Learning to Be Uncomfortable

A little over a week ago, marked 18 months of us living in England.  I am incredulous to think about the progression of this move and how naïve we were going into it.  Before we left the United States, we did not adequately grapple with what it was going to be like to live in a culture different than our own.

DSC_0260

A few weeks in, my Lilly was crying at night.  Bedtime was hardest for her.   There was time to think and take it all in and it often proved too much for her to bear.

 

The tears were running down her face, she sniffled and blurted out, “It is never going to be the same ever again.  Things will never feel like they always have been.”

 

And I thought, “Oh my word, she is right.”

 

Outwardly I reassured her that our family was the same and that things would feel the same when we got to be with the people that we loved again. . .whenever that was going to be. . .I am “rubbish”, as they say in Great Britain, at consoling inconsolable children.  That is one reason why I married the man that I did.  He is the best comforter.  The two of them would scroll forever through the real estate pictures of the house we had just sold in Pennsylvania and that would make her feel better.  I can guarantee you that I never would have thought of doing that if I had gone out and gotten a psychology degree.

 

It isn’t that I did not know that things would never be the same again before that moment.  I had just never allowed myself to bear the weight of that realization.  In the days and months that followed, the mass of that truth came crashing down upon us, because everywhere we turned, this place felt uncomfortable.  There were so many hard moments that I didn’t know if we would ever feel content again.

 

The most uncomfortable thing about living in England is not driving on the other side of the road, trying to understand the many different accents or the gray weather, but it is the subtle cultural differences.

DSC_0215

 

Culture is an incredible thing.  Just as each cook has their own way around a kitchen and their own method of producing a certain dish, so each culture has a way that they move through life.  It is an approach to the everyday that is so nuanced it often cannot be named or pinned down.   Each place is distinct as is each person who falls under the umbrella of a particular culture.  If you are in the kitchen of a chef who you do not know, there are going to be moments where you will not understand what they are doing, that you will be in the way and where you will feel out of place. At this point, a smile comes to me when I am able to anticipate what someone is going to say or how they will react based on British culture.  Some quirks that we have noticed to be indicative to the British are:  apologizing even when something isn’t your fault (like when someone bumps into you), self-deprecating humor, and saying good-bye in a higher tone a million times before you get off the phone, just to name a few.  Talking about the weather seems to be a conversational security blanket in this place, which is understandable because the weather is always changing, making it a constant safe topic to talk about if you aren’t sure what else to say.  I now find myself relying on that security blanket all the time.  British people have an uncanny ability to be direct and perfectly polite at the same time. Just as a person from the South will say “They sure have put on weight, bless their heart”, in Great Britain, they tag “bless ‘em” onto the uncomplimentary truth just shared.  A phrase that I hear here that is not my favorite is “I don’t mind.” It means “I don’t care or it doesn’t matter to me,” but has connotations of not making the effort to make a decision. . .or perhaps that is a judgement I am making from my American perspective. At any rate, I inwardly cringe any time one of my kids say it. . . and yes, my children will be forever changed people because they are picking up this culture as it is daily sprinkled over them while they are figuring out what life looks like in this place.

 

I love how British culture is not as frantic as the Northeastern US.  Drivers are more patient (perhaps out of necessity because the roads have cars parked on both sides of them and are ridiculously narrow) — but people also don’t seem as hurried to get to where they are going like where I come from. Perhaps it is all of the time that it takes to have a “cuppa” to punctuate whatever the occasion, but I am thankful for the conversations that go along with that tea and how they have paved the way for friendships in this new place.

 

This 18-month mark brought with it a new level of acceptance for me in that we are settled, but will probably always feel a little uncomfortable.  That is ok.  The comfort of our nuclear family means so much more to each member of it, because of the everyday felt cultural discomfort.    Going to see an American movie is like being transported back to normal for just a bit and we do indulge in that on occasion.  (This weekend, we went to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and felt all kinds of sentimental over Mr. Rogers.)  When someone from the US calls, sends a letter or e-mail it literally does mean the world.  Not just to know that you are not forgotten, but to feel that familiar contact is like the warmth of the sun on a winter’s day.  We have been blessed beyond belief with visitors (who doesn’t want to visit England?!)  Those people showing up on our door step means more than they will ever comprehend. These moments of comfort bring so much more joy than if we never known what it is like to not have them.

8eb052aa-07a0-4372-ada4-d9f5926c13cd
My dad!

Unspeakably thankful is where I live today.  We have grieved our loss of the familiar.  We have accepted where we are even though it is different from what is comfortable.  I think that perhaps we are pealing back the lie on comfort’s value.  American culture has put it on a pedestal.

