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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Swimming in the Jungle

I've been thinking a lot about parenting out of my strengths rather than out of some notion of what I think a good mom "should" do.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to bake cookies with my three kids, ages 6, 4, and 1. I don't like baking. When I think about the handful of times I've baked with my kids, I feel stressed. But, I have this image of a "good mom" in the kitchen, patiently helping her kids measure flour and crack eggs. So, I decided baking cookies together was a good idea.

Within about five minutes of starting, one daughter had dropped a raw egg on the floor, the other daughter had cracked a raw egg with the insides landing more on the table than in the bowl, somehow there was flour everywhere already, and the one year old was yelling "See! See! See!" wanting to spend the whole experience up high on my hip where he could watch the baking chaos leaving me short one hand that I so desperately needed.

I felt overwhelmed and I was doing everything I could not to roll my eyes and snap at my daughters. I told them how I was feeling, "Grace and Cora, mommy is feeling a little overwhelmed right now. You're not in trouble, but I need a break. I'm going to mix the dough during Isaiah's nap and later this afternoon, you can help me form the dough into cookies." Thankfully, they were chill and went with it. Who wants to bake with barely-holding-it-together-mommy anyway?

Fast forward a week, we were on vacation at one of the beautiful islands here in Thailand. After a couple of days of going to the beach and the pool, the pool and the beach, I pulled out my phone to see what else we could do and found the description of a short hike to a waterfall. "Michael are you up for this?" "Sure, let's do it."


The next day, we dressed our kids in swimsuits, packed lots of snacks, and coached them along a 600 meter hiking trail through the jungle to a waterfall that was just a trickle due to little rain. Over the next couple of hours, I took my kids swimming in the deep, cool natural pool showing them how to keep the fish from nibbling their feet and legs and showing them how to use the ropes to pull themselves up onto the rocks surrounding the pool so they could jump and slide into the water. We watched orange butterflies fluttering around and we fed cracker crumbs to the fish. The time flew by. I felt tired, but in a satisfied way from working and playing hard.


When I think of a "good mom," I think of quality time baking cookies together in the kitchen. When I think of a "good mom" I never think of quality time swimming in a natural pool on a jungle island. But, the cookie baking scenario stresses me out. The hiking and swimming scenario sounds SO MUCH FUN every time.

Since we live in a large city, adventurous hikes don't happen often, but I do enjoy sharing mini experiences of nature and adventure with my kids even if it's going to the neighborhood pool, trying a new Thai fruit or dessert together, playing at the park after dinner, or watering plants together on the front porch.

My husband doesn't bake and, if it wasn't for me, he probably wouldn't go swimming in the jungle. These are not his strengths. Michael is a total Bible nerd, devouring books and podcasts on theology and the Bible. He is also a gifted teacher. He can explain complicated subjects clearly and succinctly.

This strength has found its way into his parenting. When he is hanging out with the kids at home, he gets into deep conversations about God, theology, the Bible, and life - taking complicated topics that most adults don't even understand and packaging them in a way that our daughters can understand. When they talk theology, their endless questions meet his endless patience and Michael satiates their curiosity with stories, metaphors, and examples of really, really complicated stuff. He frequently keeps our girls happy and engaged for long periods of time by simply using this strength.

Doing only things I enjoy 100% of the time while parenting is totally unrealistic. There's usually a mountain of dishes at my house, homework to complete, groceries to buy. BUT letting go of my fantasy image of the good mom I "should" be and replacing that image with who I really am, strengths, weaknesses, and all… that sounds doable, life-giving, and runs a higher chance of me actually connecting with my kids and passing on some of the things I love to my little munchkins during these short years that they are under my care.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Isaiah - 18 Months Old

Isaiah recently turned one and a half. So, I'm writing a few thoughts down so the busy-ness of this phase doesn't make me end up forgetting how precious and fun he is at this age.



Isaiah has learned to assert himself into the noise and chaos of a larger family. Our daily dinner together is never quiet. Our goal is always to have one person talking at a time, but often one or more people are talking and one person is singing a Disney song.

Isaiah sits in his booster seat watching the dinner show, occasionally imitating some of the words and sounds he hears. When he needs something he interjects, yelling what he needs, "BREAD! BREAD! BREAD! BREAD!" Until one of us responds, "Ok, Isaiah. I'll get you some more bread."

Isaiah loves all things cooking related. He pulls out pots and pans and imitates my cooking perfectly. He takes off a lid, stirs his imaginary soup, bangs the spoon on the side of the pot, and puts the lid back on. Just like mommy.

Anytime something is on the stove or in the oven, he yells, "MOMMY UP UP UP!" Until I pick him up and show him exactly what's cooking.



