear.

Fear sells. We're drawn in to stories that play on our desires to protect those we love. We feel empowered that we could go one step further in ensuring that nothing bad happens to us or them. We feel like we're being responsible people to buy into the level of concern the media tells us we should have.

Except it's not real. Most of the time, the threat is nothing close to what they're telling us it is. But we believe it, and we begin to live out of that fear. I, for one, don't want to do that, because it takes things away from us.

It takes away trust in our fellow man. It takes away freedom. It takes away life. It takes away energy I could spend thinking about so many other more true things. I've learned recently that anxiety, even more than depression, decreases our productivity and our ability to reason. In other words, it doesn't help us make better choices.

I don't want to be driven by fear. It becomes a prison that makes our world smaller and smaller. As a believer, I am admonished again and again in scripture not to fear, but to live wisely, to live in faith.

Is there danger in the world? Certainly. Can we protect ourselves and our families from all of it? Never. So how should we respond? Can I suggest we make a choice to stay calm and be wise? Weigh the true risks, make wise choices to do what you can, and then live life fully. That's what I intend to do.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


It's the day before we leave my parents' house, and I keep having wrong thoughts. Thoughts like, "What else do I need to buy before we go?" Nothing, Gina, because they have Target where you're going. "What do the kids need for the plane?" There IS no plane. "Do we need an extra box for all the stuff we've accumulated this summer?" Um, actually, that's true, we do. It just doesn't have to fit airline standards.

We're not accustomed to this new normal, when leaving this house doesn't mean enduring 24 hours of traveling hurtling through the air in a pressurized metal tube and landing on the other side of the ocean. Now it means enduring 24 hours in a car and ending up at "home."

On the packing and shopping side, this is a relief, even if it means my "I can pack this suitcase to within 1-2 pounds of 50 without using a scale out of sheer practice" skills will go to waste. But last night, Ethan reminded me that it's not just on the surface level that this requires some adjustment.

Right before bed, Ethan tends to evaluate how he's feeling and give me an update (he is currently vying for "most emotionally cognizant and articulate teenage boy on the planet"). Generally, he finds he's feeling some anxiety about the upcoming school year. This time he became aware that part of his anxiety stems from the fact that all this packing and preparing makes him feel like he really IS getting ready for that long haul to China, and it's sad that we aren't. I'm sad too.

Grief. It comes in waves, like you're standing at the edge of the ocean and you don't know when the water will come up and cover your toes, or when it will surprise you by washing up to your knees. You could stand there all day and not have it touch you, and then in a moment it soaks you.

But I feel like the tide is going out. The waves are smaller. We sometimes see them coming. They don't knock us down anymore, just get us a little wet.

So that's how we're feeling as we prepare again to head back. I'm off to make one more trip to Walmart. Until we get to Florida, that is.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Throughout our time in Asia, God reminded me of a verse from Psalm 16:5, "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup." I took that to mean that whatever came my way, He was in control of it, and it was good for me and my growth in Christlikeness.

I can't tell you how many times it didn't feel like that was true. When you're standing on the street corner with your 3 month old strapped to your chest and three consecutive cabs that you hail get snaked by other people, you can tell yourself, "This is assigned, this is assigned, this assigned" but it's not easy to rest in. I'd rather have the ride to the hospital than a lesson in patience and forgiveness, thank you very much.

Lately, though, I've been looking at this verse differently (and not because I'm hoping it means I get to skirt tough situations). When I read it in the ESV, it says, "Lord, YOU are my chosen portion and my cup." Huh. That takes me out of my circumstances altogether.

Over and over through these last few months, God has brought me back to this truth: He is enough for me. He is all that I need. He is what satisfies.

Our hearts are wily beasts. They hunger and thirst and desire and want. I don't think that's necessarily wrong. But I know that when I hunger and thirst and desire and want things outside of God, I will inevitable be disappointed. They will become idols, idols who cannot satisfy.

So He calls me back to Him, to desiring Him. He calls me back to see that He is enough. He is what I truly want. He is exactly all I need.

He is enough.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

40 by 40

A friend of mine recently posted about her list of 40 things to do before the age of 40. At first I thought, "Hey, that's a great idea!" and then I thought, "I have seven hours." Oh well.