 

In Philippians 4:11, Paul talks about “learning to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”   These past months in this foreign land have served as a classroom for contentment.  I am learning to control where I allow my mind to go.   This can be hard when I have felt particularly out of place in a gathering.  When what I do or say is described as “so American,” I have to fight not to turn a headcase over exactly what was meant by that.  It can be easy to let my mind wonder to what I had taken for granted while living in my homeland in just being understood.  Recently, I spent several minutes talking about produce to someone only to learn that they do not use that word here.  “Are you talking about fruit and veg?” they weakly suggested.  I can let myself miss having people in my life who have watched the same TV shows that I did growing up.  There could not be anything more different than these two country’s school systems and I am tempted to feel at a loss when I do not know what is going on.  I don’t love being asked if I am on holiday whenever I go out.  However, when I stop tallying up my lack of comforts, I am able to embrace the beauty of how different people operate through life.  I actually like a lot of things about the British school system.  I can be amazed at how much I have in common with my new friends.  I can find joy in navigating the different.  I am constantly asking my small group, “do you say that here?” after I use a cliché and we laugh no matter the answer.

IMG_5051
Ruby loves her reception class.

 

On New Year’s Eve, we went around the dinner table and answered the question, “What have you learned this year?”  My thirteen-year-old said, “I have learned to accept living in England.”  Tears filled my eyes.  My take on “learning to be content in whatever the circumstances” is that when I allow myself to value comfort less, I am then open to greater joy.  I can be surprised by the unique, delightful experiences available when I am not clinging to all that I have known before or how I think it would feel the best for life to be.  The uncharted territory of people who do not think like I do, can be fascinating.  Differences can be funny when I do not allow them to make me sad.  And when, by chance something comfortable comes my way like my college roommate texting me or my aunt sending a recipe, it is more special than it has ever been before.  Living comfortable can be over-rated.

 

 

 

Home for Christmas

Last Christmas, we were approaching 6 months of living without our belongings and England still felt like a brand new pair of shoes that was rubbing in all the wrong places. Clinging to the thought that Christmas would “be the same as it always had been” was a gift to us during December 2018.  We boarded a plane a few days before Christmas and found what we had been hoping for:  family and friends, the familiar and Christmas as we had celebrated it for all of our lives.  We were home.

This Christmas, we are staying in England.  There are still things that pop up that make us feel like strangers in this land and there are many people on the other side of the ocean that we ache to get to see, but a lot has changed in a year’s time.  We have made this place our home.  Our house is older than the United States and we love its charm.  All of our belongings arrived on a shipping container in February. Things are just that – things, but their familiarity does something to you when memories flood your mind at the sight of them.  It has been delightful to get out our Christmas decorations and see where they will go in this new place.

fullsizeoutput_4ab7.jpeg

These caroler dolls were a love of my grandmother’s and that is why I love them too.  My kids think that they are a bit creepy and they have been a joke with friends for years.  I felt somewhat self-conscious putting them up this year as they are “so American” and people don’t seem to decorate like that here.  But, they take me back to my Grandma’s kitchen where there was a bay window full of them.  They make me hear her voice ringing through the air, so they belong in my Christmas.

 

Grandma’s kitchen always had apothecary jars of ribbon candy on the counter at Christmas time as well. While living in the US, I would replicate this. This week, my daughter and I scoured the town for ribbon candy. No one (not even Amazon!) has heard of ribbon candy and so we found ourselves in the old fashioned sweet shop trying to make do.  What we found is not the same, but we Mullens girls are flexible after the journey we have been on.

fullsizeoutput_4a9f

Christmas descends upon the world like a whirlwind made up of happy songs, hectic schedules, expectations,  and pressure to find the perfect gift. These days are intense. Four kids in three schools and it seems like each day of this month contains a variation to the norm that I need to remember.  “Ugly Christmas Jumper Day,” “Bring in a Tinned Good,” field trips to the local pantomime, Ice Skating and “Please send in £3 for Christmas Dinner for lunch. . . .” If I am honest, I can get overwhelmed, focused on shopping for gifts and a little crazy all at the same time.  I can forget what matters.

 

When we were visiting Kenya over 5 years ago, we had about 20 minutes of shopping time in this little market.  My husband bought me this nativity set, that takes my breath away each time I lay eyes on it.  I have a bit of a thing for nativity sets.  I will never get over the beauty of the Jesus’ birth story.  I want it pictured everywhere in my house and I love seeing my little girl playing with the cheap wooden one from Aldi.  The nativity constantly gives me perspective on what all of the celebrating is all for:  the King of Kings who became a baby on my behalf.

fullsizeoutput_4a9c

Each morning of this month, my oldest son and have been doing an advent Bible study together. Today, he earnestly asked me, “Did Jesus really need to come?  If God is God couldn’t he just change the rules so that Jesus didn’t have to come and die?”

