Sunday Confessional: Finding Balance

I confess that finding balance is hard. We’ve taken a (what was supposed to be brief) hiatus from our Sunday Confessional posts until we got back into the swing of things and created a routine for our new normal. We intentionally enjoyed the advent and Christmas seasons, not taking on any new responsibilities, simply spending time with family and getting over jet lag. Apparently we were still adjusting because our blogging hiatus lasted all the way through Lent and Easter!
We returned to Kansas City from Northern Ireland in December and it feels like we’ve been in a constant state of “finding balance” ever since we stepped foot on that first plane. So far John has already started and resigned from one job, and been hired for two others. I’ve started working as a postpartum doula and a yoga instructor, neither of which I had planned on doing 6 months ago. We were in a bit of a sweet spot when we returned to Kansas City, just because we had the chance to start over with our involvement. Responsibilities we had assumed we’d take on when we started our life back up in KC have either proved to be too much too soon, or they very clearly don’t fit in with the path God has set before us.
I’ve written things into my planner and crossed so many of them out
that it has become difficult to read. 
All that to say, our life looks totally different now than when we lived in Kansas City before. This process of finding a new “normal” has been challenging and emotionally taxing. I constantly ask myself, “What am I supposed to be doing?!”, which is probably not the right question. It seems like everyone else wants to know what we’re going to do next but this is a stressful question for me! I know what I am going to do today, and that’s about it. It’s important for me to remind myself who I’m supposed to be serving in this life. What is my ultimate goal? Knowing the answer to this helps me choose daily what is of greatest importance.
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I taught yoga twice this week and in both classes I ended with my students resting their hands on their knees, palms facing up, representing a willingness to receive whatever comes their way this week. This does not mean overloading our schedules, taking on too many responsibilities, overcommitting ourselves, and feeling swamped or exhausted. This is about taking time to decide how to best approach the upcoming week.
Which responsibilities can be let go?
What things are calling us to dig deeper?
How can we be more involved in the good things
and let the extra/unimportant things fall by the wayside?
Maintaining balance takes intentionality. This is true in yoga and in life. Find your “drishti”, your focal point, and set your intention on balance. Let’s not focus too much on ourselves, but on expressing our love in an outward manner.
(Thanks to Pastor Tim Suttle and his blog for inspiring us to make our own confessional posts every week. Check out his site here)

“What We Are Made Of”, a poem

Slip-on shoes, greasy roots, frantically searching for my daily green juice:

This is what Mommy is made of.

Two part time shifts, adding school to the mix, never a whine from his lips:

This is what Daddy is made of.

Food stuck in their wispy blonde hair, in this world never a care, daily learning to share:

This is what little boys are made of.

Sticky hands, muddy boots, endless jokes about “toots”:

This is what my boys are made of.

Chattering chattering all the day long, singing singing their very own songs,

dancing dancing to their own beating drums, and thinking out loud (giving the day a low hum):

This is what my boys are made of.

Fingers brush against my cheek, is this the blessing of the meek?

Even though the laundry reeks, and I always wish for a bit more sleep, others tell me that my life is sweet.

Dirty dishes fill the sink, odd-jobs to make ends meet, some days feel like they’re on repeat.

But on the other hand, there are so many kisses and hugs to be had, I wish time would slow but then I feel bad…

Because deep down inside I urge time to continue, for seeing the growth, the change, the journey, is what keeps my heart grateful, my soul yearning.

Hoping for renewal, longing for healing, enjoying these special moments that God is revealing.

This is what dreams are made of.

<3

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.

Failure to Launch??

Failure to launch, a term made popular by the 2006 Matthew McConaughey film of the same name. Failure to launch is an increasingly popular way that Americans are describing the difficulties that young 20 somethings are having transitioning from one stage of development to the next.

The movie, Failure to Launch, serves to highlight some of the funnier aspects of this phenomenon. There are three main male roles, friends in their 30’s who all live with their parents. As the movie progresses we learn of the different reasons why. One is doing it for financial reasons, one because he is a crazy hippie, free spirit, who loves to travel, and one who had someone close to him die and he moved back in with his parents during the grieving process. One of the common themes in the movie is that all three sets of parents want their children out of the house.