Instead, I thought I'd make a list of things I'm glad I did before the age of 40. Maybe things I'm glad I've learned. I'm not sure. Suddenly 40 seems like a lot and until I actually make this list I'm not sure what it will contain. So here goes:

40 Things I'm Glad I've Done/Learned: 

1.     I've followed God

2.     Learned that God loves me. A lot.

3.     Married a great man

4.     Became a mom

5.     Learned that you can’t be a perfect mom, but you can be a great one with God’s help.

6.     Lived in other countries

7.     Learned that God is bigger and stronger and wiser and basically more of everything than we believe He is. And the more you trust that, the better off you are

8.     Climbed the Great Wall (and therefore am now a true Han Chinese)

9.     Wrote a book (wait, what? Yes, but it's for a limited audience)

10.   Ran two half-marathons

11.   Learned that when taking up running you should have good shoes and take extra iron or you will hurt your feet and get anemic

12.   Preached in a church in Trinidad ("preach it sista!")

13.   Learned another language

14.   Used my degree – take that all you humanities haters.

15.   Learned how to take good photos

16.   Homeschooled my kids

17.   Rode a unicycle

18.   Played several musical instruments with varying degrees of competency

19.   Learned that as much as I don't like trials, I need them to be who God wants me to be (and who I want to be)

20.   Had cheap massages on the beach in Thailand, which is the best way to get a massage in the world

21.   Stayed healthy

22.   Learned that being healthy is as much about giving yourself grace as it is about eating well and exercising

23.   Had hard conversations where I had to be vulnerable and saw how it deepened my relationships

24.   Wrote a blog

25.   Consistently sought opportunities to share with others what God is doing in my life (i.e. through this blog)

26.   Tried to be as generous as possible with my resources

27.   Read extensively

28.   Made friendships a priority

29.   Learned to apologize often

30.   Went to LEAF (leadership development time) and purposed to apply what I learned there

31.   Became a LEAF coach

32.   Prayed. A lot.

33.   Learned that my value comes solely from my position as a child of God

34.   Kept my sense of humor

35.   Made keeping tabs on my own heart a value

36.   Learned that to keep an open, soft heart requires a willingness to bear pain

37.   Learned that my depravity is deeper than I could have imagined, but His redemption is far deeper

38.   Learned that our parents are a lot smarter than we give them credit for (and so are kids)

39.   Made mistakes

40.   Learned that I still have a lot more to learn

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cease Striving

I've never been one for being quiet or still. My mom loves to tell stories of my propensity to crawl, climb, walk, at an early age, and of a 2-year-old Gina marching into Sunday School singing, "Have faith, hope and charity, that's the way to live successfully!" One memorable report card from 2nd grade lauds my sociability with other kids, my willingness to participate in class discussions. It ends, though, with the downside, "Gina needs to learn to be quiet in class."

No, I'm much for quiet and still. I like to be on the move. I like to communicate. I tend to live my life at high speeds of taking in information, accomplishing all that I can, seeking opportunities to express myself.

Cease striving, and know that I am God might have been written just for me.

I need to have it phrased that way, "Cease striving." It packs more of a divine reprimand for me that just "be still." When I think of "be still" I imagine something that is already at rest and is being asked to just stay. "Cease striving" speaks more to my MO. I strive. Oh how I strive.

Don't get me wrong. I believe it's part of how God made me, this inclination toward activity. It's something I like about myself, the high capacity to do the things that interest me. The danger comes when my activity and my own chatter silence the voice of God, when I use my actions and my voice to try to find life apart from God, to make things happen in my ways and in my time.

Lately, I've been doing that. In my desire to find my place in this new chapter of life, I want to run ahead of God. I want to make noise so that I am seen and heard, recognized and approved. I don't want to rest in His ways or His timing, but that is exactly what He is asking me to do. He's asking me to cease trying to make life happen according my ideas, to stop looking for life apart from Him.

There's actually a great relief that comes in being reminded of that. I am His. He knows what He's doing with me. I just need to cease striving and let Him be God in my life.

What about you? Are you striving today?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Running from God

Well, here I thought I'd posted something a few days ago and I came to write another post and realized I hadn't! If you don't follow me on Facebook or Twitter then you might have missed my guest post on Judy Douglass' blog a couple days ago.

