Sunday, September 28

My poor languishing blog

So. Yes. Neglected little blog.

In the interest of full disclosure, during the past couple of months I have had many thoughts about posting here. I have refrained for at least one reason: In preparing to leave the US, an expat strongly recommended that any blog posts be very carefully thought out, and refrain from venting online with little thought to the audience.

The second reason, closely related but a bit more personal, is that I didn't want to turn my blog into a constant stream of complaining.

For I have complained. I've complained to God, to my friends and family back home, and (hopefully a bit more thoughtfully, but none-the-less) I've complained to expats here.

The transition has been hard. Things (as is probably typical of most expat experiences) have not gone the way we imagined. There have been many, many good things that have happened, and wonderful people we've met here, and we're careful to thank the Lord regularly for the gifts we have received while being here.

I'm finding, though, that no matter what gifts I have in life, what known balms, the thorns and pain of my experience will always take front and center. I'm sure there are many sanctified people out there who really, truly focus on the blessings of life and are not as innundated with the difficulty of life. I am not one of those people.

Spiritually I am growing, I believe. A friend once said that having a child will reveal cracks in your marriage. I would take that sentiment and say, "Moving into a new culture will reveal cracks in your relationship with God, spouse, children and, well, in everything." The unseen and sometimes undefined pressure that one feels (culture shock) is ever present. Even when I stay at home all day, the knowledge that doing any small task will require hurculean effort causes me to think twice about how desperately I actually need to do that task. (Which is why Charis will be getting her 12 month shots a month late...!)

I pray that the Lord will give me strength in a way that I've never appealed to him before. Adam and I are completely humbled at the sheer number of times we fail each day. (I absolutely, completely and utterly failed at making french toast the other week. FRENCH TOAST. It might be the single most simple dish ever, and yet: Total fail.) Endurence and energy are now commododies that are absolutely vital to me, whereas when I was in the US, it was usually a prayer I'd toss up to God when I'd stayed up too late the night before an early morning at the job. (On that note, I take naps here more days than not.)

I think it will get better. I guess Hope springs eternal, and if I were absolutely hopeless I would have turned around and headed back already. So, it's a good thing.

But until it gets better (I've heard it never gets "easy" per se), I trust the Lord to provide my every need, whether that is simply the energy to clean up the Kitchen, or the energy for a 2 hour grocery shopping trial where you're guessing at prices, translations and "What IS that green vegetable, anyway?"

Thursday, July 24


We've spent the last 3 weeks with my family in Montana, after spending 2 weeks with Adam's family in Philadelphia. It has been wonderful.

It has been hard to come to terms with moving 22 hours by airplane away from my family. Watching Charis love her aunts and uncles, watching her giggle with my mom and adore my dad makes me tear up nearly every time.

And everyone says, "Skype has changed everything" - and in some ways it has. But I was watching Charis playing with a big bin of toys right next to doors with panes of glass leading to a solarium. she crawled around and then discovered the doors- and then she started standing up, bracing herself against the glass, leaving little fingerprints (which probably won't be cleaned off for a long time after we leave).

And it hit me: Skype doesn't leave fingerprints.

My most wonderful memories of growing up around my extended family were created by how we were able to get together frequently. We left lots of fingerprints on the mirrors and glass, both literally and also leaving figurative fingerprints on each other.

I think about how Charis' growth will be witnessed by my parents, but not experienced.

We're excited for this next phase, but as with each change that comes with life, there is also grief and sadness.

Tuesday, June 17

What Happened?

So I've had to take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 quiz a couple of times during my profesional life. I can't remember which ones tend toward, but I remember the gist: I always am asking "What Happened?" as a major function of my life.

And, as is par for the course for this blog, it has been 2 months since I last posted. So, What Happened?

Well, April is a crazy month in Academia, as since Adam I live in a residence hall, our life got increasingly crazy.

We endured the crazy that comes with finals, spring weather, busy students and the end of the semester.

We saw the students pack up their things, watched them graduate and move on to the next part of life.

We began to say our goodbyes to friends, slowly but surely. The hardest was the last Sunday in Chattanooga, when we said goodbye to our Small Group/Sunday School group & then went over to our closest friends' house for a final Sunday dinner. But that was just the beginning of goodbyes....

We started packing up everything we owned and put it into storage. (I had a couple of crying jags. Who knew that stuff  had so much meaning?)