Perhaps I am only saying this because Abigail, the boys, and I have elected to move in with her parents. Perhaps I am only writing this because I am in the throes of failing to launch. Nevermind the fact that I’m working full-time on my Master’s of Divinity, working as a Children’s Pastor, being a stay-at-home Dad, and I recently accepted a job to work at the Overland Park Farmer’s Market. Most cultures around the world have a structure in place for this stage of life. In many world areas, a couple gets married and then moves in with either his or her parents. This is the basic cultural structure for community. It actually creates a real community, not just the idea of one. Families live together and grow together. We are doing life with Abigail’s parents, and we are all growing together.

I know that it’s not an option for everyone to move in with their in-laws, or their parents. Nor am I suggesting that it would be healthy for everyone. But it is a possibility and it is healthy to build community with those with which you surround yourself. To intentionally dig into relationships is a key feature of life that many people miss out on. There is a profound implication that points toward worshiping God when you live in such close community, and have such intentional relationships with your neighbors that you are able to experience life together. What if it even went a step further than opening your house and inviting your neighbor for dinner? What if it became a lifestyle of worship? Remember this quote by Daniel Migliore as you go forward with an intentional heart to set up a community:

 

“To speak of God as triune is to set all of our prior understandings of what is divine in question. God is not a solitary monad but free, self-communicating love. God is not the supreme will-to-power over others but the supreme will-to-community in which power and life are shared. God consists not in dominating others but in sharing life with others.”

Go engage God, experience God with others, and enjoy God!

The Joys of Parenthood

Parenting at any stage is fraught with trials and joys. Sometimes it is easier to see the blessings than it is at other times. This weekend was one of those times that I really had to look for the joys of parenthood. I’m not sure why…It might have been because of that time during our trip to Michael’s when my toddler climbed out of the cart and ran away only to be found a few seconds later by an employee. Or maybe it was the time when the dishwasher didn’t drain. Or maybe it was the time I opened the dishwasher that hadn’t drained and water went everywhere including leaking into our room downstairs. Or maybe it was the three year old in the backseat who kept wanting to argue with everything I said (even when I wasn’t talking). Or maybe it was something else, but I found that I had to search for those hidden gems of parenting joy this weekend. I found them in that moment when both boys are strapped in their car seats with the doors closed and I haven’t yet opened the driver side door. Or the moment of peace when my toddler falls asleep in my arms. Or the moment when I realize that both boys have officially fallen asleep and a quiet hush falls over the house.

These joys of parenting that I found this weekend were all centered around the same thing. It was all about finding peace in the chaos. Did you know that our bodies release a chemical in times of stress that acts as an analgesic, this is called stress-induced analgesia. The stressed body can produce powerful pain blockers that are similar to those found in illicit drugs. This can have the effect of numbing aches and pains that may slow the body down. They also can have the potential to numb a persons emotional range. So, truly it is possible to become addicted to stress. Maybe you’re a person who is constantly busy and stressed out, maybe you want to stop being stressed but can’t figure out how to say “no”. Does it seem hopeless? Keep hope, dear one, for God has given us a way out. In fact God has actually gone so far as to model a way out of this stressed lifestyle.

In the book of Genesis we see the narrative of creation in which God creates for six days, and rests on the seventh. This day later became known as the Sabbath. God, in his infinite goodness and wisdom, modeled this day. A twenty-four hour period of rest which, incidentally, is also the exact amount of time it takes for this stress-induced analgesia to completely leave the body.

Remember to find that rest, find that peace, and the joy in life. The peace that is life giving, that helps us to find those moments of joy. Walk in the peace of the Lord.

Forward Motion

It’s hard to believe it was just a month ago that we left Northern Ireland. 4 weeks have passed since we dined regularly with our friends, volunteered alongside fellow church-goers, and felt rain on our faces daily. 29 days have gone by where we haven’t driven on the left side of the road, hung our clothes to dry on the radiator, or taken a trip to ASDA.

