Confession: Separation of Experiences

I confess that separation is hard.
There are two experiences. Two things that have nothing to do with each other, and my mind keeps putting them in the same category.
This is confusing for me. One experience was new and exciting. The other, dark and devastating. Unfortunately they happened at the same time. I’m working on rewiring my brain to separate these two experiences.
At the beginning of 2015, after a year of preparation and fundraising, my family moved to Northern Ireland. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know all about this lovely experience. A new ministry assignment, a new church family, a new culture… all of it was refreshing and humbling and we learned so much! We met some of the most generous and hospitable people we’d ever encountered, willing to walk through life’s journey with us knowing the year would be over before we could say “What about ye?” We experienced so much joy, so much growth, so much love. That’s the first experience; the happy one.
At the beginning of 2015, I had just had my second baby. I felt like a different mom this time around, but not in a good way. I realized almost a year later that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. A chemical imbalance in my brain gave me extreme anxiety about social gatherings, made me cry on the couch for hours at a time, took away my desire to get out of bed in the mornings, gave me an overwhelming shyness, changed my relationship with food, stole my confidence, and forced me to believe lies about myself. I blamed much of this on culture stress and the difficult task of leaving behind our whole support system in Kansas City. I blamed it on the dreary Northern Irish weather (which was actually quite lovely), and the exhausting task of being the parent of a toddler and a newborn. I didn’t want to admit to struggling with a mental illness and I didn’t even realize that’s what I had at the time. I felt like a terrible mother and I even resented my sweet second-born at times, wondering “…if I hadn’t just given birth, would I still be feeling this way??” There were a lot of factors that caused me stress during this time but, now that I’m on the other side, I’m finding healing in “confessing” that I had a mental illness. Some people ask what it felt like and, besides feeling like I was in a muddy pit that I just COULD NOT climb out of, I tell them that I felt like a totally different person. That’s the second experience, the sad one.
In high school and college, I was always the happy one with the positive outlook. I could turn any situation into a good one, showing others how the glass really was half-full, not half-empty. What people wrote in my yearbooks was that they loved how I was so joyful, how nothing seemed to get me down. What mentors have remarked on in the past was how flexible and adaptable I was, and how I always had a smile on my face. Well, in 2015 that wasn’t me. Either I was really good at pretending, or my new friends didn’t know the type of person I was before. It’s not their fault, but it’s not mine either. I’m allowing myself the grace to own that experience because as awful as it was, it’s part of my journey now. I still can’t talk about it without crying or just cutting the conversation short, but I’m okay with that too. It’s good to feel emotions. God gave us emotions to experience life more fully.
So, I’m working on separating these two experiences. Northern Ireland didn’t make me depressed, I just happened to suffer from postpartum depression while there. I write this to share with you, my dearest friends and family because some of you may not know. If you’re experiencing these feelings, you’re not alone. Sometimes (a lot of times) life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and that’s okay. Even when God calls us to something, that doesn’t mean everything will be easy and fantastic and happy all the time.
im1-shutterflyI’m a different person now. A better one. I’m thankful for my current mental state and how I’m rising up. Even though I wouldn’t want to go back to that dark time, I’m grateful for where it’s brought me. I couldn’t rise up, until I had something to rise up from… this seems to be my mantra these days. And it sounds cliche, but it’s true: The trees are greener, the sun is warmer, the flowers smell better, and God’s presence is more evident than ever.
Thank you for carrying my story in your heart. May you also rise up.
Grace and Peace.

Breathe

My breath was becoming ragged. The combination of the wind lashing the semi-frozen rain into my face, and the amount of energy that my body was exerting from forcing my bicycle up the face of this mountain forced me to take a longer inhale with each passing second. I looked up and saw that I was falling behind my riding partners. I tried to push the bike harder, to pedal faster, but my body rebelled.

By failing to exhale I was beginning to put my body into a downward cycle. By doing so I was leaving excess carbon dioxide in my lungs. My body noticed that there was an imbalance of carbon dioxide and screamed for my oxygen. But with every inhale coupled with a poor exhale, I was furthering this spiral of leaving more and more carbon dioxide in my body. If I had kept this up and not realized that I needed to even out my breathing, I would have run the risk of pushing my body into a state called “acidosis”.

Acidosis is an imbalance of the pH in our blood streams. A healthy person contains a blood pH of 7.4, while acidosis is usually diagnosed when the pH falls below 7.35. This might seem pretty minor, but it causes all of the bodies organs to work in a different way. Acidosis can cause some serious health risks, and it can even be life-threatening.