A friend came up to help pack and sort through stuff with me. That was incredible. And so very, very needed. One of the RAs babysat Charis and organized all the things we still had to pack off to the storage unit. That was sanity saving.  An RD and his family made dinner for us the last night we were there, and sent food home for me, since Charis had a temperature of 101 and slept for most of the day.

We went to Jess' wedding and celebrated with her, and were terribly tired. And I cried with all the RA girls and with Jess when we were about to leave. And then we celebrated and cheered as she and Eric departed for their honeymoon. 

Adam drove overnight to Geneva College, and is finishing his final 4 classes of he Masters in Higher Education.

Charis and I slept 5 hours and then woke up to endure 16 hours of delays and traveling and airports to get to Montana to spend time with my family. I was awake for 23 hours that day....

So now, I'm at home in Montana, and Adam has 4 more days of classwork before we'll meet in Philadelphia to see his family. It has been wonderful spending time with my parents, sister and brother, my nephew and sister-in-law and with church friends.

And  a little over a month before we leave for overseas....

Monday, March 31

My Mom

One of the best moments of my life was giving birth to my baby girl with my husband and mom there with me.

One week after Charis' birth, my mom headed home and I was left to mother this little baby with the help of my husband. But as he was getting back to work, there were many parts of the job that were left to me to do alone. Certainly feeding her fell squarely in my court and  I took over most of the bottle feeding as well. Diaper changes, baths, up in the middle of the night, all of this was mostly my responsibility.

But Adam was there. Even if he didn't get up each time in the middle of the night or feed her for the 1,000th time that day, he was an emotional support and often gave me a break by feeding her and getting up at 2 in the morning.  On top of it all, he did the lion's share of housework to keep the apartment in working order.

The difficulty of mothering a newborn was so clear to me, because I knew I had a husband to lean on. When my mom had me, it was just her and me. She had me on her own.

Recently she gave me a couple of letters that she had written when I was a baby to be read during those difficult teen years. While there were some difficult times for me, my teen years were really quite tame (my main emotional and relational support has always been from my family - as opposed to looking for acceptance from my friends). So at 36, I read the letters.

I wept through parts, thinking of how difficult it has been over the past few months to mother such a  little baby. How helpless I've felt, trying to ascertain what she could possibly need. Feeling like a failure when once again what I offered is not comforting her. Over and over again, I was struck with how strong my own mother is. To have done all that I have done, but to do it solo.

When talking about those first 5 years of my life, She will often say that she would consult God as she would have consulted a physical spouse. You know how we say things like, "Well, I wouldn't have chosen [that particular difficulty or suffering], but I grew in ways I could have never imagined"? I know her relationship with God was forged through those difficult years of parenting alone, and that her prayer life was planted and cultivated through those years of loneliness, feeling helpless, and possibly fear of what she might miss out on having chosen to have a little daughter.

God blessed her with many sweet and wonderful moments because she chose to give me life. But she didn't know those sweet and wonderful moments would come. All she knew was how to be faithful at the time. And even now, with some of the difficulties life has presented her in the last 10 years, she faithfully consults the Lord and is a model for me to emulate.

Not too long ago I posted this on Facebook. It makes me teary every time.

Because the part that undoes me is, "You make me want to fall at my mother's feet and tell her that I get it!"

Mom, You are an inspiration to me and to my sister as we mother your grandchildren.  I love you.

Friday, March 7

Regarding Common Core

So my facebook feed is blowing up with friends upset about Common Core standards that have been/are being implemented in the public school system. Recently the following link was posted and before I responded that it was crap (because I went to public school and went through standardized testing) I asked a trusted friend who teaches in the public school system if this situation was in fact true. Please read her answer. It addresses the fears and frustrations of standardized testing exceedingly well. (By the way, she and I attend church within the same denomination, before you presume that she is is a liberal talking head...she's not :D)

My email to her:

This smells fishy to me. 5 year olds being asked about division?

Can you tell me if this is just good old fashioned bull crap? Or are they really doing standardized tests in public school for kindergarteners?

Her Response:

I'm going to try to answer this as objectively as possible. I have mixed feelings about standardized tests, so take that into consideration.