Oh, Northern Ireland! I’m forgetting the sound of your accents, the lilt of your voices as you sing, banter, or share with me. Already I’ve forgotten which shop had the cheapest butter, or when they restocked the fresh produce, and the name of the cashier we saw there EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Sometimes people ask about you, sometimes they don’t. They ask about the weather, the food, the clothes, the church-life. They ask how the boys did, what they thought of the whole thing, and how they adjusted to the culture. They ask what we did every day, and what was the point of us going there anyway? These are all great questions but honestly, they are hard to answer. I know IN MY HEAD the answers to all these questions but one response leads to another question and another explanation and more and more chatting and conversation and after it’s all over, I am “feeling all the feels” (internet-speak for, a lot of emotions have been stirred up in me). I love talking about my time in Northern Ireland and am so honored when people take time out of their day to ask but, if I’m being truthful, how can I sum up a year in a short conversation?! Would it take me a whole year to talk about it? Or longer because a lot happened that requires even more explanation? I’m not sure of the answers to these yet but I’ll keep you posted. I do know one thing: we just keep taking steps forward. But like my tween self’s favorite band says, “We all struggle with forward motion, ’cause forward motion is harder than it sounds.” (Reliant K) But alas, we keep moving forward, although difficult at times.

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Sometimes, Northern Ireland, I think of you like a lightbulb. We “plugged you in” to our lives for eleven months but now that we’ve moved away, a new lightbulb called Kansas City has taken your place. But oh, thank heavens, that is not how it works! The places we’ve lived are not just household items we throw away once we’ve moved on. They are like chapters in a book. Chapters that hold information you cannot continue reading without knowing. Chapters that contain stories of people, changed hearts, new perspectives, tears, laughter, skills obtained, and lessons learned. My life journey is like a book and Northern Ireland, you hold a chapter. A chapter that I refer back to every single day.

…a chapter that impressed so much upon me that it has changed the trajectory of every subsequent chapter in my story.

A month ago we boarded a plane and instructed our 3 year old to “wave goodbye to Northern Ireland!” like we were going to be back in a few days or something. Unfortunately, it’ll be a few more days before we go back. This has probably been one of the most difficult things about coming “home” to Kansas City… Hosea thinks we’re going back soon. Every time we get in the car he asks if we’re going “home” to Northern Ireland and it’s almost like living with someone who has memory loss. He keeps asking and we keep telling him but for now, that’s just how it is. Forward motion is taking place and we’re reintegrating ourselves into this community, but we are different than we were before. “Home” is where the heart is, and our hearts are spread across the globe.

An Open Letter to Millbrook Church

Dear Millbrook Church of the Nazarene,

As our season with you has now drawn to a close, we just want to say thank you. I said this a couple weeks ago while blubbering at the front of the church, but now that I’m safe and sound in Kansas City, I want to say it again. The year of 2015 has been absolutely wonderful because of your presence in our lives. We would not have been able to adjust to life in Millbrook, Larne without the support of you, our church family.

From the moment we stepped out of the airport that cold February day, we felt your arms wrapping around us (although not physically of course, some of you Northern Irish people aren’t the most touchy bunch!) From you we learned more than I could ever write in a blog post. What constitutes a good Ulster Fry, how to bowl and play snooker, how to drive on the left side of the road, where the mums & tots groups were located, how to keep warm in our house, how to play the ukulele, banter etiquette, and where to find the best charity shops. We got to witness a growing church plant, new families being welcomed, the start of a youth group and a toddler group, and lives being changed in and out of the church. We experienced unmatched generosity, heartfelt hospitality, genuine character, honest friendships, a dedicated faith, and deep conversation. You jumped right into our lives and fit so perfectly. It’s like you’d been there all along and, now that we’re apart, I wonder how we’ll survive without you.

But like the song says, la la la la life goes on. Our paths converged for eleven months and now they’re parting. You’ve left imprints on us that changed us and will last a lifetime.