 

I know how often I change the rules for myself and I am not God.  Of course, he could have.  He could have said, “Never mind, it doesn’t really matter that you have rejected me. It doesn’t matter what you do with your lives.  When you die, you can all just come to heaven and be with me.”

 

But would people even want that?   Or he could have changed the economy and said, “As long as your good deeds outweigh your bad, you and I are good.”

 

But what about those who have made big mistakes that could never be outweighed; what about them? And could even reasonably good people be sure that they were really good, because of all of the selfishness that can still live inside?  Are good deeds really good when they are done with the motivation of trying to remain in “a good person” category or to get ahead in some way personally?

 

Jesus had to come because God is God.  God knows what going our own way and living for ourselves will do to us, not to mention the other people we come in contact with.  Sin is a robber that can steal a person’s very life from them. God has better in mind for us.

 

God had a hero in mind.  Someone who would willingly lay it all on the line, so that all the baggage that stood between us and God could be done away with, no matter how heavy it was.  Jesus took the punishment that had our name on it when he died on the cross.  Jesus conquered death by rising again so that we would never have anything to fear.  He proved that he was who he said he was.  Jesus is the mediator that we needed to go between us and God.

 

It sounds like the best of fairy tales, but I can attest that it is true.  I have had the One who claimed to be “the Light of the World” shine through my darkest circumstances.  The Prince of Peace is the only One who brings calm to my crazy.

 

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  (John 7:38)

 

I have seen his living water quench the thirst that insecurity brings to me.  In Jesus alone do I know who I am and do I know that I secure.

 

God Almighty, the One who hung the stars in the sky, and Who makes the Ocean roar, was in love with humanity enough to send Love here and rescue us from ourselves.  This incredible story is where I have made my home and is how I am home for Christmas no matter where I live.

fullsizeoutput_4a93

 

A November Wait

November in all its golden spender feels like a season of waiting to me.  The sun spilled days of summer are gone.  School-free fun has to wait for another three quarters of a year now. At this latitude, the sweet-smelling glory of spring can hardly be remembered when darkness begins to overshadow the world at 4 p.m.  The shop windows boast Christmas trees wrapped in red buffalo plaid (it is in vogue the world over) and the anticipation of that special time of celebration is evidenced by the shopping bags full of gifts in the corner of my bedroom.  (“If you peek, I will find out and it goes back, so don’t you dare!” is the rule in our house!)

IMG_5460

The rhythm of the seasons and holidays are the easiest kind of waiting.  We know the exact date of Christmas and even if spring is “late”, it surely will come.  The painful waiting is when you do not know when or if what you are longing for will come. A friend of mine and I were talking about waiting over coffee.  She is waiting for what I am not waiting for and I feared that I could not be a good friend to her in that conversation.

 

I am anticipating things, but there isn’t a heart wrenching wait going on at this time in my life.  I am waiting to see how my oldest son will do on the mock exams at the end of this month.  Studying or “revising,” as they call it in England, consumes each evening because we know that the wait for the all-important ones at the end of the school year will be more bearable if he does well on the “mocks”.  Needless to say, my heart is not breaking over this wait like my friend’s is over hers.

 

My mind went to a November where the waiting in my life almost drowned me.  The August before, we had gotten to meet my youngest daughter for her first birthday in her land of origin, Ethiopia.  Handing her back to her caregiver as we left to catch a flight was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  In our hearts, she was ours, but that was not so by law and so we had to wait.

img_2223.jpg

I remember one day in October a friend had invited me to coffee and I didn’t know if I had the strength to go.  “If my birth daughter was stuck in a third world country without her parents, would I be expected to participate in life?”  I went, because that is what I tend to do;  I push through and am usually glad that I do.  I was glad on this day because the hospitality of my friend soothed my soul like a balm.  She had made baked oatmeal and the coffee was strong.   I held her smiley baby and felt the strength to carry on.

 

Later that month, we received an e-mail with some new pictures of our sweet girl.  She had started walking.  At that realization, my heart lodged in my throat and threatened to spill out all over the family room floor.  My husband and I both were there when our other children took off and neither of us where there to remember that moment for her.  It wasn’t that she was with a sitter or with a grandparent;  she was on another continent and nothing felt more wrong.