Judy is the wife of Steve Douglass, the president of Campus Crusade for Christ, International. We have met them in our time in Orlando and found them to be a humble couple who love God wholeheartedly.

Judy herself is full of passion and fire, and I am learning a great deal from her about how to be a godly woman who engages and loves the people around her. She's a prolific writer, and while you read my blog post at her blog, stay and read her posts as well. She's amazing!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Don't blame location

When Erik first told me we were moving to Singapore in 2004, I had to look it up on a map. I had an idea that it was near Fiji.

It is not near Fiji.

I quickly learned more about our new tropical island home than its location, just short of the equator and connected by bridges to Malaysia. I learned that it was the cleanest, safest, most efficient, most affluent, and most beautiful place I've ever been. What's not to love about Singapore?

And yet, through our time there, I met plenty of women who hated Singapore. Couldn't find a thing to like about it. Really? How is that possible? It's a tropical island for Pete's sake. You live where people dream of vacationing.

The reason was that it wasn't Singapore they hated. It was their circumstances. Singapore just happened to be the unlucky backdrop. These women generally were expat women in transition, uprooted from all they loved, their homes, their families, and dropped into a lifestyle quite unlike what they'd ever known. They were lost, lonely, bored. They probably would have been lost, lonely, and bored in whatever country God dropped them, but they happened to be in Singapore and so it was at fault.

I learned two things from those women - first, that every place has its ups and downs, and you have to make a choice to focus on the ups. Second, and more importantly (because truthfully, some places do have fewer ups) I have to separate how I'm doing internally from where I am or I will miss growth.

People have started asking me how we like living in Orlando, and I have to remind myself to stop and take away the lens of transition that colors our first six months there. Though Orlando has been the context for some tough moments, it is not the cause of them. When I do that, I can say that yes, we really do enjoy living there.

Blaming location misses the real issues. It's easy to say "I just don't like this place. Life would be better somewhere else" rather than to acknowledge and deal with what our circumstances are doing to our hearts. The great news is that sometimes we can't change location, but we can always change how we look at them.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tell Me

"I'm a terrible sister." Our sweet girl told me this the other day, after a few days of too much time with her brother coupled with not enough activity in their days had resulted in unpleasant interactions between the two. 

I'm so glad she said it out loud. Too often those accusations from the enemy go unsaid in our hearts, and we continue to believe them. But spoken out, we can call them the lies they are. It's hard to do that alone, which is why I was glad I was there to remind her that it is not God who says those things to her. I could tell her what He would say - that He knows how hard it is to love, that He can and wants to help her, that He loves and has compassion on her. It was a good moment.

Lately I've been reminded how important it is to tell myself often, daily even, these things as well. I need to tell myself who I am in Christ, how He sees me, who He is. It's too easy to start listening to the voices of the world, to the voice of the enemy. 

But sometime it's hard. It's a hard battle to keep fighting day after day. Sometimes it feels like too much, and that's when we need others to stand with us. I wrote a poem years ago about this: 

Tell Me

Tell me the truth
about myself

Tell me things that free me
from the worry cage I've built

Tell me the upside-down things
that correct the world's twisted weavings

Tell me there are rocks to rest on
so I can come in from the storm

Tell me things that breathe new life
into this valley of dry bones

Tell me again to draw my sword
to cut through the enemy attacks on my soul

They say there are no easy answers
I know 
But there is One who answers still
Tell me what He would say
when I'm weak and lonely and tired

Tell me to listen to Him
Tell me
because sometimes I forget. 

What about you? Are you telling yourself the truth? Do you need others to help you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The great table adventure

I have this idea that refinishing furniture isn't that hard, and also that I'm good at DIY projects. The first of these ideas I'm realizing isn't nearly as true as I want to believe. I'm still holding on to the second.

For awhile I've wanted to refinish our dining room table because the finish has dulled and there was some water damage. I should qualify this and all previous furniture refinishing attempts by stating that none of our Chinese made furniture was expensive. It was ridiculously not expensive, in fact, which is why I seem to willy nilly throw my amateur furniture skillz at it. I don't have much to lose.

