Monday, September 17, 2012

Days Like This

Today is one of the days that I am reminded of the challenges of basic life stuff here.  Ezekiel woke up early this morning (which is in no way specific to here, to be fair!).  It took me a few bites of my cereal with the milk I had mixed from powder to stop cringing and settle into the taste.  Then I went in to take a shower, only to discover that the cold water tank was empty, so the toilet wouldn't flush until the tank could get refilled.  Turned out that the cold water wasn't necessary for my shower since the solar panel didn't get much sun yesterday with the rain, so the "hot" water made for a rather jarringly cold shower.  I went down to the one ATM in our area that, theoretically works with our bank card, as we have many purchases to make this week for our home.  One problem after another with the ATM had led to us being down to the last of our Nepali currency.  I stepped into the vestibule to hear the ATM beeping repeatedly, and then, just as I swiped my card, the entire machine went down because of power outages.

It has been raining all day and all night last night, so I probably should have just listened to my instinct to stay home with the boys, but I got all wrapped up in how long of a to-do list we have for the week, so I decided I could/should plow through and make it work.  Despite being in a bit of a low mood already for the morning, I thought I could handle hitting the "grocery" store to get a few food items and the cleaning supplies we need to prepare our new place.  In trying to leave, somehow Isaiah got his zipper jammed on his rain jacket and then pulled the zipper apart, so we left in the full rain without a rain jacket for him.  Ezekiel really wanted to wear rain boots because big brother was wearing rain boots.  Rain boots are so easy to slip on, which is fantastic.  The problem is they also slip off really easily, and I carry Zeke when we walk on the roads here.  So, I was carrying Zeke and the umbrella and trying to get to the chowk (main intersection) to catch a taxi.  We find a taxi to take us, and I set Ezekiel in on the seat...only to see that he only has one boot.  We left a very confused taxi driver and retraced our path back toward the office to find the escaped boot.  Thankfully, our friend Mark saw us, spotted the boot up ahead, and ran to grab it for us.  Get a taxi, take two!  I didn't feel like putting up any fight, so I just agreed to the price the driver said, which was not too bad.

We bought a few rock-hard avocados that were fairly expensive, along with some other produce.  The produce part is on the edge of the store, and you have to then leave that bag with the security guard, and he gives you a number to match your little wooden cubby space.  Sometimes they make me leave my backpack as well in this less than secure little area, but I didn't even pause today to ask.  Zeke was fussy, and it is always a bit of a scavenger hunt trying to find the needed items.  All the cleaning products are different here, so it is a bit hard to figure out what to get.  I chose a few things and a bunch of rags, collected most of the food items I had hoped for, and decided that, in spite of growing fussiness, we would venture up to the next floor to get a few of the needed cleaning items (buckets, mops, scrub brushes, etc.).  (Side note:  all "department" stores here have multiple floors that have to be navigated separately.  You cannot take your items from one floor to another.  You have to pay at each floor and then leave the bags in the aforementioned "secure" cubbies to go up to another floor.  Oh, and there are usually not elevators, which means you can only use a cart on the first floor.)  Ezekiel kicked his resistance into high-gear, going boneless and yelling, so I threw in the towel and headed out of the store.  When we got to the ground floor again, just as Ezekiel was cranking into a full fit for getting his rain jacket and boots on, a friend walked in with her little girl and another mom I just met at the moms' group here.  The other mom gave an empathetic nod and a word of encouragement, and they left me to try to escape the store.  That is when I realized I am a complete crazy person, as I have a toddler fighting me, and I have to reclaim the three heavy and large bags of stuff I have purchased to try to go out into the rain and find a taxi.  Thankfully, the people at Saleways were very gracious to have one of the young guys carry stuff out for me.  I think he assumed the only sane situation was that I had a car parked outside.  When he realized I was looking for a taxi, he offered to go and get one to come get us there.

Ezekiel fell asleep in the car, per usual.  The taxi driver kindly pulled into the office grounds and unloaded my bags onto the office steps.  That's when I realized I didn't have the right change for paying the taxi (a common problem, as taxi drivers rarely have much change with them, so it is important to have smaller bills for paying).  Ezekiel was asleep on my shoulder still.  One of the admin staff from the office said Sushil could help me.  The problem...I don't know who Sushil is, and I have to walk up to the next floor with two kids and into the office where everyone is working and try to figure it out.  Thankfully, John had change, so I took it down to the very patient taxi driver.  Then I trudged with sleeping toddler and preschooler in rain boots to the guest flat...Have I mentioned it's on the 4th floor?  My sweet friend Alana helped me carry the bags up.

Well, this is getting quite long, so I'll just wrap up with the fact that it was a rough morning.  I got Ezekiel settled for nap, Isaiah went with John to eat some lunch up on the roof with the other employees, and I got some lunch from the office kitchen and brought it back here.  There was this tasty soup, and as I sat down in the quiet (unusual right now around here with 9 people staying in this flat together!) with a big cup of hot tea and the tasty hot soup on this rainy day, I started to think about two things:  gratitude and grace.

