Lockdown 3.0

One week ago today, I awoke to an e-mail from my daughter’s primary school, saying that the school may not reopen on Wednesday as planned.  When we were on lockdown last spring, hours of the day had been consumed with my littlest one’s education and I inwardly groaned.  That wasn’t how I had envisioned the next week or two, but it hadn’t yet been decided, so there was hope that she would go back as planned.  I was picking up a “click and collect” order of a new school uniform jumper (sweater) for my son, because he has this new habit of outgrowing everything in a few months.  The woman at the till was quite chatty and mentioned that Boris Johnson had yet another announcement that night.  

“Who knows what he is going to say, but I won’t be surprised if we are in full lockdown again,” she said with wide eyes.

I wandered into my favorite clothing store on my way home, not because I needed a thing, but just to browse, because I still could.  I also stopped and bought toilet paper. . .

That evening, I watched the announcement alone in my living room while the rest of my family occupied themselves with other things.  Sure enough, we were going back into lockdown and all schools would be closed until at least the 22nd of February.  I know that it is needful, but it felt like too much.  Everything was going to change drastically for the next two months, and it was too little notice.  

I had to laugh at a very British meme that was promptly posted that evening:  “Monday, you have excelled yourself.”  Indeed. 

When my kids were toddlers, I had a friend who was always giving her tiny kids all kinds of warnings of a change of scene; the end of a playtime, nap time coming, etc.  

“It helps with the tantrums.  I would throw a fit too, if someone suddenly told me I had to stop doing what I had been enjoying and do something else.”  

She had a point.  The sentiments of my heart for the next few days resembled that of a toddler throwing a tantrum.  Please note I didn’t throw a tantrum, but that is what I felt like doing.  When control is taken away and everything changes with no notice, I tend to totter close to the line of toddler. 

As the week progressed, it felt like the wheels continued falling off our wagon:

Virtual school had moments that seemed virtually impossible. There were lots of tears. 

Teenagers are close enough to being adults to feel also like toddlers losing all of their control, which made for some interactions which were not my favorite parenting moments.  

Wednesday manifested great division in the land that I love, but where I don’t get to live and those newsreels felt hard.   My sweet daughter’s birthday was also on Wednesday.  The only excitement we could offer her were favorite foods and a game of badminton in the garden.  She and I got to watch Bethany Hamilton’s documentary, Unstoppable, on Netfix, which was a highlight of the week.  She was such a champ and truly had a great lockdown birthday. 

On Friday, they forecasted snow for the entire day!  “Yes!” I thought.  “Real fun to offer these poor kids.  We can sled for our outdoor exercise and have a ball.”  I even ordered an inflatable snow tube on Amazon Prime.  We had, perhaps, two flakes.  There was no enormous fun on Friday.

There is a new bagel/donut shop in town.  On Saturday, we waited in line for 35 minutes in the cold for them to sell out before we got to the front.

Saturday also brought news of how bad COVID-19 has gotten in our area and the decision to take church to online only was made late in the afternoon, which led to a late night of video editing and uploading on sluggish internet, because our house is older than the aforementioned land that I love.

On Sunday, I just ached to go to church.  I miss those people and the normal we all used to enjoy.

And so, here I am, a week into lockdown #3 for the UK and it has been shakier than where I want to live.  Something that meant the world to me during the end of 2020 was that I read, reflected, and wrote about one Psalm a day on Instagram.  I hope that others found it uplifting, but it doesn’t matter, God’s Word breathed life, hope and joy into my soul.  I will never not read a Psalm a day from here on out, but I would like to cover some fresh territory through this winter lockdown.  So, starting tomorrow, I will be “standing on the promises.”  Each day of Lockdown 3.0, I will read, reflect and write about a promise that God has made on Instagram.  You can join me here:  https://www.instagram.com/amymullens/


Being Thankful in a land without Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving my family owned a video camera, was 1985, I think.  Before the days of iMovie and personal video editing, my dad liked the idea of leaving the camera on the kitchen counter to capture the day as it unfolded.  My mom scurried around, checking her list of meal elements to be sure that everything was going to have a synchronized finishing time.  Those were the days when children were still supposed to be presentable at a holiday meal and so, the camera captured a tantrum my six-year-old self threw that involved me rolling on the ground and moaning over being told I had to wear school shoes on a day that had no school.  For the record, I didn’t win, but I got over it.  Twenty minutes later, guests began to arrive and as sweet as syrup, I presented each with a Thanksgiving picture I had colored for them. A people-pleaser who very much wants what she wants still lives in my body, but hopefully, I don’t often display those qualities as clearly as I did that Thanksgiving.  The relatives who were always late were late that day.  My mother stressed.  The loud, bombastic grandfather who would only have one more Thanksgiving with us before Jesus welcomed him Home, wondered at the mystery of a personal video camera that could capture all the day’s events.  