While now physically far away, you will never be far from us. We hold you forever in our hearts and minds and find ourselves thinking of you constantly. For the life of me, I can’t quit saying “half ten” instead of ten thirty. I can’t bring myself to say “pants”, “sweater”, or “diapers” yet, because “trousers”, “jumper”, and “nappies” still linger in my vocabulary. I laugh to myself when I order “tomato basil soup” because I know you all would say “tomaaahhhhto” and rhyme basil with apple.

When we arrived in Northern Ireland, you helped us live without our family. You became our family. Now that we are back in Kansas City, we find ourselves asking the same question as before, “How do we live without our (Millbrook) family?”

We miss you so much already and we are lifting up your families in prayer. Keep fighting the good fight and living like Jesus lives. You are a bright light.

With love stateside,

The Carr Family

“You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” -Frederick Buechner

How to Help Your Child Adjust to Life in a New Country

A Guide to Supporting a Child Dealing with Cultural Transition

For the past ten months my family has been participating in a ministry program in Northern Ireland. My husband is working through seminary and the classes he’s taken while here account for 24 credit hours toward his degree. Staying true to our unconventional way of doing things, we embarked on this journey with two young children who, at the start, were just two years old and 3 months old. As parents who strive to guide our children through life with grace, we’ve continuously been thinking about helping our children adjust to life in this new city of Larne. Now that our stay in Northern Ireland is nearly over, I’m still thinking about how to help them adjust, but this time they’ll be adjusting back to life in the United States in a few weeks. For my husband and I, we are jumping back into something familiar. Our kiddos, on the other hand, don’t exactly remember life in the States. During these last ten months I’ve been asked by several families to share advice on how best to help children adjust to a new country. Here are some helpful ideas:

1. Wear Your Baby/Toddler/Preschooler

We love to wear our babies and have worn them from the day they were born. Being part of the UK, Northern Ireland has a “pram culture” (my own made-up phrase) meaning, everyone pushes their babies/children in strollers. This is a very cultural thing, everyone does it, and it seems to work well for them. We attempted to use a pram for our first couple weeks here and it just did not work. Our baby was so fussy and I decided to stop trying to fit in, and just wear him in the baby carrier already! He’s over one now and he still loves the carrier. It provides warmth, attachment, comfort, and a place of retreat when he needs to “check out” of our overstimulating world. We even purchased a toddler tula (LINK HERE) after a few months so that our older son could benefit from “going for a ride on daddy” too. He still loves it even at age 3. This is especially helpful in crowded areas or when our attention is being drawn elsewhere.

2. Bring Familiar Toys

Our oldest is very “into” cars, planes and trains. We brought along several of these that could fit into a lunchbox. He has played with them every day since we’ve been here and we are even taking them back to the States with us when we go in a few weeks. I strongly believe that this helped him adjust. Being able to wake up in the morning and see his same toys was a good way to bridge his two worlds together. They became “transitional objects” in his life.

3. Find Familiar Foods

Similar to the toy suggestion above, our first shopping trip was spent finding foods that were familiar to our (then) 2 year old. This will be different for every family, but it eased his mind to know there were bananas and apples here, as well as almonds, fruit snacks, and other favorites. It’s tempting at first to buy all sorts of different foods that look interesting, but sticking with familiarity at the start can make branching out easier later on.

4. Provide Frequent Explanation and Constant Communication

This one is SUPER important. As adults, we see something different, we process it in our minds, and we try to remember it for next time. For kids who are often already overstimulated by their world, they need to hear us explain why things are different. Taking time to talk them through daily activities helps them process what they’re experiencing and is vital to adjustment into a new culture. Many times my answer was as simple as, “That’s just the way they do it in Northern Ireland.” Being honest with my son about the differences we were experiencing proved to remind him we were going through this transition together. I encourage you to make space for extra conversation, and don’t get too worn down when they ask the same questions over and over (<< that is difficult I know!).