Isaiah can't get enough of playing outside on our gated driveway in front of our house. He stands at our front door yelling, "OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE!" When he gets outside, he throws rocks, grabs fistfuls of dirt, swings on his tummy on the swing, and yells "NAHM NAHM NAHM!" (Thai for water) when he wants me to turn on the outside faucet.

When Isaiah gets hurt, he not only cries from the pain, but he gets angry. The last time he got shots, he was in a rage for about 15 minutes! He also strongly dislikes the little fuzzy, hairballs that get caught in the corner of the room and swirl in the wind of the fan. When he sees them, his whole body tenses up and he yells (so much yelling with this one!) "FUH! FUH! FUH!" (which is his questionable sounding word for "fuzz") until someone picks it up and throws it away.

This picture has nothing to do with anything... but that face!



Isaiah's ability to speak exploded a couple of months ago. He went from grunting to get his needs met to, well, yelling his needs. His Thai babysitter watches him two mornings a week, so there are a fair number of Thai words in the mix. 

One day, we were sitting on the ground reading books. Every time he brought me a new book from the bookshelf she said "nah seuh." After wondering for a while what "nah seuh" was, it hit me. He was saying "book" in Thai - "nang-seuh."

His favorite word for many months has been the Thai word for tickle - jak-a-chee. He says it all the time. Once I asked him, "Isaiah, can you say Jesus?" He responded, "Jak a Jesus!" Another time, I said, "Isaiah, can you count? One, two, three!" He responded, "Jak, a, chee!"

Isaiah pretty much hates being alone. But, if a sister is in the same room as him, he can play hard for a long time. In the morning, when Michael brings him into the kitchen after he wakes up, he peers around the corner, straining his neck to see which of his sisters is awake. When he sees one or both he points and identifies them, "DORA!" "DACE!"

He wants to be just like Grace and Cora. He once even begged me to do his hair like them.



Thai women often give Isaiah lots of love and attention. So, Isaiah loves Thai women. Here he is, willingly hanging out with the women selling desserts at the food court.



Isaiah, you are a sweet, fun handful and I'm so glad God made me your mommy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Finite


I am limited. I am finite.

When I look at my home, my marriage, and my kids and then look at my two hands and two feet, my intellect, emotional reserves, and the clock ticking on the wall, I feel so limited. The needs within my home and my family are often bigger than my resources.

How much more so when I look at the needs of my city, Bangkok, my countries, the US and Thailand, and this big, beautiful, broken world? I turn and look at myself and recognize that, without a doubt, I am limited. I am finite.

Into this space, come these two nuggets of wisdom, and I know the Infinite One is whispering Truth to me that swallows up the truth of my finite-ness.


"Our personal life is a finite thing: it is limited in every direction, in space, in time, in knowledge, in power. But God is not so limited. He is eternal, infinite, and almighty."


"It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work…

…We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders
Ministers not messiahs
We are prophets of a future not our own."

I pray that we would acknowledge our limits and allow them to be enveloped in the limitlessness of God. May we listen carefully to discern what God is inviting us to do, and what he is not inviting us to do. And may we do it well, trusting God to carry it to completion.

(Quotes from J.I.Packer "Knowing God" and from Archbishop Oscar Romero who was martyred for his human rights advocacy)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Pollution, the Wealthy, and the Poor

Schools in Bangkok were closed yesterday and today because of… pollution. For many weeks, the air in our city has been filled with a nasty particle called PM 2.5. If the PM 2.5 levels are under 100, most people are fine. Bangkok has consistently been over 100 and has even crept up toward 200. Our air is dirty, unhealthy, and downright dangerous.

Source: NationMultimedia.com

Over these weeks I have been struck by the difference between how people who are materially wealthy are able to manage the pollution, rarely breathing bad air, while the materially poor are breathing it all the time.

Just compare our family (we are most certainly wealthy here!) to the average family in Bangkok.

All day and all night, we keep our windows shut tight to keep out the pollution. We run fans and A/C to keep comfy and cool. We have two home air purifiers headed our way in the mail. When the purifiers are up and running, our home will be practically pollution free all day and all night.

A/C units and air purifiers are beyond most Thai family's budgets, so they must either shut the windows tight and sweat (it's HOT here) or fling them open to let in "fresh" air.

I tow my kids around in a car with, again, windows shut tight and A/C running.

Most families in Bangkok get around using a combo of motorcycles, buses (often no A/C, windows wide open), and song teews (pickup trucks rigged up with two benches in the back and a roof to block the sun and rain). As they go around, they breathe the air.

My daughters go to an upper-class, private Thai preschool/kinder that has closed classrooms and A/C units. The school has canceled all outdoor activities and they keep the classroom doors shut tight.

Most Thai schools, public and private, including the school my girls used to go to, are wide open to outside air. As kids learn, they breathe very polluted air.