Gratitude has been a big focal point for me in the recent season of life.  I am thankful to Ann Voskamp and her writing to challenge me to live a life of gratitude, to see God in the small and even difficult moments.  As that became more of a habit for me, and my eyes seemed to be refocused to see differently in the moments of life, I stopped blogging an actual list of "gifts," but today, I feel the need to write out the gifts, as it was the challenges that consumed my focus for much of the day.
*  A place to shower, no matter the temperature
*  Two healthy boys who are adapting remarkably well to this new place
*  A cool job for John, and an amazing team and company for us all to be connected to
*  A place provided for us to stay while we're moving into a place of our own
*  Rain--a tough one for me today, but I know that it means more electricity for us later and is much needed
*  Food cooked every day for lunch by the office cooks and, in particular, hot soup today
*  The kind young man from Saleways who carried our things and went to fetch a taxi in the rain
*  A patient taxi driver to wait while I scurried to find money to pay him
*  Isaiah's cooperation and help at the store and not complaining when we had to leave the store, even though he badly wanted to look around at other things
*  Sweet friends and understanding moms here who I know will not only not judge or be offended by encountering our meltdown this morning but who also understand and encourage
*  My dear friend Alana who is graciously helping me through many details and the process of transitioning to life here
*  Many kind people here at CloudFactory helping us with getting settled here
*  The amazing gift of our new home

The last one (well, I'm quite sure there are many more, but the last one I've listed for today) is related to the other thing that came to my mind--grace.  I have been learning so very much about grace the last few years of my life, and I still have so very much to learn!  One of the things that I struggle with but that God keeps bringing back to me is to accept His good gifts and not try to earn them or feel guilty for having them.  This house that we'll be moving into this weekend is such an amazing gift.  Really, all of the rest of the team here were shocked at it coming up for this price.  We weren't looking for a place like this and had actually started to feel discouraged with the places and prices we were seeing, and then the taxi driver that had been looking for and showing us places led us to this place.  We kept thinking there would be a huge catch or some bizarre deal that would pop up, but it didn't.  There is really no other way to explain it than just a really sweet gift!  But, as we signed and have moved forward, there has been a part of both John and me that we've started to feel guilty.  Living in a place where most have whole families in a fraction of the space and so many live in really poor conditions, it is easy to start to feel guilty about having a nice place.  It triggers in me some thing that feels like I should have nothing and be living in the most intense situation possible.  And, God calls some to do that.  The thing that I've had to come to terms with is that He didn't call me to do that.  I've struggled for a lot of years with feeling like I should do whatever was hardest and most intense for God.  But, I've learned that it really doesn't work out well to do things for God other than what He is asking me to do.  That is religion.  That is idolatry of self really, thinking that I can somehow perform to impress God or others or to earn His favor or something.  That is not grace.

We've been called to work here, in a place that, even in a nice house, has its challenges every day just to do the basics of life, and in the midst of that, God has given us a really beautiful gift to find refuge and refresh to be able to engage those daily challenges.  I don't have to earn it or feel guilty about it.  It's a gift.  I don't have to go chasing extra challenges or trying to be the most hardcore person.  I need to be faithful to what God puts in front of me each day.  There are enough challenges in that!  This morning I didn't do very well with that, but through His GRACE, I'll continue to grow and pray for His eyes to see the little moments here and what it means to live them, abiding in Him, trusting Him, being grateful to Him, and seeking to glorify Him. 

There will be many more days like this, but I pray to face them with more gratitude, and through His grace, I am growing to be more like and for days like this.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Journey

The last several months have been quite an emotional, spiritual, and relational journey, and I hope to write a bit more about that sometime soon, but as often happens to me, I find myself getting behind on what I want to write about, and then I get overwhelmed at where to start, and then I don't start at all.  So, I'm going simply say that it has been a season of a very complex mixture of emotions, and I'm going to jump in on writing about the most recent journey, a literal trip, from our former home in Los Angeles, CA, USA, to Kathmandu, Nepal.

