Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stop freaking out. Sticks and rocks are awesome.

Sorting through my three year old son's toys and deciding what to pack or give away before moving overseas brought with it a special kind of guilt and stress.

We gave away van loads of toys. The only items that made it into our suitcases were a deflated soccer ball, skateboard, scooter, handful of cars, a stuffed bear, and books. Only the most favorite of the favorites made it.

"Don't worry, Anisha. Kids are fine playing outside with sticks and rocks." Yeah, sure, sticks and rocks are fun, but they can't take the place of all this other stuff he needs.

I mean, have you ever been to Learning Express? That place is amazing. Rows and rows of toys that are not only fun, but educational. All the things my child needs to safely and cleanly develop gross and fine motor skills, develop a love for science and math, prepare for a lifetime of learning, and endless opportunities for imaginative play.

I've read the parenting books and blogs for crying out loud. My preschooler needs a sensory bin. His neural pathways are at risk without one.

Since a sensory bin didn't fit in my suitecase and clinging to the hope I can pull one together and figure out the rest in our new country, we moved overseas.

OK, so at this point all you experienced parents are probably shaking your heads, but I'm new at this parenting gig and sometimes I freak out a little. I know that. After scaling down the toy selection so dramatically, here's what I also know: You are right.

Without the beloved sensory bin, we dig in the dirt.

Instead of a kid size kitchen, we create elaborate dinners with cut up leaves, branches, rocks, and whatever else can be found.

The mini work bench with oversized screws and plastic hammer is replaced with the opportunity to use real tools (with supervision of course!). Helping to hammer down nails or working with a spade and fork to prepare and manage the garden.   

Without a playground or swing set nearby, we climb and swing from trees.

After four months without a toy filled room inside, we spend a lot of time outside. We know our neighbors and learn so much about the culture. We are all better for it.

To my pre-Papua stressed out mommy self worried about the opportunities my son would have to learn and grow: You are well intentioned, but stop it. Rocks and sticks are awesome. There's a whole world out there and you are beyond blessed to experience it without the weight and distraction of far too many toys.

Our usual playground


Over at Velvet Ashes this week the theme is "Hindsight". Head on over and check out what others are saying!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

One of my favorite stories of all time is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven't read it, you really should! Recently I had my own very bad day, or rather, sequence of days. This post is written with thankfulness to Judith Viorst, the author of Alexander's bad day, who taught me many years ago that "some days are like that".

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We lost power last night and there was a mosquito in my room and it buzzed in my ear all night and bit my forehead. When I got out of bed this morning even though the power was back on I still didn't see the puppy pee on the floor and stepped in it on the way to the bathroom. My clothes out on the line still weren't dry so I had to wear damp underwear and I could tell it was going to be what my friend Alexander calls a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

At breakfast Ben ate weet-bix and Isaiah ate coco puffs and I picked the cornflakes and there were ants in my cornflakes. My powdered milk was lumpy even though I used a whisk.

I think I'll move home to Florida.

In the taxi on the way to language school Ben and Isaiah sat in the front and I smooshed in the back with the puppy, but the lady next to me didn't like dogs so I had to hold the puppy on my lap and his paws made my skirt muddy. I tried to be friendly and said good morning, but the lady didn't even answer back.

My friend Alexander is right, it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

At language school I forgot to make coffee and don't remember anything from the first two hours except how my eyes stung from tired. In class I got my words mixed up and instead of saying, "I know." told the teacher, "I'm god." because tahu and tuhan sound the same and who can remember the difference with no coffee?

At breaktime I checked e-mail and saw a message from another missionary mom. I'd told her I was tired and it's hard to parent a three year old while going through language school and she said she was pregnant and homeschooling three kids when she was at language school. Yeah well that's nice for you, I thought. And I secretly hated her for being able to do what I can't even though Jesus says to love your enemies. I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't talking about other missionary moms.

I think I'll move back to Florida.

After school we walked home in the rain without an umbrella because our umbrella is in our shipment and our shipment is still in customs. The puppy wouldn't walk in the puddles so I had to carry him home and I smelled like dog and had to have a shower even though all I really wanted was a nap.

For lunch I ate tofu and rice for the 186th time in a row. My fish was dry so I added hot sauce, but I added too much and it burned my mouth and made my eyes water.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

After lunch we called for an update on our drivers licenses and after months of waiting and promises that today would be the day we were told to try again tomorrow.

Yeah well by tomorrow I'll be in Florida.

For dinner I ate tofu and rice for the 187th time in a row and there were mushrooms in the chicken. I hate mushrooms.

And there were grammar drills for homework. I hate grammar drills.

The warm water ran out in my shower and I had to wash my hair in freezing cold well water and the power went off while I was drying off and I had to find my pajamas in the dark. I stubbed my toe in the dark. I hate the dark.

When I went to bed a mosquito buzzed in my ear and bit my forehead. I bet it was the same one.

It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

But my friend Alexander's mom is right. Some days are just like that.

Even in Florida.

Hey thanks for reading! Humor and a thankful heart keep me from packing my bags on those very bad days. What keeps you from packing yours? Or are you in the process of packing your bags to move? Those are stressful days! What helps you find peace and gain perspective?

Over at Velvet Ashes this week the discussion centers around the word prompt 'pack'. So head on over and see what others are saying.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Learning to live cross culturally is like...lipstick?