One of the healthiest models for Christian worship has a very similar rhythm and feel to it as does a persons breath. A person must inhale, and exhale, and so too must the church. We must gather together, which is the inhalation, and we must be sent out, which is the exhale. There is an increasing trend in American Christianity to put the majority of the focus on the gathering together part, and forget about the being sent out part. We are becoming dangerously insular. We have forgotten that Jesus, if he was walking the streets of a major city, would probably be more likely found in the apartments of a family of refugees, or maybe he would be talking with the muslim man who just came out of his mosque, or maybe he would be standing next to the man on the side of the street who is holding a sign (yes, the same man that you just drove by, pointedly ignoring him because it “isn’t sustainable” to give him money to use as he wishes). Regardless of where you would find Jesus, it would most definitely be with the disenfranchised of the world. It would probably not be in your church building (you know, the one with mauve carpet picked out in the 1970’s).

We are living in a time when the church is on the brink of blood poisoning, because we are a church gathered, and gathered, and gathered, and gathered, and STOP!! We have to breathe. We have to exhale. We must not only gather, but also be sent out. We must remember that God’s church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a church.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

Church, let us go and do likewise. Let us be the healing balm to a hurting people. Let us be a breath of fresh air. Let us go in peace and serve the Lord.

Thanks for Giving

Happy Thanksgiving from Northern Ireland! After all our time spent out of the United States, yesterday was the first holiday we spent away from extended family. I guess we always just planned our travels around the holidays.

After some deliberation, I decided to make a dinner of all our favorite Thanksgiving staples, and tweaked the recipes to make them more healthful. There’s no way I’m going to spend two days preparing foods only to feel like crap for the next few days! We invited some friends over and shared a roast chicken (Turkey is hard to find and quite expensive!), gravy, cornbread casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad (we actually used currants… no cranberries until Christmastime!), stuffing, sweet potato casserole, apple pie, and pecan pie cookies. Everything turned out pretty well and I’m proud of John and me for pulling off an entire Thanksgiving meal ourselves.

thanksgiving2015Traditionally, this day is so focused on the preparation and eating of food. I am not complaining about that… I love to eat nutritious foods! I love celebrating by spending time in the kitchen with loved ones. This year looked different from years past, but the idea was the same. It’s also a great day to really focus on what we are thankful for.

I am so thankful for my family (near and far). I am thankful for fast friendships that have turned into familial ones. And I’m thankful for an abundance of food on my table.

We have been the recipients of so much generosity these past two years. Our fundraising period and our time abroad has shown great witness to the wonderful love of God’s people. There is no way I could ever say “thank you” enough to those who have shown so much kindness, hospitality, and sacrifice for our family. Our church families (past and present) have given up their time, their finances, and their resources to support us this year. On this Thanksgiving 2015, I want to say THANK YOU for giving! I know it sounds cheesy, but we really are so grateful. We are thankful for you.

Peace, love, and cranberry (currant) salad.

<3

Our Story continued

I left off our story here, where we met for the first time.  I’m now going to skip ahead a little to the bit of time before our getting engaged:

My second year at college began differently than I had imagined.  I was enrolled as a full time student but shortly before the drop out deadline I turned in my papers to get a refund for that semester. I began instead to look forward to spending a month in Haiti working at an orphanage.  The month taught me a lot about the wrong ways to do ministry in Haiti, and a couple of the right ways.  I did however find myself completely excited for mission work and for serving God. I scheduled a dinner with Abigail at Pei Wei when we she was back in Kansas City for Christmas break. I don’t remember what she ordered, but I had Kung Pao beef with brown rice :-). I remember that Abigail was dating someone else at the time, and they had actually been together for quite some time. We talked about all sorts of mission related things and I was really able to share my excitement and love for God with her. I vividly remember looking at her during the meal and praying to God, “If she ever becomes single again I would marry her”.  I think this is when I really began to fall in love with her.  It was the first time I was able to see her fully for who she is, I was able to see this woman who was kind, gentle, intelligent, beautiful, compassionate, and so much more! Unfortunately for me she was leaving in a few weeks to study abroad in Ecuador, and it wasn’t until a bit later that we started dating, but I like to look back on this and think that it was the beginning of me seeing her for who she really is.

Check back soon for the next installment and find out about our time as a dating couple!