I did decide though that it would be best to attempt only to redo the top part of our table. I'm ambitious, but I'm not dumb.

This is our table as it was:

 This was right when we bought. Before the dulling and the water damaging. But it was always a little darker than I wanted, which is what happens when you pay a guy $200 to custom build a table. It won't be exactly like that Pottery Barn table.

My first order of business was to strip it with my handy dandy Citristrip. It's this neon peach gel that takes most of the stain right off. Then I sanded it, and put down one coat of dark walnut. It looked really cool. I put down another coat. It looked even cooler. Erik said it was good. I thought it could be a little better, so I put down one more coat. Not cool.

 So it was back to this. Stripped it down again. Thank God for Citristrip! But it didn't seem to get the stain off quite as well as the first time.

 Consequently the stain didn't go down as evenly this time either. But I was happy to be able to see the grain of the wood, something I'd always wanted. This time I quit while I was ahead.

 Then came sealing it. A friend recommended using lacquer instead of polyurethane. I started with 2 cans. By the end I'd bought 10. It still continued to have this uneven shine. Argh.

So I sanded off the shine, and pulled out a can of finishing wax. I threw on two coats and called it good. It looks better in person, actually. But there it is. My great table adventure.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Keep Following

If you like to subscribe to my blog via Google Reader, you may be aware that it will shut down on July 1st. I am not going to be so presumptuous as to assume that mine is the only blog you follow - I'm guessing there are others and you'd like to keep following them as well.

I heard of this impending doom awhile ago and switched my blog reading over to a place called Feedly. It's a bit of a different format, but I got used to it after awhile. It even has a one click Google Reader import, so it's easy! It's one of many options you can use to keep following blogs.

So please keep following me - I'll still be blogging! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Great Outdoors

I'm not an outdoor girl. I've said it before, but I could live happily in a bunker, as long as I had space to jump around. But after eight years in one of the most polluted cities in the world, I can't get enough of our neighborhood because it's just. so. beautiful. Here's evidence:

See, this is a SWAMP and I'm excited

Honestly I did not edit this

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Expectation Management

One of the best coping skills Erik and I learned in the early days of expat living was a simple phrase, "lower your standards!" When you read that, you have to imagine it with your best game show host voice, like you're inviting someone to an exciting opportunity behind door #1. It was all about expectations. If you expect that the bathroom you've been led to out the back door of a restaurant and down a dark alley will be a picture of cleanliness, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you imagine that it will be a sufficient hole in the ground, you'll be satisfied. You get the idea.

It's called expectation management. The problem with expectations is that we are so often unaware of them. It doesn't occur to me that I would appreciate a toilet that flushes until I look up and see that the wall mounted reservoir in the back alley bathroom is partially missing and the frozen water within is still holding its shape. I can, apparently, flush in springtime.

I've been reminded lately how important it is to talk about our expectations.This is especially true with our kids. When we began summer vacation this year, they had an unspoken expectation that it would be like their three previous summers, when they spent all day, every day, outside with friends. Last summer I even had to call one mom and ask her if her kids could maybe not schedule the summer project involving my children quite as often because they weren't able to spend time with other kids. We were beating off the playdates with sticks.

This wasn't the case in Orlando. The kids they've met from school mostly live about an hour away, and others were preparing for long trips away. Within a few days we were all scratching hash marks on the walls. I finally realized we needed to have a talk about expectations with them, and we basically had to say, "lower your standards." It required a little more mourning of what they used to have, but within a day their "I'm bored" statements had reduced significantly. It's a process of looking at reality and making adjustments.

So often when I am frustrated with life it is because I expected it to be a certain way and it isn't. Many of my expectations are residual, left over from what I was accustomed to having in my "previous" life. It's helpful for me to take a hard look at the expectations I have and ask myself if they are realistic in this new season of life. Some of them might not be, and that's where I need to tell myself to "lower my standards." It doesn't mean I'm giving up hope. I think it means I'm choosing contentment.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Real Me

It happened yesterday at the dentist. I was myself. I mean, really truly, like just how I would be if I were with someone I'd known forever. I was chatty. I made witty comments. They laughed. It felt comfortable, and normal, and I thought, "Hey, I'm being me! With people I just met!" This is progress.