 

One morning I read James 1:2-3:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  And I prayed to God and told Him that in all of His goodness that he had created me with a perseverant personality and that this adoption had indeed built more perseverance into me.  I was thankful, but quite honestly, I think that I had enough now, it was time for the waiting to be over and for our girl to come home. A few hours later that same day, I received an e-mail telling me that through an oversight of our adoption agency, some of our documents had expired and that essentially everything was on hold until they could be updated.  Updating meant more money, a trip or two to Harrisburg and lots of time.   I fell on the floor of our living room and wept the kind of cry where no tears or sound comes because the pain is so profound.  I said out loud, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”  I felt God’s Spirit engage with mine.  He conveyed to me, “You said that you were perseverant.  I have more to build into you.  Trust Me and keep going.”  I got up, fixed a cup of tea and set about assembling the needed updated documents.

 

On the 12thof November, we received the call that we had been waiting for.  “You are invited to court in Ethiopia.”  I was volunteering in my daughter’s classroom when the call came.  My husband was working in a nearby coffee shop as his office that day and as soon as I could, I went and told him that the wait was over.  An acquaintance happened to be there and the awkwardness was palatable as we shared this moment in their presence, but we didn’t care!  The glory of the finished wait made tears in front of someone we sort of knew of no consequence!

 

Then, there was a request for one more document.  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  (Proverbs 13:12)  This wasn’t a document that we needed to produce.  It had to come from a government department in Ethiopia.  When you have brushed up against the workings of a third world country, this kind of request can feel as bleak the coldest of autumn rainy days.

 

Our adoption agency was of no help.  A fellow adoptive mama who I had met in Ethiopia during that August visit called me and said, “Girl, get on a plane.”  Based on her experience, she explained that if we physically showed up, that document would appear.  It was a tough call.  We have three other school-aged children to be concerned over and the end of November was near; Christmas was loaming and we wanted to be all together for that celebration.  I had already purchased 4 pairs of matching Christmas pajamas as an act of faith.

 

My dad had offered to go over with either of us if needed and so I asked him during the busiest days of his ski shop business to come with me to Ethiopia.  We purchased me a one-way ticket and him a return ticket for a week later.

 

“If anyone can make a difference in this case, it is you,” my aunt told her brother via a Facebook post, breathing hope into us and our mission.

 

It was true.  My dad is an excellent businessman and master negotiator.  We arrived on a Wednesday and secured a meeting with our agency head on Friday.  The following Monday morning, I received a phone call telling me in broken English that I would have court on Thursday because the document had been procured.  The tears spilled out.  The wait was now truly over.

 

My husband arrived late Thursday night to find a little purple crib in our room with our daughter sleeping in it.  While he flew to us, I had gone to court and we had been granted custody.  It was finished.  She shared our last name.

fullsizeoutput_a.jpeg

“God allowed you to wait – that didn’t mean that you heard wrong,” my friend said after I recounted this waiting story to her in relation to what she is wading through.

 

We knew all along God wanted us to adopt her.  The length of the wait was confusing only because we knew that He could have stepped in and made it shorter.  But in the rearview mirror, it is apparent how the perseverance that we picked up during our adoption journey was going to be called upon to move to England, walk a family of six through that adjustment and church plant in a new culture.

 

God is writing our story and while the details do not always fall into place when and how we would hope, He truly does know what He is doing.  He is the best of Authors.

 

 

 

 

 

School Year, Take 2

The School Year began less than a week ago for us in the UK.  There are four people in my house who call me mom, so the start of school, is the start of a new year for me in so many ways.  As I look at this coming year, I am filled with thanks for all that we have made it through and quite simply that we are not back at the beginning of figuring out school here again!  We have waded through so much that it can be nothing but better days ahead.  (I am trying to not be over-confident, but odds are that it can only be smoother sailing after the many difficulties, uncomfortable moments and little things that we never saw coming during the 2018/2019 school year.)

 

I remember walking onto the school yard with my girls that first day a year ago.  There are not big yellow school buses in the UK and there isn’t a drop off/pick-up car line.  You walk your child to their classroom each day.  In every way, I felt like a fish out of water.  There were people everywhere, knowing each other and knowing the drill.   I had been a parent for almost 15 years, and suddenly, I knew nothing about anything.

“No one is ever going to want to get to know me here,” I told myself and feelings of junior high insecurity rushed in.