Grandparent Detox

Saturday was our last day with my parents after their visit.  Hosea had an incredible two weeks with extra people to play with him, read to him, snuggle him, and basically give him undivided attention whenever he desired it.  He loved being able to show his grandparents all of his favorite things to do around Northern Ireland. It was a busy two weeks, and we are all a bit exhausted after our many adventures.  Saying goodbye didn’t seem too difficult, but today we really started feeling the effects of “grandparent detox”.  It reared its ugly head around four in the afternoon. My boys were getting antsy having been inside all day, and the house began to feel a little too small. I loaded them in the car and headed to Straidkilly Nature Reserve for a little predinner adventure. Three turns out of our street and they were both sleeping soundly in the car.  Naps in the car often put them in poor moods but I decided to persevere and hope for the best attitudes when we arrived.  When I pulled into the entrance Hosea woke up.  He started off with a little wake-up crying, but it quickly escalated into shouts of, “I want to go home!”. So we turned around and drove home.

But getting home was the trigger that set him off. We got inside and he cried his little heart out. It was as though his heart had been broken into pieces. He screamed that he wanted to go to the forest. I have never seen him so distraught! 5 minutes before dinner was ready, I caved and put him back in the car to try another short adventure.

When we got out of the car at Drain’s bay for a short beach walk he had finally calmed down.  He looked up at me and his eyes started to tear up, his chin quivered and he said “Daddy, I’m sorry I was yelling. I just really miss Narna and Grandad, and I really want them to come back.” His little voice broke at the end of that sentence. IMG_1852

He had so much emotion in him that he couldn’t contain it, and screaming was the only way he knew how to deal with it.  It reaffirmed my commitment to help my boys learn from a young age how to understand and express their emotions.

Walking peacefully on the beach was calming and cathartic.  It was as though we could both sense what some call a “thin place”, where the space between heaven and earth is thin enough that you can almost tangibly feel the presence of God. That thin place helped him detox some of the nasty emotions that were plaguing him. I know that if we all go to God with an earnest longing to touch him, we too can detox from the nastiness of our sin.

10 Things You Might Start Saying If You Move to Northern Ireland

After spending 3 months (today!) here in Northern Ireland, we’ve learned a bunch of new ways to say things! Some of these are said all over the UK and some are specific to Northern Ireland. Either way, we didn’t say them before we came but now they’re becoming part of our regular vocabulary.
1. Wee
This is such a wonderful wee adjective and it is used to describe anything and everything! Obviously it means “small”, but it’s not always used to refer to small things. I’ve come to realize that it’s used in the same way Americans would say “little”.
Look at her wee dress! My wee man is 6 months old. We took a wee drive up the coast and had a wee ice cream. There’s a wee parent/toddler group on Thursdays. Would anyone like a wee tea or coffee? We’ve also heard people refer to their children as “wee’uns” (wee ones).
2. In Good Form
This phrase is used to talk about someone who’s in a good mood, usually a child. Recently a friend was telling me that her child had stayed up late but was still “in good form”. I think it’s more than the kid just being in a good mood; it means the child is generally behaving well too.
3. I’ll Say to Him
This one I love because it is so literal. This might be something Americans would say but (at least in the Midwest) I’m used to hearing the phrase “I’ll tell him”.
“I’ll say to him now about dinner on Saturday.”
4. “would be…”
I think we all know the common uses for would, like “He said he would do his homework.” and “We would always go to Grandma’s for Christmas.” But here in N.I. I’ve noticed an additional use that seems like it’s interchangeable with the present tense. Instead of saying “I’m hungry too”, people say “I would be hungry too.” Or, “She would have brown hair” to describe someone who currently has brown hair. People ask us, “Would you be in Northern Ireland until December?” …yes, we would be! (we are!)
5. Aubergine/Courgette
These words may look French to the average American and it turns out, they are! I was recently served tea in a cup with a round purple vegetable painted on it and I exclaimed, “Oh! An eggplant!” Everyone looked at me weird and that’s when I learned that, here in Northern Ireland, it’s not an eggplant but an aubergine (OH-ber-zheen). That makes an ordinary eggplant seem extraordinary doesn’t it? And another, courgette (coor-ZHET), which turns your average zucchini into something fancy.
6. “So they are/ So he does”
It seems that everyone we know ends their sentences with a wee recap of what they just said. My son loves to ride his bike so he does. They’re going away for the weekend so they are. I’m cooking dinner tonight so I am. It’s also used in the negative (“He doesn’t work anymore so he doesn’t.”) and in the past tense (“We used to have a cat so we did.”). This is one of my favorites!
7. Surname
This one is a simple enough adjustment for us and is used to talk about someone’s last name. I just like saying it because it sounds so much more proper than “last name”.
8. Trousers
This one’s important. In my American world, trousers are pants. In Northern Ireland, pants are what you wear underneath your trousers. Our friends say, “Oh we know what you mean because we watch American TV!” But still, I don’t want to get caught telling someone I like their pants 🙂
9. “What age is he?”
This just means, “how old is he?” and is often used in conjunction with “What do you call him?” (What’s his name?). Both of these are easy to transition to and i quickly adjusted my small talk with other moms to include these phrases.
10. “Half Ten on the 15th of May”
Telling time here in Northern Ireland is a bit different. Instead of ten thirty, you say half ten. 7:15 is not seven fifteen, but rather “a quarter past seven”. And 1:35 isn’t one thirty-five, but “twenty-five to two”. The date is also switched around from what I’m used to. My birthday isn’t July 26th, but the 26th of July! Most of the world positions their months and days like this, so it’s really we Americans who are doing it backward!
So there you have it! Our updated vocabulary. This list doesn’t include words that are just pronounced differently like fillet, vehicle, or tomato, or the whole host of baby-related words that are different. I could write a whole separate post on those!