You'd think I'd always be me - isn't everyone? - but I'm still getting there. A friend of mine here reminded me lately that when someone has gone through a major transition, you should assume for the first year that you don't really know the real them.

Ah, how true.

It was good to hear that again because I know that my traditional transition stress reaction is withdrawal. I usually don't realize I'm doing it until people make comments like, "Gosh, I thought you were so reserved and quiet, but . . . " (It's ok, go ahead and finish that thought, "but you're actually kind of goofy and don't stop talking.")

The first time I did it was when I got married, and everything in my world changed - new city, new job, new home, new roommate, new church, new friends. I met one of my good friends that year, and she thought I didn't like her the whole year. Meanwhile I was saying to my husband, "I really like her! I hope she'll be my friend!" Sigh. I had no idea.

Since then I'm at least aware of it (the first step is admitting you have a problem). I think I am doing better here, but I think it's partly because there are people I am myself with because they already know me. Or people who are just so inviting they make me want to show up all at once. There are others though who still think I'm the quiet type. Just wait, I want to say.

A person who has just gone through transition is a bit like a new house plant. You can give it the best environment, but it's probably going to wilt a little at first. Give it time. It'll perk up. Pretty soon the real Gina will show up and the "I just played Dizzy Lizzy* with my life and I can't walk quite straight" Gina will fade away. I'm still just a little shell shocked and not so sure of myself here so I shut down the non-essentials and just focus on getting through. I'm triaging. But as we say in the middle kingdom, "yue lai yue" - it's coming gradually.

Like at the dentist. The prospect of major dental work somehow drew me out. Who knew?

*Dizzy Lizzy, for the uninitiated, is a game in which you place your head on the top of a baseball bat, spin around several times while maintaining contact with the bat, and then attempt to walk toward a destination in the distance. It seems like it should be so easy but it is hard. Very, very hard. Like, "walk sideways until you fall down while your friends laugh hysterically" hard. But oh so fun.

Friday, May 31, 2013


One of my biggest fears in moving to Orlando was the gators. No, seriously. I pictured gators everywhere. In the lakes. Crawling out of drainage pipes. Eating my dog. We had friends who had a gator in their garage. They don't even live near water. Basically I thought we were moving to an episode of Swamp People.

I was wary, the first few times I ran around our neighborhood. I tiptoed on the dock. I made wide berths around puddles and swampy looking water. I was suspicious of large bushes.

But six months passed and no sign of gators. I think I heard some in the reeds one night at the lake, if gators make a sound something like a pig. So either gators or water pigs was what I heard. But no sightings.

I started to get a little disappointed, nay, a lot disappointed. I was told there'd be gators. When I mentioned this gatorless existence on Facebook, people suggested I had not been leaving my house, and I simply needed to look harder.

So I've looked. I look at every body of water I pass. I squint into swampy places. It's not that this area lacks wildlife. I've seen deer, armadillo, otters, sand cranes, and more vultures than I care to count. I had almost given up hope.

And then today, I'm pretty sure I saw one. It was on the left side of the road, probably 50 feet from the street, sunning itself on the side of a lake (I use the term lake generously). Finally! I think I was starting to get a complex, an "everyone's seen a gator but me what am I doing wrong?" complex. No more! I now believe there are gators in Orlando.

How long will it be until I am no longer excited to see gators? Probably when I see one in my garage. Definitely if they eat my dog.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Acceptable Time

Psalm 69:13, "But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness."

An acceptable time. I read this verse this morning and this phrase has kept running through my mind all day. An acceptable time. This is when God will answer. He'll answer out of his abundant and steadfast love. He'll answer in his saving faithfulness. He'll answer at just the right time. 

That phrase just makes me stop, take a deep breath, and exhale. All those prayers I throw up to Him - some so fleeting I am barely conscious I do it, others through sweat and tears - they will be answered at just the right time. There is unspeakable comfort in this today.

Abundant. Steadfast. Faithful. Loving. Perfectly timed. That's how He answers.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Making Room

I went to an elementary school where we had a great deal of freedom in our desk space. I don't know if this was true in other places, but we regularly moved our desks around and formed little groups of 3-4. It was fun, but a bit of a social nightmare. I mean, what better way to shun someone than to not invite them to be part of the new configuration? I remember my friend Jenny and I moving our two desks off by ourselves once. We felt conspiratorial. I can't imagine how hard it would have been for a new kid to walk into that classroom.