I am tempted to say that each holiday is my favorite when it comes around on the calendar.  So many memories fill my heart as I am fortunate to have grown within a family who knew the value of tradition.  What I love about Thanksgiving is the lack of fuss.  It is just a meal and time with family.  Not too much hype.  No gifts to find and wrap.  Not a lot of extra school or church events.  Thanksgiving, unlike other holidays probably looks much like it did a century ago when times were simpler.  

“What is it about?” a British friend asked me.  “Do you give gifts at the big dinner?”

“No, it is just a relaxing day where you focus on what you are thankful for and you eat a traditional meal with your family.”  I replied.

“Sounds lovely,” she smiled, but gave me a look that said, “Why would you need do to that a month before Christmas?”

I mentioned celebrating it this week to my neighbor and she asked if we would be hanging out an American flag.  I laughed and told her:

“Thanksgiving isn’t about being American, it is about being grateful.”  (By the way, we have never displayed an American flag in England!)  However, I must admit after experiencing immigration personally, my respect for those original pilgrims is through the roof.  I may live with culture stress and miss my loved ones, but I haven’t had to brave a New England winter in a hut!  That truly is the definition of the American spirit.  I too would have thrown a party over harvest after making it through that first year w!

When we lived in the States, our family used to travel to Texas to celebrate with my husband’s family each year.  This trip was a rare time for me personally as the pressure was off.  I was far from home, so I might help with the meal, but it wasn’t my responsibility.  As church planters, our calling carries a lot of 24/7 responsibility, but not at Thanksgiving in TX; it felt like a little oasis within our calendar year.  Therein lies the beauty of Thanksgiving:  it is a timeout to pause, take stock of what the proceeding year has meant, and thank God He has brought us thus far. 

This will be our third Thanksgiving in the UK.  It is strange celebrating this holiday in a land that doesn’t have it.  The fourth Thursday in November is just another day here.  We keep our kids home from school on the grounds of a “religious holiday.” (We are not brazen enough to pull that on the 4th of July as school goes well into summer!)  Last Thanksgiving, we had precious friends over and it was lovely to share our tradition with them.  This year, we are on lockdown and it will just be the 6 of us.  

Thanksgiving 2019

Not knowing when we will see extended family again because of this wretched pandemic is a grief that sits in my throat every day.  In a lot of ways, that could ruin this Thursday for us.  We could be miserable because not only does it not feel like a holiday as people carry on like any other day outside our door, we cannot even dream of gathering with people we miss and love.  Maybe celebrating Thanksgiving this year is a bit more about being American than it has ever been before.  Like those brave Pilgrims and other early pioneers, we recognize the need to intentionally take a day to focus not on the extraordinary hard of this past year, but on that which is in front of us for which we can thank God.  I am thankful I will be with my husband and my four children; my dearest ones.  We know the secret to perseverance is recounting God’s faithfulness and this nuclear family of mine has a rich history of seeing God come through.  We will have delicious food to enjoy.  We will take stock of the goodness there has been in 2020.  We will thank God for carrying us thus far.         

Since we began celebrating Thanksgiving in England, my husband recites this prayer before we eat:

“In celebrating this feast, we declare that evil and death, suffering and loss, sorrow and tears will not have the final word.”  Every Moment Holy by McKelvey Douglas

His voice has caught in the previous years and this year we both might cry, but only because we believe it with all of our hearts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Good Father

A few weeks ago, my phone dinged with a text from UPS saying that I would be receiving a package the next day from my dad’s company.  I knew instantly what it was, but tried not to get my hopes up, in case I was wrong.  My dad started the non-profit, Coffee Helping Missions.  Not only does all of the profit from this coffee go to the work of missionaries, it is just the best coffee and one of the things I miss most from the States.  My parents had brought some to England for us at Christmas, but it is gone.  Dare I hope that he had sent some?  The next day, the package arrived and my hopes were realized.  The note below was included in the box. I have been blessed with such a great dad.

When I was a kid, my dad was working hard to build his business.  Even still, he made time for me with rides on his lap while mowing the grass, the chance to sit by his side in his delivery truck, ice cream dates, chaperoning school field trips, and attending “my games” when I was just a cheerleader.  I can remember seeing him make phone calls at a payphone on the Ocean City Boardwalk to check in on his business, but he would never have skipped a family vacation because of work.  He and my mom made making memories as a family a big priority and they still do.  Nowadays, I love drinking coffee with him and talking about life.  When I used to live close, we would meet at Starbucks.  Now, we are always on vacation when we get to do that, so it is extra special.  

