Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Parenting Reflections, Volume 1

So, the whole time I've been here, I've been talking about blogging about the many thoughts and issues that have come up with parenting in this place and season for me. I figured with less than a week less, perhaps I should actually start on that. There are a ton of different aspects of it that would make it an overwhelmingly long post to write or read, so I'll try to jump in on one thing for now: Control.
For any who know me well, I am a control freak in a long recovery and learning process! From the time I was a kid, I have been a pretty Type A, structured, black and white person who likes my lists and schedules and plans and structures. And, well, let's be honest, control. Even when I took the test from the Now, Discover Your Strengths book, one of my top 3 came back as Control (can't remember how that was framed as a strength exactly, but hopefully, I'll continue to let God redeem it as one). I make light of it sometimes, but it truly has been a challenge for me as an adult to release this.
There have been many seasons and layers of lessons in this arena. Becoming a parent has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest challenges to my "need" for control, as there is so much that is just not able to be controlled and that I have HAD to come face to face with needing to be in someone's control (God) who is far superior to me! So, parenting in general has been a huge challenge in this arena, but coming here to Nepal has taken it to a whole new level!

The first month here Isaiah had some sort of health issue pretty much the whole time. I was wrapping up my first trimester of pregnancy, so I was exhausted regardless of the circumstances. The travel didn't go especially easily getting here with Isaiah's sleep (or lack of), jet lag was rough and moved into a lot of pretty limited sleep nights because of all his health stuff. So, I was feeling completely depleted. And, here was my beloved little boy struggling with one physical malady after another. Now, I know kids get sick anywhere, but the possibilities of what it could be here are pretty scary, AND it was a brand new place where I didn't know how to take care of anything for him. There aren't any 24-hr pharmacies. It's hard to navigate communication and randomness at the pharmacies to even get what you want, and often it's not available here. I didn't even know how to clean stuff here when he was vomiting all over it in the middle of the night! There was no ability to even operate under any slight illusion that I had any control in it all! It was a horrible feeling that I really and truly wrestled through. I felt like I couldn't even figure out how to do the one thing I had set as my role during that time of coming--to take care of my son!

The thing about releasing control is that there is an assumption of it being released TO someone. It isn't like I had a choice to release control in this situation; it wasn't within my grasp. But, what felt perhaps the most difficult of all is that I couldn't see any control in it anywhere. I kept trying to tell myself that God was in control and praying for Him to take care of my little boy. I was trying really hard to trust that, but in the middle of the night one of the nights when Isaiah couldn't stop throwing up, and I was just completely at the end of myself, I have to be honest that I got angry. Really, really honest moment...I thought, God, I know that I need to trust that You are in control and that it never really has been within my control to take care of my son. I know I need to trust that He is and always has been in Your hands. Well, right now, you're doing a pretty crappy job! How am I supposed to feel good about that?! I'm completely at the end of myself, and I am mad that I don't see You here!

I had a pretty dramatic crying jag, followed by being so exhausted that I fell asleep for a bit. In the morning I was reminded of the story of Hagar and Ishmael. When I was younger, my Grandpa and Grandma had this old Bible-story book, and whenever I spent the night there, I got to choose a Bible story to read at breakfast. I always picked that story. I think I really loved the picture in that book for that story, and I can vividly remember it still. It's not a typical kid story to love, I suppose. I think there are a lot of reasons why God may have put that story on my heart as a kid, but one could be for my time as a mom. I turned to it in Genesis and read. Their circumstances were much different obviously. Ishmael was born as a result of Abraham and Sarah's disobedience, and then Hagar was sent away because of Sarah's jealousy. My son is a blessing and a joy, which actually made it seem all the more true that, if God would take care of Ishmael and Hagar, how much more certain that He would be there for my little boy?
In the story, their food and water runs out, they are completely alone, and they are in the desert. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, but that is how I felt. I felt alone and completely stripped of any resources and powerless to do anything but watch my little boy hurting. Hagar went off to weep because she couldn't bear to watch her son die. Then, in Genesis 21:17, it says, "God heard the boy crying..." Even that simple phrase struck me. I didn't see action in the timing I wanted, and it made me feel like God wasn't even paying attention, but it was a reassurance of Him saying to me that He heard my boy crying, too. "...the angel of the God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.' Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink."