Moving to a new place feels a little bit like that, minus the intentional shunning (which is a huge bonus). Every time I've moved somewhere, even when I moved back to China from Singapore, to relationships with people I already knew, there was the question, "Is there room for me?"

Because I get it - people are busy, relational energy is limited, the space I used to fill has been filled with other things. It can be hard to make room for someone new, no matter how much you enjoy them.

There's an energy in me that gets stirred up, maybe more than in other people, by situations like this. I want to be picked. I want to be worth someone shifting their desks around to make space for me. And once I get there, that energy will push me to prove to you that you made a good choice.

I know that to develop friendships here I will most likely need to take the initiative. I don't mind much - I am an initiative taker in general. Also, being an introvert, I'm not looking for a lot of people. But at times initiating wars with that energy in me. I know I could ask to be in your desk cluster. But it feels SO much better to be asked.

Last Friday I came home from my morning group feeling a little raw - a good kind of raw, because I was able to share with them some of the recent transition grief I've been feeling (ladies, you know who you are and you ROCK). I started contemplating the weekend, the long 3 day weekend with two kids and no daddy buffer, and I thought, "Lord Almighty, if I have to initiate to be with people this weekend I think it might just do me in. I mean, no seriously, God, I do not think I can do it."

And lo and behold, when I got home there was an email inviting us to join many others at the beach on Saturday. God loves me.

It may seem like a small thing, but for those of us who are new in town, it's big. I know that over time, we will find our desk space. Thank you to those who are making room for us!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


One of the most frequent questions I get here is, "So do you feel settled?" Honestly, I'm not sure what being settled means. Does it mean we aren't eating off lawn furniture anymore? That everything's up on the walls? That it feels like home?

When people see our house, they are usually a little amazed that it does look settled. In fact, we usually get comments about how quickly we've done it, how they haven't finished painting the house they've been living in for 10 years, etc.

It never occurred to us not to do it this way, so we started talking about why. When Erik and I move into a new place, we unpack and settle in like we're gunning for a new HGTV show called "Instant House." When people share that they still have boxes unpacked after years of living somewhere, I am baffled. Don't you need that stuff? Usually within a week we've unpacked 90% of our boxes or more. That's just how we roll.

But we do it because we know that feeling settled in our hearts is connected to where we live. When you've moved as many times as we have (seven so far in 16 years), your sense of home gets fuzzy. It's become important to us to create the space around us that says, "You're welcome here. This is known."

Many of my expat friends embrace an opposite view - why bother settling in when you're likely to have to move in 2 years? (FYI we are not planning on moving in 2 years). It does feel like a lot of unnecessary work. But if we had lived by that mentality, we would have spent the last 13 years without ever feeling like our house was our home. No thank you.

I find it spills over into relationships as well. It's SO easy, when you've lived the transient lifestyle of an expat, to learn to guard your heart in relationships. Our kids learned it quickly. After just two years in Singapore, where life was a revolving door, I introduced Ethan to a new boy. His question to me was, "How long is he going to be here?" It can begin to feel safer, better, to choose not to settle in to relationships when the end point seems so close.

Home. Relationships. These are places where we need to settle our hearts, even if it means that just around the corner the roots will be pulled and the emotional dirt will fly. We're learning to be all in, to dive in deep, to make the most of whatever time we get wherever, with whomever.

Are we settled? We're trying to be, just as fast as we can.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Practically Perfect

"It was practically perfect!" he sobbed.

The "it" to which Ethan was referring was life in China. Yes, life in the country where pollution levels make LA look clean, where people stared and laughed and spoke at him in a language he could barely understand, where we lived in concrete high rises and fought to stay alive on the lawless roads, where we were thousands of miles from family, was practically perfect. That place, in his mind, was about as good as it gets.

In many ways, it truly was. Those last few years we had about 60 school age kids, mostly homeschooled, living within about a 2 mile radius of each other. They played together or had activities together nearly every day. Many of them were kids he'd known most of his life. China might not have been the most beautiful, convenient, easy place, but it was his place. It was his home.