My dad has taught me many things, but by far the most important is how to be a daughter.  All of the time that he gave to love me, breathed worth into my identity.  He loved me because I was his, not because of anything that I achieved.  That kind of love paved the way for my heart to understand and accept the way that my Creator and Heavenly Father loves me.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1).  I spend a lot of time facilitating conversations surrounding faith and what the Bible says about who God is and how much he loves us.  A crushing number of women whom I have met are navigating life wearing the impact of a difficult, distant or painful relationship with their father.  When a dad does not love his daughter well, she has an uphill climb when it comes to understanding what it means to be loved for who she is by God as his creation.       

Everyone who meets my dad is glad that they have.  He is an eternal optimist, a problem solver and someone who genuinely loves to help.   Very quickly, people realize he is one you want in your corner.  My dad has been a person in my life who offers hope, whether I have need advice or a practical solution to a problem.  

Since I was little, I knew what it meant to trust my dad, therefore, it is an easy correlation for me to see God the Father as trustworthy. This is how good fathers are:  they are for you, they problem solve and want to help.  Romans 3:23-26 is one of my favorite portions of the Bible because it lays out how God solved the incredibly difficult problem of humankind’s sin:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” (NLT)

God sets things right. . .I love being able to share that with people in my life.  I can bear witness to what good fathers are like.  No matter what kind of dad you had, there is hope for everyone to walk in the beauty and freedom of experiencing God the Father’s unconditional love.  Dads everywhere do need to know how important a role they play.  Mine set me up to look to, depend on and receive life-changing love from my Heavenly Father in such a clear way.  The legacy lives on as my sons and daughters are growing up knowing what it is to be delighted in by their dad.  I am so grateful for both of these special men in my life.

It is Father’s Day this weekend and I am missing my dad. There is an ocean in between us that I wish that I could do away with; if only for Sunday lunch.  Thankfully, we have plans to see each other soon and there will be lots of coffee. . . and maybe some shoo-fly pie.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

                                                                                                    II Thessalonians 2:16-17

Uncharted Territory

It all happened quickly.  Less than a week before, I had gone grocery shopping and easily found everything on my list.

“I am kinda’ freaking out.  There is almost no meat in this store,” I texted my husband. The panic that was coming over me was not something that I wanted to give into, but the emotions from these unexpected circumstances were smothering me.  I have two teenage boys who practically eat their weight in food each day. No pasta or even a grain of rice to be found.  I felt greedy buying the last bag of frozen peas.

“There is still a lot of food in this store.”  I talked myself down.  I checked out with a cart full of food, mostly improvised versions of what I had on my list, but we would eat.


Each day when I picked my girls up from school last week, there was a new letter explaining the current reality, overshadowed with looming uncertainty.  Then, on Wednesday night, we learned that schools in the UK were finally to close on Friday.

On Thursday, my 16-year-old-son texted me that the exams that he has been focused on since his education in England began were cancelled and he would not be returning to school until September.  WHAT?!  I had been so proud of us for figuring out this foreign GCSE exam system and now we had no idea what cancelling it all would mean; no one did.


This is uncharted territory for literally the whole world.  It seems like a sci-fi movie that I would scoff at and say, “The world on lockdown? That could never really happen!” But, here we are!  As each day is more surreal than the one before, I have started to recognize these feelings as ones that I have met before:


During my freshman year of college and my dad called me.  “Ames, I have something to tell you.  I came home today to find your mom on the driveway.  We think that she fell from the (2ndstory) garage window.” She was care-flighted to a trauma unit. A well-meaning family friend called the next day to warn me that even if my mom woke up, she may not be the woman we knew.  I wasn’t prepared for the reality that I may lose my mom at age 18.  I am so thankful to say that she survived and woke up exactly the same person who we knew and loved, but that Christmas was a different one and recovery took time.  It was hard, but we made it through.


After my ultrasound, the doctor said that he needed to talk to me in his office.  “Your baby’s brain and organs are all fine. . .” he said and it hit me that the next word out of the his mouth was going to be “but”.  “But, it is clear to me that your baby does not have a left hand.”  We grieved.  I scoured the internet trying to figure out if they would be able to crawl. I longed to be able to feel something besides sadness about my unborn child.  And then I gave birth to my beautiful, one-handed wonder who has been blowing us away for 16 years now.


The first time that I went to the grocery store after having my second son, I pushed that cart with steeled determination to be fast and not make eye contact with anyone, because either of these little people could explode at any moment.  I had never taken a toddler and an infant anywhere before and it felt insurmountable. . . until one day it wasn’t; it was just my everyday life.


I remember my hands shaking one the steering wheel as I drove to lead my first women’s small group Bible study.  I was afraid I wasn’t going to know what to say. I was afraid that I would say something stupid.  I wanted to turn that car around and drive home.  Now, leading groups is a highlight of my life and I don’t ever want to live without one.