Now, I didn't have any wells or instant cures pop up in front of my eyes, but I felt a renewed strength to pick up my little boy and lift Him back up to his source of strength that actually WAS seeing and hearing. It wasn't all smooth from the moment on. Isaiah continued to have some rough stuff for awhile, and he has gotten sick pretty often during our time here. Sometimes I handle it better than others. But, God hears. He sees my little boy and cares for Him, and no matter how hard I want to fight to pretend I'm in control, this place has been a glaring reminder (often in dramatic ways) that I am absolutely NOT. And, I have to trust that God is. Sometimes I see it; sometimes I don't. Sometimes it works out quickly and smoothly, but it has been the most dramatic times when the breakthrough hasn't come right away that I have been stretched and broken and brought to the end of myself in ways that I have not been before. It sucks, let's be honest, but it is necessary. I can't say that I trust God to take care of my son or to be in control in His life if I'm, even subconsciously, still holding on as if his life or wellbeing is within my control. It's subtle at times when things are easy or get resolved quickly, but in those times of greater intensity, I realize how much I have operated as if I am the one running the show.

There is much theology wrapped up in a lot of this that I could go into at great depths, but I will say just briefly that I believe deep in my heart (though it is a tremendous challenge to cling to at times) that God is both completely good and loving and also in ultimate control. I praise Him that Isaiah, though it's been rough, is in no lasting danger, and I have gotten to see God's protection over Him, even if not in my timing. So, it may seem easy at this end of things to once again say that I believe God is in control, but it really did come in the middle of things being rough. It wasn't about me learning a lesson from it. Vineyard theology of the "already and not yet" kingdom of God has been incredibly freeing and amazing and challenging and challenging to me in the past couple of years. If anyone happens to read this and wants to dig into that more, I highly recommend Derek Morphew's book Breakthrough. I had actually read it before Isaiah was born, but as we all know, sometimes things we've learned go out the window when we are experiencing something hard! Anyway, I believe that there is a very real battle in the spiritual realm, and a blog for another day is the ways I have seen that so much more vividly here, but in the midst of the battle, even that seemingly simple affirmation that God hears shook me and released something in me. I don't get to control the way God is in control of things! I have seen all the more the need to battle for my son in prayer, but I have been stripped to a painfully good place from my illusions of control in his life. It's not all gone forever, but I pray that the Lord will keep me in that state of admitting my lack of control and relying on Him in the life of my family! May He make it something beautiful in my life and theirs!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mixed Emotions

Our time is quickly drawing to a close here in Nepal, and I have found myself experiencing quite a mix of emotions. There are so many thoughts and feelings to sort through, and let's be honest, pregnancy is not the time of utmost clarity to sort through those things!
I'm sure there will much to reflect on and continue to process as we return to the States. Perhaps the single biggest thing is that we don't know whether we will be coming back to Nepal. So, there is still an uncertainty in what is ahead for us. I had felt quite anxious recently about the lack of clarity in that, but I have felt more peace lately and have realized that we don't have to have it all clear and settled yet. What we do know is that we will be returning to Los Angeles in a couple weeks and will be there until at least a couple months after the baby is due, which means we wouldn't be making any big moves before summer anyway. That gives us time that we probably really need to both process our time here and also just see how life back in Los Angeles would fit for us after this season. I just need to learn to live more patiently and graciously in the times of life that aren't so clear (which seems to be a large majority of it!). That is a challenge for me. I like lists and plans and calendars and black and white answers!
We have definitely learned some things about ourselves in this season (which is probably a long post unto itself), and that helps as we move ahead, though there is still much to process about what really God has crafted us uniquely for. I don't believe there is necessarily a concrete definite singular job/location/vocation God has for us, but I long to connect more of the pieces of our hearts and gifts with some vision of how we can uniquely be part of God's kingdom work.

Stepping back again from the big picture, there are a lot of thoughts and feelings to sort through about our time here. Even the length of time itself has been hard to wrap my brain around at times. In some ways, it feels like we just got here and time has flown by and there has hardly been enough time. In other ways, I feel like we have been gone for such a long time and been away for so much of life with those who are very precious to us.