When working, we are indoors in our home office upstairs or out meeting with people in closed, air conditioned rooms, offices, and coffee shops. We own one car, so Michael has switched from taking buses and song teews to taking taxis wherever he goes. A taxi ride costs 10-20 times as much, but for the health of our bodies, we can afford it.

Many people in Bangkok work outdoors sweeping the streets, working construction, selling flowers at intersections, selling food and other goods at the outdoor market. Even people who work indoors often have to get to and from work on public transportation that is open to the air.

Our family is a typical picture of many foreign families and wealthier Thai families living in Bangkok - we are able to put up a fortress against unhealthy levels of pollution due to our ability to buy and maintain expensive things like A/C units, air purifiers, a car, taxi rides as needed, and private school tuition for the kids.

The average family simply cannot protect themselves from the pollution.

So, as I build up my fortress against PM 2.5, I find myself praying to God for rain and wind. I pray for our leaders to pinpoint the biggest sources of the pollution and to find solutions. I pray that we would all be willing to cooperate with the solutions. I pray these prayers for myself and my family, so we can stop hiding in our fortress and get outside and play, but I pray these prayers more so for the majority of people who are breathing toxic air day in and day out.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Top Four Books of 2018


In 2018, I read about fifteen books, cover to cover. Here are my four favorites.


Between Midnight and Dawn by Sarah Arthur

publication date: 2016

genre: prayer guide

description: A literary guide to prayer for the seasons of Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide.

why I liked it: This is a book of beauty, filled to the brim with Scripture, poetry, and excerpts from classic literature all pointing to themes surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. It touched me to my core. Pick it up now to read during Lent, through Easter, and beyond.



Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

publication date: 2017

genre: historical fiction

description: This story follows four generations of an immigrant Korean family as they make their home in Japan.

why I liked it: I love an epic novel that settles me deep into another culture, another place, another time. This book did just that. It is not a light or easy read in any way, but it is well worth the effort. After reading it, I come away with a better understanding of Korea's history and culture. Also, the author is a Christian and she masterfully weaved Christian themes into the book without beating you over the head. Well done.



I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

publication date: 2018

genre: memoir

description: This memoir on being a modern black woman in majority-white America delves deep into race issues.

why I liked it: Austin Channing Brown does not hold back as she simply and eloquently puts into words her experience of being black in white-dominated America. At various points her story made me sad or angry or uncomfortable. In the end the book stretched me and stayed with me. A must-read for white people seeking to listen and learn.



When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

publication date: 2009

genre: non-fiction

description: This book shows how our best intentions to "help the poor" often actually cause much more harm than good AND offers great insights on how to address poverty in constructive ways.

why I liked it: I've done a lot of reading and thinking about the topic of effective poverty alleviation, so I let this book sit on the shelf for years thinking it would be a lot of review. I was wrong! I learned so much reading this book and I am still processing the implications for the ways I use my time, money, and law degree to help others. I wish the entire American church would read this book and heed its contents.


Honorable mentions: 
"No Graven Image" by Elisabeth Elliot
"Seeking Allah Finding Jesus" by Nabeel Qureshi
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead

~

Here are my favorite reads from 2017, 2016, and 2015.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Isaiah - One Year Old

All cred to VerityTanPhotography
When Isaiah was a newborn, his mellow, happy personality amazed me. He cried hard when he was born, but then it took him about two or three weeks to figure out how to cry again. And he rarely did. It also took him about two or three weeks to figure out how to look us in the eye and smile, which he was happy to do all the time.

Isaiah is now one year (and a few days) old and how things have changed!!

All that was mellow and easy about him has morphed into TODDLER - Isaiah is busy, wiggly, curious, and opinionated.

Look at these pics: Itty bitty baby bundle headed home from the hospital vs. one year old. The growth floors me.





Isaiah loves playgrounds - he climbs up the slides, moves dirt and rocks one fistful at a time, and tries to walk up and down the stairs. He crawls and cruises everywhere. If he sees a fan running, he makes a beeline to it to turn it off making us all start sweating until we notice what he did.



Isaiah also loves water play. At the pool, he kicks and flails trying to swim through the water. He dunks his face under and splashes big. When we wash his hands, he splashes the stream of water everywhere. He once put his hand in the toilet water. Or at least once that I noticed! 

Isaiah likes to stand for a minute at a time holding onto nothing and bouncing up and down. When he does this, he looks straight at me with big blue/gray eyes, I say "Isaiah you're standing!" and he proudly beams showing off his two little bottom teeth and his gigantic top teeth. Then, when I tell him to walk, he laughs and immediately drops to hands and knees.