With our entire life boiled down to nine pieces of luggage and our carry-on bags, we walked out of an empty condo in Culver City, accompanied very graciously by three young and beautiful friends, and made our way through LAX.  The airport went quite smoothly, including an unexpected blessing of the airline waiving the fee for our extra piece of luggage (which should have been $150).  In spite of thinking we didn't have seats together, we ended up all together with an extra seat by us, and we were off to cross the ocean.  The first flight was supposed to be about 14 hours.  That is just plain long, but let me just confirm what we feared to be is painfully long with two young kids!  Isaiah had been looking forward to the plane rides (3 in total) for quite some time, as he was promised very little bounds on "media time."  He was all set to watch movies, and that is what he did.  Zeke actually did alright for a bit.  But, a "bit" doesn't make much of a dent in 14 hours!  The lights got turned off for people to sleep at what was about 4:00 p.m. Los Angeles time, so we held off for about an hour, gave both of our kids some benadryl, and were all prepared for a little sleep.  Well, the boys had other plans!  Isaiah wanted to lay on the floor, which seemed like a good idea, until we adjusted his "bed" of blankets and such for the 20th time.  He, thankfully, eventually did fall asleep, though.  Zeke's resistance was much stronger.  Our pediatrician in L.A. has assured me several times that I will someday be very thankful for Z's tenacity.  I'm sure that is true, but the plane ride was not that day.  For about 3 hours (during the dark, intended sleeping time), Zeke staged a revolt with full-tilt screaming and flailing and going boneless.  Yep, we were those people on the plane.  At some point, he finally gave in and slept for a little under 2 hours.  And then again later, took about an hour-long snooze.  Do the math--that is 3 hours out of 14, leaving 11 hours of high-maintenance toddler time with very little energy to match it.  I honestly thought we had made a terrible mistake and that I wasn't even sure if we were really going to make it to Nepal.

Thankfully, that flight eventually ended, and for their sake, I am glad that it didn't seem people from our flight were continuing on with us.  We had a 3 1/2 hour layover in Shanghai.  And, I have to say, that navigating airports in China with kids was shockingly difficult.  You can't take carts here.  You have to go through multiple places to get where you need to go.  You have to pick up strollers at the normal baggage claim (no gate check).  Pretty frustrating.  But, we did kick into celebrity status for the boys.  Two light-haired (and, in my opinion, quite adorable) boys get quite a lot of attention pretty much anywhere in Asia.  The cell phones come out, and the pictures start snapping like the paparazzi have found them.  Zeke loves to say, "Cheese," and Isaiah gives the affectionate big-brother choke-hold/hug and makes a funny face.  Kind of weird knowing there are pics of my kids floating all over Asia.

At our next gate, we met a very nice man from Texas who was going to be on the flight with us to Kunming.  Ezekiel finally passed out again before we got on the flight, which made it a bit difficult getting on the bus to take us from the gate to the plane and then making it up the stairs to the door of the plane, but we were all just glad he was sleeping!  He woke up briefly but then went back to sleep and slept for most of the 2nd flight (about 2 more hours).  We had a whole row to ourselves at the front of the section, which oddly enough was row 31.  Isaiah slept.  We all slept for at least a stretch.  It was beautiful.  That was about the end of the sleeping.  Mind you, we still had much of the trip left before arriving in Kathmandu.

In Kunming, we had to get all of our luggage (9 large pieces!) and check it back in.  The problem, other than navigating four carts of luggage and a double stroller through the airport to a completely different area, is that it was midnight...and the airline counters were closed until morning.  So, we made a little camp with all of our luggage, set up our Peapod tent, and hung out in the Kunming airport for our 9-hour layover!

The last flight!  It was time!  Once we were on, Isaiah protested getting a pull-up on because he was definitely, absolutely, not going to...ZZZZZZ.  Yeah.  We should have just woken him up at that point, but after the length of sleepless travel we'd had, the last thing you want to do is wake up a kid that has fallen asleep.  Zeke took a very brief snooze.  Isaiah woke up a bit delirious.  He kept giggling and giggling, and at some point, he decided he needed to use the bathroom.  So, John took him.  We only have a little over an hour to go.  The finish line is in sight!  But, then I hear John, "Rachel!  I need wipes!"  I will save trying to explain how it happened because we are still not 100% clear on it ourselves, but there was poop.  All over.  On the floor of the plane bathroom.  On the shoes.  On the shorts.  On the kid himself.  There was crying.  So then Zeke decided to join in the crying.  Two hysterical kids and poop all over.  Yep.  We're pretty confident the little slogan on the toothpick wrapper, "You are welcome to travel by our plane," no longer applies to our family after this journey.  Pretty confident we're on a list somewhere.

Since I had not packed an extra pair of pants like I had intended, Isaiah finished the flight and went through customs in Nepal in my Northwestern t-shirt.  As if white kids don't get enough stares from Nepalis, now my son looked like he was wearing a dress.  Thankfully, at that point, he was grinning from ear to ear.  Customs went about as smoothly as Nepali customs can go.  Confusion and waiting but no actual problems.  We somehow managed to get all of our luggage out and into two taxis with our dear friend Alana and the office assistant Arpan helping us.  I was sweaty and completely spent, and a noisy, dusty ride in a taxi dodging vehicles, animals, and pedestrians was not exactly what I was up for, but my boys were giddy taking it all in.  I had to stop and be thankful in the midst of all of the weariness from the trip we had just had and the less than relaxing final trek to our new home in this taxi that, not only did we make it, but my boys were happy.  Isaiah chattered enthusiastically the entire drive, mostly to the taxi driver who didn't understand a word of it.  As strange as it seemed to have just packed up and left the city that had been home to me for 12 years, and as hard as it seemed getting here, we were home.  From home.  To home.  That was our journey.