As inefficient as this system seems, after doing it for a year, I can see the community building benefits of walking your child right to their door every day.  That scary sea of people that I faced last year is full of familiar acquaintances and even some friends who I would never have met had we not been dropping off and picking up face-to-face every day.  On the first day of school this year, one little girl who had been in an after-school club that I led, ran over and gave me a hug. . .yes, we have come a long way, Baby!

The overwhelming ins and outs of the school uniform, school lunch system and taking music lessons are routine now.  I have volunteered and found that when you do that, there is a person from that sea of unknown people who hands you a “cuppa” and you are included.

 

It was with wide eyes that we watched holidays be celebrated here.  We were so naïve to think that this land of our forefathers where we speak the same language would do things in basically the same way that we do them in America.  There is Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night in November and Christmas brings mince pies (which are already out in the shops!)  There were certainly lumps in our throats when Thanksgiving  and the 4thof July were just ordinary school days here. (We did keep our kids home from school on Thanksgiving, stating that it was a religious holiday for us, which it most certainly is.  There wasn’t an excuse that we thought would fly for July 4th, though, so off to school they went. . .and we later donned our red, white and blue for a picnic dinner with fellow Americans!)

Christmas cards were a surprise to me.   Social media has made them “on their way out” where I come from, but not here.  They are exchanged among classmates like Valentines are in the States.  As early as nursery school, kids are signing their name to enough cards for the number of kids in their class and handing them out, sometimes including a “sweet.”  Valentine’s Day?  – Totally non-existent in school here.  It is a holiday for only the romantically involved and kids stay clear of that.  No more Pinterest worthy creations for me on the eve of February 13th!  And those awkward tween years where we had to labor over the wording of each and every card – not my problem anymore!

I loved volunteering for the Christmas and Summer Fayres (yes, that is how they spell fair here!) – Such a great way to get to know other parents and the school staff.

 

“You didn’t tell me about World Book Day,” I texted my dear friend who is an American whose kids have been out of primary school for at least a decade.

Halloween is just a “not so much” situation in the UK.  It is creepier, not community centered and just not nearly “a thing” for kids like it is in the US.  I am ok with that as I loved hanging with my neighbors in years past, but never loved the black and scary.  My jaw dropped when I arrived at school on World Book Day during the month of March and EVERY SINGLE CHILD was dressed up to the nines as a book character and it felt just like Halloween at school in the States.  My ten-year-old had just had an appendectomy so she was at home, but I hadn’t dressed up my preschooler. I hadn’t seen a letter about it for her class, we had just moved house that week and I just wasn’t sure that preschool was doing it. Did I mention that my other daughter just had her appendix out and that we moved in the same week?   The preschool teacher looked at me like I had brought my 3-year-old to school naked.  She was bewildered at my ignorance and quickly produced a princess dress for her to wear. God bless her.  I just didn’t know.  Rest assured that even though this event is half a school year away, we already know what we are dressing up as!

 

And so, we face the beginning of school with so much more know-how, so much more confidence and utter relief to have that first year in the UK school system behind us.  I have just recounted the funny, unexpected things.  Another time, when we are further away from it and I can stand it better, I will recount what bullying does to a child as that was an unexpected that could’ve sent us packing.

After a year of navigating the unknown with some of the people I cherish most and want the best for, here is what I know to be true:

“I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.”

                             Psalm 27:13-14

My God is in every moment of the confusing, the hard and the feeling insecure.  He has shown up and carried us along when we didn’t know if we could “carry on” in the UK.  Whatever you are facing, I hope that you can call out to Him and be confident of the very same thing – His goodness is to be seen in the land of the living. . .no matter where you are living.

When You Visit the Life you Left

Sometimes I think that I will wake up in my bed, the one located in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and turn to my husband and say, “I just had the craziest dream . .  . we were living in England – it felt so real!  Isn’t that funny?”

What happened during the past two years is that we were living our life as church planters in the land where I grew up and were so crazy into it that we had never imagined that we would leave it.  So fiercely did we love that church that it would be as absurd to leave it as it would be to leave behind one of our children.  And then we did. . .

My husband and I both started to feel unsettled about where we were in life.  The question of staying long term where we were, surprisingly turned into a real question.  It started to become fuzzy about whether or not we could see ourselves there 5 years from now.  And then God presented the opportunity of moving to England to join a work there. I called my parents and left them a message “to call me back”.   I needed to be connected with someone that they knew to pursue a visa.  My mom heard the message and even though my words were mundane and few, she told my dad, “Amy has something big to tell us. . .maybe she is having another baby. . .”  No, not another baby. . . I thought that this would be “the time we talked about moving to England” until we held those visas in our hands and got on a plane with one-way tickets, 4 kids, and 16 pieces of luggage.