I love a good analogy. Remember when I wrote about the muddy red road, pencils, assassinsteething pains, and lessons from my puppy? Analogies help me better understand truth and emotion, and when it comes to adjusting to living cross culturally my love for analogies increased a gazillion percent.

So when I read the invitation over at Velvet Ashes to link up and share thoughts, wisdom, stories and fears about how God prepared me/prepares us for serving overseas I had one thought, "Ooo! A perfect time for analogies!"

Almost there! Preparing to head to Papua.
With the phrase in mind, "Learning to live cross culturally is like _________." I opened up an online random word generator and with one quick click had five completely random words to fill in the blank. Lipstick, band, spaghetti, gate, and screwdriver.

I smiled and silently nodded my head. Yes, of course living cross culturally is like that...

Learning to live cross culturally is like wearing lipstick.

While I love the idea of wearing lipstick I hate actually wearing it. I hate how it's sticky, dries my lips, stains cups, and most of all I hate my husband's complete refusal to kiss me because he'd end up wearing it too.

Learning to live cross culturally is like lipstick because while I love the idea of being a well adjusted culturally able missionary, the process of becoming well adjusted kinda sucks. Sure, the result is pretty, but it's also uncomfortable. It's sticky, dries up emotional energy, leaves it's mark on everything around you, and even stifles relationships.  

Learning to live cross culturally is like being in a rock band.

Like a really good rock band, the kind where the musicians meld together and magic happens. The kind of band that produces music that decades later still stirs powerful emotions. It's beautiful.


It's like a really great band's breakup. The kind where the members' individual struggles, personalities, and opinions crush relationships and abruptly end an otherwise promising future. But we don't have to end this way. See screwdriver analogy. 

Learning to live cross culturally is like eating spaghetti.     

As a 19 year old I spent 8 months as a laborer on a construction site in Benin, West Africa, building a medical clinic. Three ladies cooked the work crew lunches each day.

One day, we brought spaghetti for them to prepare. I'll never forget the look on the rest of the work crew's faces as the stared at their plates of wiggly pasta. "It looks like worms!" one shouted and no amount of, "It's only pasta." would change their minds.

When you live cross culturally even something as 'normal' as spaghetti isn't normal any more. 

Learning to live cross culturally is like opening a gate.

Like opening hundreds of gates. Little by little, with every new word learned, relationship made, meal shared, story heard, prayers spoken, gates open and we connect. The 'locals' stop being locals and become neighbours, friends, and family. 

Learning to live cross culturally is like a owning screwdriver. 

Four months into learning how to live here in Papua, even though I don't feel prepared or even equipped for this task, I see clearly that God has given me the tools I need to not only survive, but to live well.

Those quirky parts of me, like the analogy loving part that I would have never thought had any connection to living a well adjusted life overseas, have absolutely everything to do with it. Seeing life through stories helps me to process, make sense of, and adjust to the world around me. Analogies are my screwdriver for life.

But what if I need a wrench or a hammer and all I have is a screwdriver? That's the most brilliant part of all. Those times when I don't have the proper tool for the job, someone else does.

As you prepare for living in a new culture, or to step into whatever challenge lies ahead of you, know this: You'll never really be prepared. And that's perfectly ok. You don't have to be.

"I pulled you in from all over the world,
    called you in from every dark corner of the earth,
Telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side.
    I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’
Don’t panic. I’m with you.
    There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
    I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you."
Isaiah 41:9-10 The Message

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I Learned From My Puppy About Cross Cultural Life

As we sat down for breakfast Ben thought he heard Scatter chewing on something plastic on the patio. Opening the door to investigate I see Ben's eyes widen in frustration as he yells out, "No Scatter!"

The puppy found something to chew on all right. He'd pulled down the mango seed Ben was germinating, chewed off the new growth, and left a few teeth marks in the seed pod.

That's when I realised Scatter and I have an awful lot in common. We are both trying to figure out our new homes. We both screw it up. And here, where the small things can quickly become really big overwhelming things, it's pretty easy to do.

What have I learned from my puppy about living cross culturally?

I learned that if you run through high grass, you're going to get ticks. Although others have certainly gone before us, living cross culturally is still pretty far off the beaten path of 'normal life'. And when you leave that well worn path for the adventure of high grass, you are going to pick up some nasty blood sucking bugs along the way.

I learned that it takes someone else to get the ticks off. Feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, grief, jealousy, you name it I've felt it, all suck the life out of you. It's pretty much impossible to get rid of them on your own. God's love and forgiveness working directly in my heart and through those around me yank out those tightly clinging parasites.

I learned that even though you wag your tail and give your best puppy eyes, some people still don't want to play with you. Sometimes they are even downright afraid of you. I wrote before about people not wanting to sit next to me in the taxi. Sometimes when I talk with people they give off an uneasy hesitation and scepticism of my motives. Their eyes questioning, "What do you really want from me?"  

I learned that sometimes, even though you've been told not to, you still pee on the floor. It's hard to remember all the rules in a new culture especially when the rules don't exist in your own culture. I still forget it's rude to hand over money with my left hand. I forget to bring money for the offering at the Ibadahs. I forget to make polite comments about someone's home when I visit. The rules are new and I forget.

I  learned that when it comes down to it you can have a ridiculous amount of fun with a just stick or a pile of dirt. It really doesn't take much. My attitude is pretty much everything. So kick complaining to the curb and enjoy whatever is right in front of you!


Animals teach us so much about life in general. What lessons have you learned from furry or feathery friends?