I am feeling so excited to be back home in Los Angeles and to see family and friends and do (and eat!) things we've missed. But, I also have felt surprised recently that I am feeling sad to leave here. Again, the pregnancy hormones don't help this, but one day, I can hardly bear the thought of leaving Los Angeles more long-term, and then the next day, I feel saddened by the thought of letting go of life here and its possibilities. Ups and downs and all kinds of sideways!
Life here has certainly not been easy. I had a hard time at first here. To be honest, I was fairly miserable the first month. And, as my pregnancy progresses, I have to admit that life here is just not comfortable. I am not sure life anywhere is all that comfortable in the last trimester of pregnancy, but there are definitely extra challenges and drains to life here.
Yet, I have tried to jump in and invest in making life a joy here. And it has ended up being a joy. I mean, certainly not all fun and games. But, I have made myself at home here to a certain degree. We are approaching the time of saying goodbyes to people and even places and things that have been such a blessing (or some at least a source of amusement or adventure). The only way to avoid goodbyes being difficult is to avoid investing at all, and that is no way to live, but it certainly is more difficult to invest myself in a place and relationships that may only be for this short season. It was critical, however, in figuring out whether life would fit here (or anywhere) for me.
I have always been a very independent person, and I have known for quite some time that I am significantly an introvert. With those two things, along with probably broken ways we process some of life, I have often not realized the impact of relationships in my life. I have realized over the years, and again to a deeper level here, that I don't enjoy doing life alone. I don't need hoards of friends or tons of social connections; in fact, I get burned out quickly in that. But, I long to share life with a few people closely and intimately. I am so thankful for John, but there is also a deep need I have for female friends to really "do life" with. I had a few friends I have made here over today for a little Christmas fun time with our kids, and as I realized I feel sad to leave them. Certainly, none of these friendships has grown to the depth I would long for, but it has been an encouragement to me that, even in this short season, God has provided glimpses of that for me here. It reminds me that He has always provided for me in this area in the past. Sure, I have gone through times in a new place or a new phase or in saying goodbyes to friends moving on that have been hard and felt the absense of that in my life, but within the broader scope of each season of life, I realize how incredibly blessed I have been with deep friendships and even mentors with whom to share and connect life! Undoubtedly, the most difficult thing for me in leaving Los Angeles, even for a season, was leaving some of the most amazing and precious relationships I have experienced in life. Sharing life in parenting has been a whole new level of connecting our lives, and I am so very grateful for those the Lord has provided for me in this. And, while, even now, my eyes are welling up at the thought of leaving those for a longer time, I have also come to feel the Lord showing me how He has provided something beautiful and amazing that will be a lasting connection and blessing even if not in the same location and that He will provide for me in this wherever I am. It may take a hard season of sowing and seeking that out, and it may end with some tearing again at the end of another life season, but it has been a reminder to me of His incredible provision, as I look back at how He has provided for me in this, long before I even knew or could admit that I needed it.

On perhaps a less deep level, I am both looking forward to and dreading some of the comforts of life. I surely miss the ease of life at times, and yet, sometimes lately, I feel like life will seem quite dull in a place that is easier, and I fear slipping too easily back into being "comfortable" with life. I don't want to just remember to be thankful for what we have; I want to not just go back to having all the stuff and comforts we have. It would be easy to go to an extreme that could never be long-lasting, and I don't want to be foolish about denying what makes life work in a place, but I don't want to just slip back into patterns of what is "easy" without being intentional about what is good!

Well, I can feel myself wearing out for the evening. It was a good day of having friends over, but as I often do, I underestimated the energy involved in getting ready and preparing things the way I hoped to, so I am rather wiped out tonight, especially since Isaiah couldn't calm down for a nap today! There is much more to say/write and process in all of this, but I think I am done for tonight.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random Thoughts

Seriously, this is a random connection of things tonight...

Isaiah has not been sleeping well at night again. Every time he gets sick (which has been often here) he goes through a stretch of readjusting his nighttime sleep to normal after he's feeling better. It doesn't leave much time of normal sleep until it seems a new bug of some sort hits, and we start over. Plus, it is getting cold at night. There isn't any heat inside, so it makes nights pretty chilly in the apartment. Isaiah is a little wiggle worm still, so it is hard to keep him covered up well. We layer pajamas and try to tuck him in, but his room is the coldest in the apartment because it's on a corner. We're hesitant to buy too much stuff that we don't know will help with only a few weeks left, but last night, we broke down, and John went and bought a big fuzzy (and pretty darn ugly) blanket for him. He insists on pushing his sleeves up, though, and he doesn't want his arms under the covers. He does frequently sleep with penguin (who smells horrible!) covering his face. Don't know how he stands the smell, but perhaps it helps keep him warm?