And here we are.  We have lived in a foreign country for a year. We have climbed, not in triumphant way, but in an ugly, earth-eating kind of way through this year.  I haven’t just woken up from a dream – we really live in England.  As hard as this year was and for all the “no-one could’ve-prepared-us-for-this” moments, we were equipped for this big move as we had already survived a lot of hard in ministry life.  No need to go into details at this moment, but we had already learned that God is enough. And honestly, we really like England and we adore the church family that He has given to us here.  We are good.

IMG_3218

A few weeks ago, we were able to visit Pennsylvania on vacation.  It felt like sinking tired into your bed, putting on a favorite pair of jeans or pulling into the driveway of your grandparent’s house.  It just felt so comfortable to be there.  One surprising thing that felt the nicest, was to go into a store, speak, and not have anyone ask you where you were from and how long you were visiting.  I really enjoyed the feeling of belonging offered by strangers and their lack of questions.

It was soothing to linger over coffee and a slice of shoo-fly pie every morning at a lake that I have visited every summer of my life.  It did me good to be in my parents’ lake house where there was nothing unfamiliar, no surprises, nothing unexpected – just sunshine, lapping waters and a tree line that I knew by heart surrounding that lake.

IMG_4348

My parents and brother’s family joined us and the laughter of cousins did not skip a beat since last summer.  Those kids remembered all that they meant to each other and I breathed a happy sigh. . .my brother is the same kind of funny that he has always been.  . .you just never know what it will feel like to come back.

I am not going to lie. My husband and I both felt a measured amount of anxiety surrounding this trip.  Would it feel weird to be with people who we hadn’t been with in a year? We visited at Christmas, but Christmas is nuts and we didn’t feel like we actually spent quality time with anyone during that trip – it was just a whirlwind.

This time, we were going to be with people who we cared about for hours.  Would the people who we had loved so much when we lived and pastored there know that we hadn’t stopped loving them?  We know that a “like” on Facebook doesn’t count for keeping in touch, but that is all we had in us.   There is not an acheivable way to keep up with people as we would have wanted to because life is too much on its own when you move country with four kids.  And we were busy loving on people, because that is what we moved to England to do . . .

The question of whether or not we were going to go to our old church when we were in PA hung in the air until the Saturday before.  Our kids were demanding it.  We wanted too, but we felt vulnerable.  What if people weren’t happy to see us?  What if it felt attention seeking to hope that people would be happy to see us? What if we were too much in our head about all of this?!?!

We were, for sure, too much in our heads.  I couldn’t stop smiling while we were there (except of course for when they called us up front to tell about what we were up to and I cried.)  When we left that Sunday service, I turned to my husband and said, let’s not ever believe the lie that we are not loved at that place, because we are.  And that is amazing.  It feels incredible to be loved inside the confines of a life that you left.

Coffee with friends at Panera Bread.  An afternoon with my grandmother with my aunt and cousins stopping by.  Our kids’ old classmates were kindly brought by their parents to see our kids.  Breakfast with some more aunts and my cousin.  Jet lag returning to the UK was the most miserable I have ever experienced, most likely  because we were hanging at friends’ houses until past midnight for our last two nights in the States.  These people are all still there and are willing to make a bit of space for us when we swoop back into town for a few days.  Sure, we have missed out on the day-to-day of each other’s lives, but social media is good in terms of that.  I am just an ordinary person, nothing special, so I want to bear witness to the fact that the people who are really wonderful in your life will be that no matter what changes for you.  If you take bungie jump into a HUGE change, like leaving your life, the people who are really your people will stay your people no matter what.  The commitments, obligations and purposes will not. That will go with or fall away from you and change and be super scary.  God has instituted both family and the church and they have seen us through; He is such a good provider indeed.  Our family and church gave us love when we were close and now that we are on the other side of the ocean, they have kept on loving us and it is a heart swell to get to live through that.

IMG_4408.JPG

 

 

 

Four Years Old

She turned 4 today. It takes my breath away to think about the story that has already been wrapped up in my daughter’s life.  I wasn’t there when she was born.  I was actually on vacation in Niagara Falls the week that she entered this world.  In a book, I once read about how women in rural Ethiopia give birth with incense burning so that the first smell that baby encounters is beautiful and that the air is cleansed.  Was that what her birth day was like?

On this day, I think a lot about her biological roots.  Is there a grandmother somewhere wondering about her?  Is her mother alive?  This mother heart aches at that these thoughts.  This little girl is so precious and to have known her in utero and to have not gotten to know her beyond is heart wrenching.