Under the new common core, kindergarten is assessed in reading and math. However, this article seems to be a bit on the histrionic side. It starts with an awful photo, which the author admits was a snapshot of one moment in time when her otherwise happy go lucky daughter was struggling with two math problems. I ask you: what kid LIKES struggle? What child happily works through math problems they've done wrong? I don't know any, and I teach gifted kids. To quote the author "She is a fighter with a resilient spirit. It crushes me to see her cry; to see her struggle. My daughter deserves a happy childhood." The insinuation here is that her struggle with math is somehow jeopardizing her happy childhood. Like I said, histrionics.

Research shows that when kids aren't allowed to struggle, bad things happen. Kids somehow associate intelligence with things coming easily - if I'm smart, I shouldn't have to work for it. THAT kind of attitude doesn't prepare kids for the reality that waits outside the front door. If mom shields baby from the big bad math problem that threatens her happy childhood, I'm not sure how baby is going to cope with any type of setback.  This story is an interesting counter to the author's implicit message. As a matter of fact, my 7th graders read this article together and made videos about it. This one is my favorite.

Anyway, your original question was about testing kindergarteners. I'm not sure which states currently do and don't test kindergarteners, but my understanding is that under Common Core, this will be the norm. The idea of testing kindergarten kids is completely abhorrent to me, but the idea of standardized testing in general is something I generally support. Kindergarten? No way. Older grade levels? Yes.

The problem with standardized testing is illustrated in the article if you can get past the blatant emotional appeal of the darling babies with their tiny teeth and big bows who cannot operate a computer. The issue here is that the test isn't accurately assessing what the kids actually know - do they know how to determine what an equal share is? Maybe, but if they aren't familiar with the word "division" we won't be able to correctly ascertain whether or not they understand the concept of equal shares. If they can't hear what's being said in the big headphones, we can't measure what they know. What is being described here is a problem with PROCEDURE. Is it wrong to ask a kindergartener what they know, and use that as ONE piece of a puzzle that determines the effectiveness of the school? No. That's not wrong. However, the way we deliver that assessment needs to be done more authentically than what is described here. Authentic assessment for a kindergartener looks like an adult sitting down with the child and asking him or her to help divide a cookie into three equal parts. The adult can determine whether or not the kid understands division, and the kid gets a cookie. Everybody freaking wins. But then you've got to pay that adult out of a budget that's already stretched thin, and there are a zillion kindergarteners which requires a million certified, unbiased adults, and now you've got a logistical problem. So we use a crappy test on crappy computers and get crappy results and wonder why kids hate our crappy education system.

Standardized testing has to be done. It has to. Otherwise, schools get to do whatever they want, teach whatever they want, however effectively (or ineffectively, as the case may be) they want. Standardized testing is necessary for accountability. The way we do standardized testing TOTALLY SUCKS and is a total joke when it comes to measuring understanding in ALL KIDS. We need to change it, but we don't need to abandon it.

More info than you asked for? Probably. :)

Thursday, March 6

He'll Keep You, Too -- No Matter Where.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:2-3

I have been listening to Rain For Roots' songs with Charis. They are short children's songs taken from Sally Lloyd-Jones' "Hug a Bible" for babies. We put the cd in each morning and I sing it to her. At first it was so that I could introduce her to the gospel - it does my heart good to know that she will have heard the gospel no matter what happens. 

But there have been some changes on the horizon that make one song particularly meaningful to me: 

Who heard Daniel when he prayed?
Who helped him not be afraid?
Who stayed beside him in that den?
Who brought him safely out again?
It’s God who kept him in his care. He’ll keep you, too--no matter where! 

Some of you who are on Facebook probably noticed that Adam went to Jakarta, Indonesia. Strange place to visit in the middle of the semester, but you see, he has been offered a position at the International Teaching College at The Universitas Pelita Harapan (University of Light and Hope). Covenant College will be partnering with ITC @ UPH in 2015, creating a branch campus offering a western, accredited, reformed education to students in Southeast Asia. At least, that is the hope, and the paperwork is being negotiated between the two schools right now.

Adam is in the final stages of negotiating his salary for us to move to Jakarta. We'll be getting ITC off the ground starting Summer 2014 and the plan is that he will be working for Covenant College as an Associate Dean when CC takes over in 2015. We have plans to stay for 3 years and then return to the US For Adam to begin work on a doctorate.

Needless to say, I am afraid. Nearly everyone I tell this story to says, "What an Adventure!" and I think to myself, I am not adventuresome. I am a person who likes to stay at home, near family and have coffee on Saturday morning with her extended family. Chattanooga was far enough away when we first moved here! Now we're exchanging a 7 hour flight to Montana for a 22 hour flight to Montana. I am not an adventurer.