Isaiah and I went this morning to a big play place they have at a new mall being built in Kathmandu. One of the other moms I know had told us about it. She was talking about telling a taxi how to get there, but of course, being a determined frugal mom, I decided to take the microbus. It lets out right by the mall! Granted, you have to cram in with a LOT of other people, make a bunch of stops on the way, and then cross some chaotic traffic from the stop, but hey, it's only 15 rupees! :)
The play place was great! They had little rides, so Isaiah got to ride a train and a little helicopter ferris wheel thing. I yelled at a couple kids at the ferris wheel. Isaiah was waiting for his turn. That's not really something that is part of the culture here--waiting your turn. And lines...forget it! I know that, and I should probably roll with it a lot better than I do, but there is some sense of what feels fair (not to mention considerate) that just rises up in me every time I am waiting for something and someone shoves in front of me. This time, I was waiting with Isaiah, and a group of kids came barreling through and just about trampled him in the process of pushing past him to the ride. I lost it a bit, unfortunately. Culturally insensitive probably, but is it really just my Western cultural indoctrination that thinks it isn't ok to just roll right over a little kid to get something you want?
Anyway, other than that, the play place was really fun! There was a nice ball pit with slides into it and tons of stuff to climb on and space to run around. There were tons of things that wouldn't meet safety standards anywhere in the U.S., which always makes me laugh. But, it also made me think and wonder about the extremes we've gone to with all of the safety standards and liability issues and all. Now, there are ridiculous death traps all over the place here passed off as kids' play areas, but this one had stuff that kids could definitely get hurt on but really nothing serious, I think. I remember a ton of fun stuff that we used to play on and do in gym class and whatnot as a kid that would never be allowed now in the States. There were injuries, but I think there is a certain extent to which exploring your world and learning what is safe and what isn't and having some bumps and bruises along the way is a reasonable, probably even healthy part of childhood. I wonder if we're padding and cushioning our kids to the point that they become reliant on something external to always protect them from harm and know where the limits and boundaries are and never have to learn for themselves how to just make reasonable choices.

The mall itself made me laugh a bit. They are clearly trying to make a very modern, Western-looking mall. There are escalators and glass elevators (which seem interesting choices for a country that has electricity issues). Even the outside is clearly being laid with tiles and glass to look very hip and "nice." But, in the middle of it is some guy with a broken pile of bricks hacking at a big piece of something with a little handsaw and another guy climbing a rickety ladder to do some cobbled-up wiring. It's kind of a funny scene of bizarre juxtapositions.

We ate lunch in the food court, and Isaiah was excited when I told him he could get a cheeseburger. There were veggie burgers, buff burgers, and "hamburgers" on the menu. I assumed (apparently incorrectly) that hamburgers would be beef. It was a bit disappointing to end up with a giant veggie burger. Now, I like veggie burgers, but don't think nice smooth Boca or something akin to that. Think big hunks of chewy unidentifiable veggies stuck together somehow. It doesn't taste that bad, but the texture is unpleasant and particularly hard for a toddler to chew through, and it was a bit of a letdown when we thought we were getting a "real" burger. I told Isaiah we can go to In'N'Out when we get back, eat cheeseburgers and watch the planes. I told him Grandpa and Grandma would probably enjoy going with us since they'll be visiting us soon after we're back. He said, "Grandpa, Grandma, veggie burgers no like." He's probably right! :)

It was a fun outing, though I'm not sure if it's worth the traffic and effort of getting there. Kathmandu traffic is not pleasant. No traffic is pleasant. But there is something about sitting in a crammed microbus with the nasty emissions and dust that adds a little layer to the experience.

I am teaching Muna how to make some Western dishes before I go. Yesterday we made chocolate peanut butter squares! She is quite shy about things sometimes, so I can't tell if she thinks it's fun or not. I think she likes learning new recipes, though. One more proof of her superhuman status yesterday was when we were melting the chocolate chips. I had them in a metal bowl set on top of a saucepan with water in it on the burning. So, the metal bowl is not directly on the heat source, but it is a METAL bowl that is melting chocolate. I was starting to stir it, and she was going to take over doing it. I handed her the potholder. She shook her head and just grabbed the bowl and held on to it the whole time she was stirring! Seriously! Super human.

This afternoon, as I was cooking for a potluck we were going to, I had some Christmas music playing on the iPod. There are few things that, after 15 years since she passed, still make me miss my grandma the way that Christmas music and decorations and such do. She loved Christmas, and she made it so special for all of us! I grew up Mennonite, and to be a "good" Mennonite, you should be very simple and very frugal and very plain. My grandmother did not grow up Mennonite; she married into it. There were a lot of things that were hard for her about it, but that was one of them. Christmas was the one time of year it seemed acceptable to be festive and a little extravagant. Actually, I don't even know if it was that acceptable or if she just didn't care, and that was her one time she was going to do it anyway! Either way, it always made Christmas feel extra special because it was so distinctly different and because she just seemed to delight in it!
I love Christmas, too. I love decorating and all the special foods and traditions. (John is less fond of some of my traditions, namely the Alabama Christmas album!) It's fun to think of new traditions to start with our kids, too. I made (with much help from my parents on their last visit) a Jesse tree to do this year, and we started it today. I'm going to try to teach Muna how to make some Christmas cookies next week, and we're going to have a little Christmas fun time with some of Isaiah and my friends next week. I haven't used the iPod much since we've been here, but I can't resist playing Christmas music any chance I get. The whole season makes me sappy. That could also be the pregnancy hormones. :)

Well, that is probably enough randomness for tonight. Perhaps a more focused post soon.