People tell us all the time how lucky she is.  I know what they mean.  I know that they are being nice.   My pat response is, “We are blessed to have her.”  What is true is that her life began with unthinkable loss and brokenness and by most people’s standards, that isn’t lucky.

On our way to the airport one Thanksgiving week, we received the call that we had been waiting to receive for over a year.  “There is a baby girl we would like to tell you about. . .”    We were juggling three kids and luggage at the curb when we told the agency that we were open to this little one and what we knew about her, so they could go ahead and send us her picture.  We laid eyes upon our daughter, age 3 months, after we made it through security.

We are so fortunate to have gotten to celebrate each of her birthdays with her.  On her first birthday, we purchased a cake from a bakery next to the hotel where our family had been staying in Addis Ababa.  As soon as we finished singing to her, I couldn’t help but cry.  I make my kids’ birthday cakes each year.  They are always far from professional, but it is my little thing that I do.  While I make that cake, I think about who they are and where they have come in the last year.  Our family had gone to Ethiopia to visit our girl because we wanted to be with her for her first birthday, but we knew that we were not going to be able to bring her home.  It was so devastating to know that this was my daughter and we weren’t allowed to take care of her.  Homecoming ended up being four months later.  She was sixteen months old when she finally was able to have parents take care of her.

IMG_2342
Ruby on her first birthday

“Was Wesley in your tummy?” she asked.

“Yes.”  I responded.

“Was Zach in your tummy?”

“Yes.”  I braked to allow people to cross the crosswalk.

“Was Lilly in your tummy?”

“Yes, she was.”

Anyone could tell where this is going. . .

“Was I in your tummy?” she asked with a tone that indicated that she knew the answer.   This conversation was months ago and she just turned four today.

“No, you were not in my tummy.”

“Whose tummy was I in?”

“You were in your Ethiopian mama’s tummy, but she wasn’t able to take care you,”  as I pulled the car around a roundabout.

“Why couldn’t she take care of me?”

“She was sick.  But God was with you and he was taking care of you. And when Mommy and Daddy heard about you we wanted to be your Mom and Dad and we wished that we could go and get you right away.  God put you in our family.”

That is something I have heard her say numerous times since that conversation, “God put me in this family.”

Today we celebrated Ruby Melat turning four.  She is currently living on her third continent.  Ruby is so full of mischief, joy and life.  Her story contains a family that adores her.  Everyone needs a family.  God is a redeeming God and is writing something amazing into her.  And we get to love her in that story.  We are the “lucky” ones.

878912a7-5de5-4779-a272-58b8d42a3a47
Ruby’s 4th Princess Birthday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventure

Some of the happiest days of my life have been found in my baby years.   I have gotten to have three biological children and I just loved when they were babies.  Their sweet vulnerability, watching them begin to take in the world around them and getting to be the center of their existence through those first months is a precious thing to a mother.   The way that they smell and the softness of their hair and skin alone dictates an affection that is indescribable.  Sure, there are hard things about having babies.  My first son didn’t sleep until he was 2 ½.  Two of my three refused bottles, so I was bound to them in a way that sometimes felt suffocating.  And the very amount of stuff and effort that a simple afternoon out entailed could be exhausting.  However, all in all, and perhaps in a rose-colored way that time affords, it is such a precious period fixed in my memory.

IMG_0255
Me and baby Zach, 2006

I do distinctly remember a shift happening in the way that I viewed each of my babies when they turned one year old.  When a room full of adults gathered round to see what this child in a highchair would do with their first access to buttercream icing, things where starting to change.  These little people could now toddle around; they were exploring in an independent way and locks on cabinet doors needed to be installed.  Scaling steps and furniture meant that they were no longer looking to me to give them their stimulating experiences each day – they were taking it into their own hands.  It was time to be weaned.  It was time to come to the table and join the family as a kid; the fragile baby days were being overtaken with rough and tumble toddler years.  It was still precious, but different.

IMG_8765
Lilly as a toddler.

Our family celebrated the one-year anniversary of moving to England this week and I am having some feelings reminiscent of my babies’ first birthdays.  When people ask me what it is like to move your family to a new country, I often say, “It is like having your first baby.  You can prepare yourself, gear up, read books, etc., but no one can really tell you or prepare you for what a huge life change it is.”  It has been a vulnerable, fragile year.  There has been the taking in of a new world and a lot of inconsolable crying.  My three oldest aren’t babies anymore and the reality of moving your life in the middle/teen years is more than hard.