5. Keep a Sabbath Day

There are so many activities to get involved in when you move to a new place. It is a great idea to put yourself out there and join groups, clubs, classes, etc. and this is so important to meeting new people and making friends. But it is far too easy to become too busy. We find ourselves running from activity to activity and then our kids are screaming and we look at each other with the expression on our faces that asks, “What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?!” This is when you realize you need a sabbath day. God commanded us to take a day of rest for a reason! Usually we hole up at home, stay in our pajamas, read books, make food, and spend no time cleaning. It’s wonderful and allows us time to reconnect.

6. Visit Parent/Toddler Play Groups

This is a great way to get out of your house and meet people, especially people with whom you have something in common! Kids always help bridge the gap and give us things to talk about. Even before we understood much about the culture here, we were able to laugh with other parents about funny things our kids do. Children speak a universal language! They get a chance to play, and you get a chance to chat with other adults. It’s a win-win situation.

7. Find the Library

We found the library early on during our time in Northern Ireland. Our initial excitement was finding books (we left all ours behind in the move), yay! Our excitement was furthered when we discovered that all the books were printed in the UK, meaning the language was a bit different. These are so fun to read and helped us learn new words and phrases that are used here, but not in the States. Generally, libraries are central meeting places. At the Larne library, there are flyers for knitting clubs, book clubs, concerts, craft and story times, and our kid’s favorite: Rhythm & Rhyme, as well as other events taking place in the community. It also helped us get out of the house and into our community, one of our main goals here.

8. Give Extra Attention

Sometimes our kiddos “act out” during times of cultural transition. We all experience culture shock differently, and kids don’t often know how to express what they’re feeling. Words go out the window, and screams/grunts prevail. It can look like bad behavior, but really they just need some time and assurance that we are there to help them through it. When everything in their life has been upended, they need to be reminded that we are not going anywhere, and that we love them. As parents, we are the constants in their lives and our children need to be sure of that. Acknowledgement of feelings is important with all children and is possibly even MORE important in times of cultural transition. “I know this is hard. I see that you’re sad/confused/frustrated. What do you think we could do differently? Can I help you XYZ? I’m here if you need me!, etc.” Taking extra time for cuddles provides a space for conversation. Think about asking questions that don’t require a yes/no answer. This can give us a good idea of what’s going on in our kids’ heads and what types of things they get “stuck” on or what is hard to deal with.

It is really hard to adjust to a new culture, and can be exhausting when doing it with kids, but it is also so rewarding and satisfying! I hope this gives you some good ideas. Have you lived abroad with your children? What has been helpful for you?

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

Sunday Confessional, 15 November 2015

I confess that I started celebrating Christmas early this year.

I can hear you now, “What about Thanksgiving?”

I know most Americans have a (turkey) bone to pick with people who start Christmas festivities before (they’ve eaten their weight in mashed potatoes at) Thanksgiving, but THERE’S NO THANKSGIVING here in Northern Ireland, so hooray! The Christmas season is upon us!

Advent officially starts on the 29th of November this year, but I’ve already simmered our first batch of chai tea on the stovetop so that means winter is coming. In our house we’ve been listening to Christmas music, making extra treats (healthy of course!), and beginning conversations about advent with our 3 year old. John has even been making little nativity scene people out of empty toilet paper rolls. I think we’ve got a few shepherds so far.

Surprisingly deep questions have surfaced from our 3 year old. I shouldn’t be surprised though; every intelligent and thoughtful human being can ask good questions.

“Is Jesus God? Where is God? Who are the magi? Are they magic? Why are the magi wise? Did Jesus like his presents? Was Jesus a baby like my baby brother? Why was he a baby?”

I love talking about this kind of stuff with Hosea. Sometimes (okay, many times), he drives me bonkers with all the questions he asks. But there is really something wonderful about watching him sort things out in his head and try to understand complex ideas.

I love this “extended” Christmas season as I’ve decided to call it. There is so much expectation in the period leading up to the 25th of December. The feeling of anticipation bubbles up; a baby will be born and he is the Savior of the world! So much joy. So much hope.

I personally know the joy that a baby can bring. I also personally know the joy that Jesus can bring. I hope you’re ready for this advent season to begin in a couple weeks. I know I am.

<3

Peace, love, and chai.