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?