A Toddler’s Morning

I wake up and the house is quiet.  My nightlight is still on, but I don’t need it anymore because the sun is looking in my window.  The house is way too quiet.  I need to make a little noise because I think sometimes that I might forget how if I don’t practice.

“DADDY-O DAAAADDDYY-O” I start to sing.  My mommy and daddy have told me I have a beautiful voice, and they’re always trying to get me to sing for my grandparents so I expect they will be so happy to hear me this morning. I keep singing, getting louder and longer until my door squeaks open. It is the very person I was singing about! The door’s squeaking always surprises me. “Daddy, you scared me!” I say and giggle as he climbs into my big boy bed.  I love to snuggle Daddy in the mornings, and I love it when the prickles on his chin make me laugh! We snuggle for one million hours, and Daddy starts to snore a little bit. I hold his face and ask, “Daddy, can you talk?” With no response, I decide to go find Mommy and brother.  (Brother is usually awake after I poke him in the head a few times.) I just have to step softly on Daddy’s prickles so they don’t tickle my feet. I jump to the floor and run for the door. I am so fast! I can’t help it, I try to whisper, “quickly, quickly”, and head for Mommy’s door.  I reach for the door and Daddy picks me up.  I try to squirm down, but he’s really strong.  He asks me if I want breakfast. “Yeah! Yeah I do want breakfast! I want cupcakes and crisps!” I say it as nicely as I have ever said anything. Daddy is silly, he thinks I am yelling at him, so I show him what yelling sounds like.

I start to eat eggs and bacon and potatoes and then I see a toy car and I go get it. Obviously I am still eating, because there is food on my plate, but Daddy tries to take my plate to the kitchen.  He thinks I am yelling again, so I show him again what yelling sounds like.  Then I hear my brother! He’s awake! He’s so little and fun and I love to lay on him and roll around with him and play with him! He is just my size.  “Daddy, my brother is awake!” Daddy gets my brother and I am so excited when they come down the stairs.  We both start laughing! I try to help my brother get down from Daddy but Daddy thinks its time for me to finish eating my breakfast.  We finish our breakfast and then play on the rug. I zoom my cars and blocks past my brothers face so fast that he giggles.  We are all wrestling on the mat and then I hear the stairs squeak.

I am so excited! My Mommy is coming! “I’m Mommy’s boy!” I shout. I jump into her arms and bury my hands into her beautiful long hair.  I pull it and rub it on my face.  I am so happy!

Daddy says something to Mommy that sounds like, “Can you believe it’s only 7:45?”

On Being Perfect

A lot of people think I’ve got my life “together”. Maybe I do, maybe i don’t.
But as it turns out, I fail every single day.
I’m the girl who once drove off with a glass casserole dish on the roof of her car and, yep, it shattered into a thousand pieces in the middle of an intersection. One time I walked into the bedroom only to catch my 5 month old who was LITERALLY FALLING out of his swing because I didn’t buckle him in. I usually wait until dirty dishes cover every available counter space before i start washing them. I get irritable with my kids and seem to lose my patience every single day. Sometimes I feel like I try so hard to be perfect that my imperfections stand out even more.
You know what I’m starting to realize though?
No one is perfect except for The One.
I’m so grateful for God’s perfection because it’s super hard trying to be something you’re not. Understanding His perfection helps me to accept his grace in my moments of failure. It also encourages me to show grace to my own kids when my fuse is running short.
Because you know what else I’m starting to realize?
Raising kids is just as much about teaching yourself how to be a good person as it is about teaching them. 11108219_3411021752966_6257950281463444392_n
Sometimes (a lot of times) i need a wake-up call to notice my own self-centeredness. It’s not just my kids who are being selfish, but me too. It’s not just my 2 year old wanting his way RIGHT NOW, but me too. It’s not just the baby wanting to be fed RIGHT NOW, but me too (I get hungry).
Just as Christ set himself aside to love us, so we must also set ourselves aside to love our kids and show them grace.
I’m not perfect. God is.
He shows me grace. I (am learning to) show my kids grace.