The grief comes at unexpected moments, like a few nights ago, when he cried himself to sleep remembering this practically perfect place. It's not that he doesn't enjoy life here; he does, but it is a harder season. We all have them. As I look back on our life in Asia, I can mark the seasons like a roller coaster of ups and downs, "loving life" chapters, and "God please help us" years.

I told Ethan that this is part of his story. It's a tougher part - maybe a part he wouldn't have written. A story can't be all perfect; it has to have conflict, struggle, even tragedy, for it to be a really good story. And God's writing a really story for him. For us.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Live for That Day

In my continuing 2013 quest for contentment, one thought seems to be becoming central, and it is this, "This is all temporal."

I think it when I see commercials where women talk about wanting to always be bikini ready, or try to sell me age defying make up, or the perfect lawn which everyone needs, or, and I still can't even believe I saw this, Tuscan style flavored dog food.

It would be so easy to see these things and think, "Yes, I need these too!" (except the Tuscan style dog food. I'm sorry, there's just no way) and then begin to shape my life around obtaining these things. I know the inevitable stress that follows, not only from the futility of obtaining what they're telling me I need, but also from the way that those pursuits crowd out other, probably more important, things.

But when I look at them and think, "This world, this life, is a blip on a line. It's temporal. It's fleeting. And in the end it SO won't matter if I had a beach ready body or looked 30 when I was 50, or if my lawn looked good. My dog certainly doesn't give a rip what she eats."

And when I start to dwell on that, I find contentment creeping in. I find I can look at something and think, "Yeah, that would be nice. But it's really ok if I don't get there, because in the grand scheme of things, it falls in the 'less than important' category."

So I'm trying to keep that thought in my mind. As our pastor said on Sunday, in his sermon about idols, "Don't live for this day, live for that day."

Before and After

I am finally getting around to posting a few before and after pictures of our house. It's encouraging to look at them and think, "Ah yes, progress has been made." Are we feeling settled? Does it feel like home? Yes. No. Or as we say in China, "yue lai yue," which means roughly "it's getting there."

This room was a cacophony of color. The wall behind me was light blue. The wall to my right was yellow. The hallway was peach, with an orange accent. And as you can see, not quite enough paint was used.

I'm a little obsessed with yellow and gray right now. This is probably my favorite before and after of the house!

If you look in the kitchen, you can see that our back splash is still the red it was before, plus the space where we took something off the wall. If we don't do something about it soon, it will always be that way!

The dining room before

After! We changed the chair rail - liked the idea but not the style. Those ceiling medallions are a pinterest idea. They said it would be cheap. It wasn't, but I like it!

Yes, this master bedroom is as gargantuan as it appears. I had ideas about exercising in here but . . .

With furniture in it, everything rattles if you jump around! We realized we had a lot of red furniture in China, which all migrated here to our bedroom.

Those doors lead to one of my favorite house features which is the second floor deck. Crazy!

The media room cracked us up. You like the two blues? There were actually three; another one was on the wall next to me.

We decided to make it one color, the boring people that we are.
I'm particularly proud of this table because I stained it myself. I'm also in love with our doors that we brought back. Yep, just a set of doors with no functional purpose other than pure awesomeness.

I don't have a before picture of this because it was just a closet. Now it's my office!

The print on the left says, "Though she be but little she is fierce." I like to think that is true.

Upstairs guest room before

And after - this was the easiest room because the wall color already matched! Now taking reservations for 2013

This was one of the rooms that cracked us up. Blue . . or yellow? Let's do both!
Yep, two blue walls and two yellow. Sigh.
This is Erik's office, this view being the same as the first office picture.

That's the pile of things that have no home in the office. Again, if we don't do something soon, it will simply be known as "where we keep the extra books." 

So that's a little bit of the house. I sometimes wonder what the previous owners would think of what we've done. I like to think they'd like it, but the bottom line is that we do. :)

Monday, May 13, 2013

You Got That Kid Americanized Yet?

I had to explain juice from concentrate to our kids today. I guess it just wasn't high on my priority list, while we lived overseas, to introduce frozen juice to them. Actually, it probably just wasn't available. It's one of many gaps they have in their "American education." I knew they'd be there; I just didn't know where. They're learning about frozen juice and soccer games and commercials and all sorts of things they didn't have in China. If only that were enough.