Adventure has always appealed to me.  I believe the love of it is in my DNA.  As a kid, I can remember being secretly excited when it would rain on vacation because that meant that we would be doing something unplanned.  I love seeing new places and having new experiences.  I love that my husband is the same way.  We don’t naturally shy away from risks, because the thrill of what might come to be is worth the leap.

However, if I am honest, I had become weary of the adventure at some point during this infant year in a new culture.  My soul has felt so very stretched during the past few years of church planting, adoption and moving across the ocean, that it has begun to feel like it might break apart. Don’t get me wrong, we do not lack any comforts here in the UK – there are oh, so many other places in the world that would have been even more of an adventure!  However, what I am comfortable with is not here.  I have begun to dread looking for something in the grocery store that isn’t to be found.  Improvising is no longer fun after a year of doing it.  I miss seeing people I have known all of my life.   I miss Target.  It is absolutely ridiculous how much I miss that store.  Pathetic, materialistic and so American, but I miss the combination of the smell of Starbucks and those red bullseyes like crazy.

At the same time, I do like England a lot.  At moments, I have actually wished that I was from here, as it is such a lovely a place, I wish it was a part of me and my history.   But, almost daily, I am reminded that I am a foreigner.  My speech betrays me.

IMG_3218
Worcester is a beautiful place to live!

In June, our church and mother church (church that planted our church) went on a retreat together.  It was over-the-top great for us because our good friend from our hometown, Tim, was the speaker at the retreat.  His lovely wife, Jen, and their two boys came along too. This visit from friends who we have known and have journeyed with for years was like a gift of the very best kind.  It was therapy to recount our experiences of moving here to these trusted ones.  The first night that they were with us, both Tim and Jen prayed over us.  It was a Spirit-led prayer and by its end I knew that these friends genuinely cared for us and that God had seen us.  He had seen every tear cried, every anguished moment of desperation over our kids’ grief and every hurt that we had sustained as a result of being out of our element.  My theology told me that He had seen and walked us through this but hearing those words out of the mouths of people who hadn’t been here, but who spoke as though they had, validated my faith in the God Who Sees.

At the last session of the retreat, Tim spoke on words “advent” and “adventure”.  The word advent means “the coming of someone or something”. The word adventure literally means “we don’t know what will come”.  Tim spoke on the Christmas story in June, because the point needed to be heard. Jesus was coming.  God was doing HUGE things.  A guy named Zachariah wasn’t up for adventure as he needed more proof than an angel appearing to him to know for sure that God was really coming.  In contrast, Simeon had an adventurous faith that immediately believed that God was fulfilling his promise in Jesus.

As I continue to process my own life adventure, I know for sure that God has come.  Our initial big adventure of planting a church in the town where I grew up felt like it had happened by accident, however had I known at the outset what it would entail and how hard it would be, I never would have consented.  It is unimaginable to think of our life without the richness of walking through that with God at our side.  I would never want to part with that experience, all that we learned and my love of those people.  Adopting our second daughter is another adventure that I never would have been brave enough to sign up for had I know how difficult it would be.  If I had known how often I would find myself sitting my car in empty sections of parking lots just crying while we waited to bring her home, I never would have had the guts to send off that first application to the adoption agency.  She is now our shiny-eyed, always-pressing-the-envelope, preschooler who has brought so much joy to this difficult year.  I shudder to think of missing out on the adventure of her.

IMG_2183
Meeting Ruby Melat on her first birthday.

This adventure of moving to the UK is not as delicate as it was a year ago or even a few months ago.  Three weeks ago, my husband and I both passed our UK driving tests.  We have logged many months of dread over this.  (I am not being dramatic to say that I would have rather repeated natural childbirth than take that test!)  But here we are, like a couple of toddlers – legally allowed to be mobile after the use of our US license expired this week.  We have finally unpacked all of the boxes.  Our four kids are in three different school (two of which have changed), but we are happy with where they will begin their next terms in September.  Our city is feeling familiar and our house like home.

IMG_0385

Sometimes, adventurers in western culture are depicted in magazines and advertisements as invincible, strong, can-handle-anything kind of people.  But just as new parents don’t really know what they are getting into, a real adventurer is just an ordinary person who is willing to not know what is coming.  By being vulnerable before God to the point of willingness to follow him into the crazy hard, this is how to really adventure.  Setting out without knowing how you are going to make it through unless he advents, that is when you are afforded the most amazing view of seeing him come to you in the adventure, because he is the God Who Sees.  And so, we enter the toddlerhood of this journey, up for the next year . . .thankful for what the past year has meant, looking to him to give us the daily grace and strength for it and knowing that no matter what it feels like, living this adventure of faith is the only way to really live and grow.