Comfort Zones

When we tell people where we’ve been and where we want to go we almost ALWAYS get this question: “So what do you have against the U.S.?”

Sometimes I give a snarky response but generally I’m feeling kind and I say something sweet like, “Oh we just really like to travel and see other parts of the world.”

But the real answer is more complex. First of all, we have nothing against the U.S. We may not love certain aspects of life there, but we both grew up there and our family lives there. In daily conversations, it is “home”. We are so grateful for the freedoms given to us just because we can call ourselves “American”. Most of all, we love it because God chose to have us be born and grow up there! If we hate our country of origin, we doubt God’s plan for us.

The real answer is that I like to get out of my comfort zone. Being an introvert, this is hard for me to admit. The truth is that I feel God’s presence when I’m forced to rely on His guidance. When I wonder if I’m getting on the right bus or jumping in the right taxi? When I’m trying to find my way in a city that is not my home? When I wonder if I’ll get a warm shower this week? When I wonder if anyone will understand my American accent in their native tongue? When I see people who literally have to trust in Him for their daily bread? When I see brokenness all around me and then feel it for myself? In those times of struggle, I feel His presence more clearly than ever. And I love it.

I need to feel His presence or I start thinking, “What am I living for?”

When we get farther away from ourselves, we get closer to Him.

Change, and the uprooting that often occurs in our lives is a blessing. It allows us to rely on God and realize that WE are really not the ones in charge. What a relief!

I see God constantly in the newness of life. New jobs, new cities, a new country, new roles, new babies.

Have you ever said, “I have never heard God speak to me.” Or do you feel like God doesn’t show Himself to you? Maybe, like me, God is asking you to get out of your comfort zone a little and take a step away from yourself. I’m willing to bet He’s inviting you to see Him more clearly.

 

Kansas City airport, January 2015. Heading to Northern Ireland!
Kansas City airport, January 2015. Heading to Northern Ireland!
Our life, packed into these bags (turns out we brought way more than necessary anyway!)
Our life, packed into these bags (turns out we brought way more than necessary anyway!)

 

“I’m Warming Up!”

We are settling in to life in Millbrook. We’ve learned how to work the heat in our house, grown accustomed to pulling a cord to start the shower, and figured out how best to dry our clothes without a dryer. We’re now familiar (enough) with the Celsius degrees on the oven and can do currency conversion in our heads. We’ve discovered what all the doors in the homes are for (keeping the heat in!), and we’ve been educated on how to make a proper cup of tea. We’ve also noted the many differences between the English we speak as Americans and the English spoken here in Northern Ireland. I’ve never been more aware of how often I say “you guys”!

Hosea is doing better than we are, already incorporating words like biscuit (cookie), pram (stroller), trousers (pants), and making sure to specify that we are in “Northern” Ireland, and not Ireland. He says things like, “Is this a Northern Irish bus? Is this Northern Irish rain? Is this what people in Northern Ireland eat for breakfast?”

Our new Northern Irish friends have been apologizing for the “miserable” winter weather, but it’s actually much MUCH colder in Kansas City right now! I think the difference is that in KC we are used to running the heat all the time, but here in NI our heat clicks on for two hours twice a day. So, it feels colder here than you would think even though it’s only about 45 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside. For the first week or so, it was so cold when we would get out of bed and Hosea just kept saying, “I’m freezing!” Once we got better at working the heat, lit the fireplace, remembered to put on sweatshirts and make tea in the morning, Hosea would exclaim, “I’m warming up!” My heart was so happy to hear these words come out of his mouth, because I want him to love this place.

Like Hosea stated, we are indeed warming up, but not just physically. We are warming up to life here, working on diving into new relationships and trying to gain some semblance of routine. We’ve left everything we ever knew in Kansas City and, while these two cultures are not drastically different, everything is new. Even something as simple as taking out the trash took some getting used to! (One week it picks up trash and recycling, and the next week it picks up food scraps >>to be made into compost! genius!)

I could also add that I’m “warming up” to life with two kids. I will admit that it’s been difficult at times, but easier because John is a huge help. Neither of us have full time jobs here, but rather the random evening events and meetings during the day, so we are both home a lot and able to share the parenting responsibilities.

At any rate, we are warming up, and we love it here <3

John with Hosea and Moses, walking through Ballyboley forest (Feb 15)
John with Hosea and Moses, walking through Ballyboley forest (Feb 15)