But as I sang to Charis yesterday,  "Who heard Daniel when he prayed?" I started tearing up when I got to the lyrics, "Who helped him not be afraid? Who stayed beside him in that den? He'll keep you too -- no matter where!"

Yes, he will stay with me. He will keep me, too. Even in Jakarta.

And I thought to myself: Sometimes? A children's song is more effective then the most beautifully written sermon.

Wednesday, February 12

God, Suffering and Tummy Time

Charis is starting to roll over. It is pretty exciting around here!

But what she had to do in order to roll over was pretty miserable for my little sweetheart. She had to endure tummy time.

Oh, the misery of tummy time!  For those of you who were born in the 70s and 80s, (as was I) we were always put down on our tummies for naptime and sleeptime. So there wasn't tummy time, as a specific thing. But now that they've started linking SIDS with sleeping on tummies, it's "Back to Sleep": the recommendation that babies sleep on their back for naps and nighttime.

So, how do we get infants to develop skills and build muscles? That's right! Tummy time.

Charis just hated tummy time. As a little baby, her head was so heavy! She could only hold it up for a short time and then she would be facedown in the mat, crying so hard that her tears and snot would be all intermingled and making a fine mess of the mat.

There were so many times that I would let her cry for 10 or 30 seconds and I bet she wondered if I loved her. Why wasn't I saving her from this? It felt like forever for her.

You see, I knew what needed to happen in the future. I knew that her miserable, never-ending 30 seconds of crying would force her to do little pushups so she could breathe. To force her little muscles to exaust themselves, and then build for the next time.

She only could handle a minute or two of tummy time at the beginning. Then 3 minutes. And then 5. Then, one day, she stayed on her tummy for more than 10 minutes! She was lifting her head like a champ and smiling.

And then, just days later, she was rolling over.

As I watched her suffer for months of tummy time, I thought about the year before I became pregnant. How angry I was with God. How he let me cry for forever, and my tears and snot intermingled and made a fine mess on the mat.  How long it was. It was never-ending. And I didn't know why. Why wasn't he saving me from this?

This isn't a post to make whatever suffering you are going through magically disappear. It's not even to tell you that it will all get better. 

Charis' tummy time reminded me that God's perspective is so much longer than ours. And yes, 30 seconds to him is an eternity to us. And so suffering hurts for an eternity to us.

But, as CS Lewis so wisely wrote, “That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Praying that your agony will be turned to glory, and that God's purposes will be revealed as sweet and sure.

Sunday, January 26

I Don't Know

Leave it to my friend Molly to write on a subject with such acuity that it a) explains exactly where I am at, and b) inspires me to write a post in response.

First, Go read her post here.

I could stop here and shout, "AMEN" and let it end at that, (ha ha) but I won't! I'll add my two cents!  

Lately I have been telling my mom and sister that the most surprising aspect of parenthood to me is how deeply I do not know. Being an only child for 6 years and then an oldest child for 30 additional years means that I always think I know, I always think I'm right, and I'm more than willing to boss you around so that you also do the right (in-my-eyes) thing.

Enter parenthood, which brings me to the place of being baffled every. day.

We're currently trying to help/guide/train Charis to go to sleep by herself without 40 minutes of rocking, bouncing, swaying, singing and butt-patting. The minute either of us put her in her crib, she wakes up. And then wails. And Wails. And Wails. She has cried for 90 minutes before. Yes, Internet, I am that horrible mother that lets her baby cry it out. (She was not poopy or hungry. And yes, I felt ripped up inside.)

And it brings up every question you have for yourself when you love someone who does not yet have life skills: Am I doing the right thing? Should I have gotten her up and patted her butt for another 40 minutes? Should I just give in and fall asleep sitting up in the rocking chair while she blissfully sleeps in my arms for 10 hours? (the answer to that one is NO.) Should I let her cry? Is she hurt? What if this time she's hurt?

And Molly defines the issue so well: If I knew, if only I were omniscient, if only I were God, then I would be calm, composed and determined.

But this is where the Lord brings me so that I am dependent on him to know. So that I am dependent on him to do the right thing where my beloved daughter is concerned.

And to know that he loves me just as much as he loves her,  as much as I love her. More.

(Ok, so Molly said all of this, and maybe a bit better. And I could have said, "AMEN!" and have been done with it. But here it is, none-the-less!)

With octaves of a mystic depth and height