“What in the world are we doing in Ethiopia this summer?”  I thought as I scrolled through pictures on Facebook of all my friends with their families at the New Jersey shore.  The next day we would meet my daughter for first time at the children’s home and I was terrified.  What if bringing her into our family was a disaster?   “Adopting her is one of the best things we have ever done,” my husband remarked the other day. . .I couldn’t agree more.


“Where are the semi-sweet chocolate chips?” “Why is ham sold raw here?”  I felt insecure and lost in my first solo trip to a British grocery store.  The novelty of a foreign country wears off after a week when you know you are not leaving it.  Then, a wave of peace washed over me when my eyes fell on a section of Philadelphia cream cheese – just seeing that logo was centering as silly as that sounds.  I have felt the panic of not knowing if I could cook in a completely stocked UK grocery store when we first moved here. Now, I know what to buy and where to get what I need.  I am at ease in a place that once felt foreign.



This pandemic is uncharted territory, but the fact is, I have done uncharted territory before.  And so have you.  We have all encountered new situations and experiences that were outside of what is comfortable.  There have been other unthinkable moments that went ahead and happened . . . and we survived.  The difference with this time in history compared to my other times of uncertainty, is that we are all in this together.  I can FaceTime with my friends in Pennsylvania and we are all learning to home school at the same time.  The toilet paper jokes are cringy and little too close to home for all of us.  (Our family is down to three rolls of the good stuff. . .after that it is 1-ply, so brace yourselves.)  There is a boatload of comfort to be found in the solidarity of this particular challenge.


When we first moved to this country, I struggled under a heavy weight to keep my kids happy and to guide them through that difficult time.  I am feeling that now too.  We want to parent well.  I want to create good memories for them while we can’t go anywhere.  I am going to take the things I learned then and apply them now:


#1:  One day at a time.

“But God is the God of the waves and the billows, and they are still His when they come over us; and again and again we have proved that the overwhelming thing does not overwhelm. Once more by His interposition deliverance came. We were cast down, but not destroyed.” ~ Amy Carmichael


Deliverance came. Had I never encountered the overwhelming thing, I would not have gotten to experience God’s deliverance.  And he has come through for me every single time. I do not need to look ahead and anticipate what may happen.  “What if. . .?” takes the gracious deliverance that God has for me out of the equation and invites hopelessness in.  I have what I need for today and do not need to worry about the future.


#2:  Trust God with my story.  When we first moved to England, it appeared as though we had done irreparable damage to our children.  Their pain became my pain tenfold.   I had this list on my phone. . .It was a list of all of the unexplainable things that God had done to bring us to this country. We knew in our hearts that we were supposed to be here and God slowly enabled our kids to see that too.

In her new book, Try Softer, Aundi Kolber reminds us that “God is a curator and keeper of stories. . .God is invested in the entire arc of humanity.”  She points to Psalm 56:8:

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.”

My prayer is that everyone who is reading these words will be able to look back on the Covid-19 Lockdown and only sustain memories of boredom, no chicken at the grocery store and conservation of toilet paper.  Walking through the hard is an opportunity to trust him in a deeper way with your story, so if this world-wide crisis hits your home, you can know that God is with you and loving you through it.  My husband gave the illustration of a sailor wrapping his arms around the mast of a ship while it is being tossed about in the storm as a picture of what trust looks like in his message this past Sunday.  I keep claiming that picture of how I want to hang onto God no matter what we face.


#3:  Be Flexible.  On our first day of schooling at home my prepared, hour-by-hour schedule was met with mutiny. I know that I am too type A for a lot of people, even myself sometimes!  Not one of my children were looking for that kind of structure and I wanted it so badly. I wanted to not fight for what had to be accomplished and I thought that if I had a schedule to point to all would be well.  That whole idea was wishful thinking!  In the end, we made a list of what had to be accomplished before screen time could happen and it is working well.  Flexibility (aka as humility) is a virtue.


#4:  Be Thankful.  It is easy for all of us to be discontent about this lockdown situation.    For me, this whole deal would have been so much more enjoyable with my kids of 4 or 5 years ago.  Teenagers can sometimes be emotional minefields.  The weather is fabulous right now and it would be so wonderful to be out and about and enjoying England in Springtime.  I know others how have kids far away and they just want them close.    There are elderly people who live alone.  It is going to be sad to not be able to get together with our church family on Easter.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:18


There is no question what God has for me today is to give thanks while in these circumstances.  And there is plenty to be thankful about.  I am glad that my teenagers are under our roof and that we have this chance to make memories together.


A verse that people kept sending us and kept popping up throughout everyday life when we moved was Psalm 16:8:

“I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.”


I am going to make that verse my mantra for this pandemic as well.  I have done uncharted territory before and my God has kept me from being shaken, so I will wrap my arms around him as a mast in a ship that I know will never go down.


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.


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.



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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.



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!)


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.





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.

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.

Ruby’s 4th Princess Birthday!