Isaiah has a strong affinity toward anything with a handle, especially if it's stick shaped. He grabs and carries around his toothbrush, sippy cup, his sister's fairy wand, his sisters' hairbrush, etc. When we get in the car, I always turn on the engine and blast the A/C before I put him in his carseat. The moment I sit down to put the key in the ignition, he grabs the first stick-like thing he sees which means he usually turns on the blinker.

My first child sucked her thumb to fall sleep. My second child was addicted to her pacifiers. When the third was on the way I wondered which it would be… the paci or a finger? Wrong! Isaiah loves to chew and suck on his stuffed zonkey's ears to fall asleep. His two zonkey's ears have turned from cream to orangish/brownish. When we do laundry (which is all the time), one of his two zonkeys is always in there.

When it's time for him to leave or let go of any of these favorite things - a fairy wand, a rock, a playground - we tell him to say "bye-bye." If we forget this, he melts down into tears and throws his head back in frustration.

Isaiah is a total mama's boy. And I love it! When I show up, his whole body lights up. When I leave or when he thinks I'm going to leave, he cries. He loves riding around on my hip watching me put dishes away or make a cup of tea.

When Isaiah gets sleepy, he rubs his eyes, crawls to the nearest pillow or parent and snuggles in. When we notice him doing this, we scoop him up and have a big snuggle sesh, enjoying his soft, pudgy baby body and the feel of his big, fuzzy head resting against us.

~

Isaiah, I've always wanted a third child, and when I asked God for my third child, I asked that he would be a chubby, happy baby boy. I got all that… and so much more. You are a dream come true and your mama and dada love you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cora - Four Years Old


This past weekend, our second born, Cora, turned the big FOUR!

Cora's favorite things are bunnies, strawberries, and dressing like a ballerina. So for her fourth birthday, she got to enjoy all of her favorites.

She scootered around in a brand new tutu.


She blew out four candles on a strawberry cream pie with pink whipped cream and sprinkles.



And we took her to a cafe where free range bunnies hopped around.



Here are some fun tidbits about amazing Cora in no particular order...

Cora is teeny tiny. Three-year-old sized clothing is just starting to fit her nicely. Her baby brother's weight is quickly gaining on her. But Cora eats like a kid three times her size and after dinner her stomach bulges out like a large ball. Here she is wearing her baby brother's shorts:


The past year was chock full of transitions for Cora. She became a big sister last October. Last December, she moved out of the only house she could remember living in and traveled around the world back "home" to the States - a country that felt foreign to her because she had no memories of it.

While in the US for five months, she got to live at Nana and Papa's house with long stays at three other homes. When we returned back to Thailand, we stayed at a "hotel house" for a couple of weeks and then finally moved into our new home.

After three months of living in our new home, Cora said to me, "We've been in our house for a REALLY long time. Are we going to move soon?" I ensured her that we plan to stay here for at least two years.

All of this upheaval made her cling tightly to several things.

Cora has clung tightly to family.

When we traveled to Mexico for vacation, Singapore for Michael's work, and to a camp in Thailand for church, all five of us shared a room. Cora was thrilled to get to sleep in the same room as Mommy AND Daddy AND Grace AND baby Isaiah.

The transition to preschool was tough for Cora because she had to be away from her family. Every morning, five mornings a week, we pull up in our car to the front of the girls' preschool/kinder. The girls hop out onto the sidewalk and Grace holds Cora's hand and escorts her all the way to her classroom door and gives her a hug goodbye. Cora soaks up Grace's confidence.

One of my preschool mom friends snapped this picture of the girls walking to Cora's class together at the beginning of the school day.

We've been able to teach Cora to cling to God too. When we were living in my parents' home, she slept in the basement with her sister. Sometimes during the day, she wanted something from her room, but to go down the stairs and down the hallway into her room felt too far away from mommy and daddy. We taught her that Jesus is always with her so she doesn't have to feel alone. When it was time to go down to her bedroom alone, she would reach up high gripping the air, holding Jesus' hand. She learned to confidently walk down to her room this way.

In all the transition, Cora also clung to her art. We introduced her to perler beads and she made creation after creation with them, often working for hours in a single day. More recently, she has taken to ballet. Almost every afternoon after her rest time, she decks herself out in a ballet tutu, ballet slippers, a tiara, and jewelry. She winds up her music box and dances for me.

A very small sampling of Cora's massive collection of perler bead art

Her drawings are absolutely adorable too
Although the transition back to preschool was rough, she's well-adjusted now. She idolizes her teacher and uses her few Thai phrases over and over to please her. She comes home singing all the Thai preschool songs. The other day at the mall, Cora kept trying to make eye contact with strangers so she could smile at them, press her palms together, and say her Thai greeting "sawasdee ka!"

Cora, you are one fun, sweet, snuggly girl and we are so glad you are OURS!

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