If only it were enough to "Americanize" them. Someone honestly asked me that question the other night, "You got that kid Americanized yet?" My response was, "He will never be American."

No, I realize our kids DO have American passports. Yes, they are American. But please understand that our kids, and any kids who have spent significant parts of their childhood outside of the U.S. will never see it the way we do, and it does a disservice to them not to recognize it.

Imagine if your parents were German, but you were born here in the U.S. Then one day, your parents pick you up and take you to Germany and say, "You're home." Would you feel at home? Even if you knew the language and looked German, you wouldn't feel it the same way.

Over time, our kids will learn how to "be" American, but keep in mind that kids who have had the blessing and the challenge of spending formative years in another culture are forever changed by that experience. They see things differently.

I guess what I'm hoping for is that people don't expect that our kids basically "get over it." That they leave behind their expat upbringing and become like everyone else. That won't happen, and I don't want it to happen. After all, aren't we who are Christians citizens of another kingdom? This world is not our home. Why try hard to make it feel that way?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Being Human

So I'm in this women's group about shame. Yep, shame. Sounds fun right?And not at all awkward.

We're talking about it because it's the topic of a book we're reading by Brene Brown, and if you don't know who she is you should go find out. Wow. Just wow. Anyway, the book we're reading is called I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn't). It's about recognizing shame and building shame resilience. Shame the fear of disconnection. It is the feeling that there is something about us that is wrong, and that wrongness separates us from others. It sends us into hiding.

What I keep coming back to as we talk about this topic is that so much shame comes from the fact that we all have a hard time just being human. Shame pokes us and outright sucker punches us when we buy into the messages all around us about what we should be, what we should do, what we should have. The expectations are huge and conflicting and impossible, but we try with everything we have to meet them so that we don't ever have to feel like we're the ones left out. Shame tells us that it's not ok to just be who we are, to be human.

I have a friend who says we all vacillate between believing that we are superhuman or subhuman. When we're superhuman, we think we can do it all, that if we try just a little harder we can achieve that ideal. We refuse to accept that we have needs or limits. Or we decide we can't do it, we're not good enough, we're less than, and we put ourselves in the subhuman category. We vote ourselves off the island. Either way it's shame at work.

I'm realizing through this group that shame doesn't have to win. We can all just be our imperfect, struggling, up and down, awesome and less than awesome selves. But to do that, we have to take a hard look at those expectations. We have to stop listening to them. But more than that - we need to talk about what they do to us. We've been doing that in this group, because the cure for shame is empathy. We share our stories and we listen and try to enter in and say "you're not alone." At times it feels awkward and uncomfortable because we want so much to do it well but more and more it brings the greatest sense of relief and acceptance. It's a joy to be able to say, "This is me being human" and to have others say, "Yeah, I'm human too."

Why can't we all just be human?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Keeping in Step

"How have we kept in step with the Spirit during this transition?" That was the question we were supposed to answer in a brief sharing time last week at the Cru day of prayer.

I'll be honest, my first response was, "The phrase, 'keeping in step with the Spirit' has not crossed my mind at all during this transition. Does that mean I haven't? And how would it go down if I just got up there and threw that out as my opening line?"

And to more honest, I was a little afraid. Afraid that if I got up there and shared how much I've struggled with holding fast to God in this transition, I would be the odd man out.

But I wasn't. We were the last to share that day, and the encouraging thing was that everyone who got up front talked about how they struggle to keep in step with God. By the time I got up there, I knew I was among friends.

Even better news is that I DO see how I've been trying to keep in step with the Spirit during this transition. For me, it's meant learning to slow down, stop trying to figure things out on my own, waiting for His direction, and responding in obedience.

But the thing that encouraged me the most that day was something from one of the other speakers. He talked about being expectant. I have been in the habit recently of starting my day by saying, "Ok God, it's you and me. In it together. I know you're at work. Show me what to do, and I'll do it." All good. Good stuff. Good way to start the day. But I realized that I can do that, and yet not really expect God to do anything. Or maybe just expect not much. So I've been trying to do that this last week, to go beyond, "I'm willing" to "I'm expectant."

What are you expecting Him to do today?