Wednesday, June 19, 2024

“This is the last…”

 “Kids, this is the last _______________________.”

This has been a refrain of ours as we walk our kids (and ourselves!) through these final weeks here in California. 

  • This is the last time eating In-N-Out
  • This is the last day of school here in California for two years
  • This is the last time we’re making bread in our house for awhile
There are plenty of other examples. On one hand, this is tough and sad. On the other hand however, it is freeing as we are creating space for new adventures, a new school (onboard the ship), a new job (volunteer work), and a new rhythm to life. 

As we go through life, it is much easier to hold onto what we have and fear the new or the unknown — sometimes we can be adventurous enough to push through and try. That’s what we’re doing right now. That is, these next two years. There are no promises (“life will be better”, “you will become better”, or “everyone will be happy, healthy, and more mature”). But they are an opportunity. An opportunity for growth, newness, exploration. And risk.

Sometimes a “last” is a disguised door to a “first” or “new”. We can look at these “lasts” with utter sadness and rejection. We could view these “lasts” as opportunities for exploration and ignore the pain. Or we can hold these in tension with mourning and sadness, and also joy with a delight to explore. Health is not one or the other; it is holding both. I hope this encourages you to both step out into something new and also not choke your emotions about what you're leaving behind. It is human to do both.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

There are other people going through this, too

Have you ever noticed when your heart rate is up, you tend to forget about other people? Not their existence, but to think from their perspective. 

Two years ago, a Ukrainian girl joined my daughter's class whose family fled the war and moved around the USA. She was at our school for only one year before moving to an entirely new US city (again). I can't help but think about [name redacted] and how she and her parents had fled their war-torn homeland for a new country in search of safety, hope, and love. I think of her and wonder if she's found acceptance, love, and peace.

When life is calm, slow, and running smoothly, we have the capacity to consider what others are going through: their thoughts and even time and the ability to ask, "How are you? But really, how are you?" Contrast that to our rushing around — when we feel anxious or under a deadline. We narrow our vision and get it done. That focus is good. It creates advancements such as putting a man on the moon or developing the smartphone or planting a tree. However, it costs remembering other people. They have emotions, too — those emotions include anxiety, fear, excitement, wonder, anticipation, and dread. 

  • Will they accept me?
  • (For parents) Will my kids find great friends? Will they be ok? Will they be mad at us for taking them on this journey?
  • (For spouses) Will my spouse find a great like-minded friend?
  • What will ________ be like?
  • Will I regret _______?
We're flying to Texas in July for a month of training and, while some may jokingly consider Texas a foreign country, it is a foreign country to many of the fellow Mercy Ships volunteers who are coming from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, The Congo, Kenya, etc. Differences in culture, currency, weather, language, and time zones — and those are only the surface-level differences. What about the way we demonstrate respect, love, courtesy, and compassion? As we prepare for a three-hour flight, those down under must prepare for nineteen hours of flying. Do they know everyone has the same fears, excitements, worries, and anticipations as we do? Do they feel part of the community, or do they feel fear and loneliness as they are pulling up their long-established roots for a season of serving in Africa?

What would it look like to extend a hand like my daughter did to her Ukrainian friend?

RAFT and more preparations

     At the recommendation of some trusted friends and people from Mercy Ships, Jeff and I recently read a book about Third Culture Kids (TCK). If you aren't familiar with this term, TCK is something that is used to refer to kids who have spent a significant amount of time outside of their birth country/culture and thus don't really feel at home in either that country or the one they are long-term visiting. This could be missionary kids, military kids, or just a kid whose parent took a job for a significant amount of time in another culture. 

    While this book is full of great ideas on helping the kids transition to Mercy Ships, it has been super helpful to apply to both Jeff and my life as well. What we are applying right now is the acronym RAFT.

 

R- Reconciliation: Make amends before you leave. Don't leave any grudges behind. 

A-Affirmation: Say "Thank you" to everyone who has helped you

F-Farewell: Don't duck out in the night. Say a proper goodbye to everyone and every place. 

T-Think Destination: Research and plan for fun once you arrive to make the transition easier


Right now we are sitting with each of these and make sure we do them well. Who do we need to have a heart to heart with? The list of people we could say "Thank you!" to is growing by the day, how do we let them know we feel that sincerely? It is easy to avoid saying goodbye to people as it is so emotional, but we have a list going for us and kids so we don't miss anyone. We also have a list of places to say goodbye to... one last visit to Tango Frozen Yogurt, my favorite breakfast place, the kids favorite park, etc. We are going to the ship, the Canary Islands and then Sierra Leone... how do we research all of those places for ourselves and our kids so we know what to expect?

As Jeff and I think through each of these, we are then applying them to ourselves, to each other, but then each kids individually. And this is where the TCK aspect comes in. How we answer each of those questions above is vastly different for our teenager (how am I old enough to have a teenager?) than for my little bubbly 7 year old. Sure, they are only 5.5 years apart, but at these ages, they are on different planets emotionally. That park that is super important for Sadie to say goodbye to, isn't even on the radar of Lauren.  And while sure, all of parenting and giving each kid individually what they need, they are not cookie cutter children, this season is making those difference more and more obvious. 

Thank you to all of you who are helping us parent well right now. Your conversations with our kiddos do not go unnoticed. These next few weeks are going to be busy, but we want to do them well.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Liturgies, Rhythms, and Habits


Consider.

I (Jeff) have been thinking a lot about the importance of the routines, habits, and patterns that make up our lives. On Mondays, I wake up, get coffee, help the kids get to school (okay, Jackie does 99.999%, but I like to believe I do something. Maybe look pretty?), read, get another cup of coffee, and then open my laptop to work. 

That worked well at home because it is engrained as a rhythm; there’s little weekly variability. However, we’re in the midst of a series of transitions. The month of May will be wrapping up client work, the kids finishing up school, and ending my volunteer activities. June will be a mix of finishing fixing things around the house, moving our material goods into storage, giving much away because we’ve accumulated far too much, and painting, vacuuming, and wondering how long that stain has been there. Then we fly to Texas for four weeks for training for basic training (I get to run through a burning building!) and then onboarding (vision and values). Then we fly to the Canary Islands for 10 days. Then we set sail for five days. Then we arrive in Sierra Leone. Then we get started.

So, transitions. There’s not an awful lot of rhythm in what I just said. It is pattern-breaking. Routines will change like time zones. Heck, my toothbrush will be in different places. It already feels like the metronome continually changes: fast, slow, medium, super fast, back to slow. 

Change is constant.

So that’s led me to think more about liturgies, rhythms, and habits. What morning habits do I want to keep? What weekly rhythms make me a better ___________ [man, father, husband, son, friend…]? Recently, I’ve been reading liturgies. Before, I found them sometimes helpful and somewhat interesting. But in the lane of constant change, I’m looking at liturgies differently. I’m viewing them as a guide and a way to maintain rhythm. To stay healthy. To live well. To foster community. To not take a “break” from doing good.

Some learnings

  • Liturgies are a beautiful way to navigate life’s challenges from the perspective of others who have been there
  • Today’s habits will likely change; don’t hold onto the practices but set up new habits. Savor the process
  • Though a night owl, stress the importance of waking early enough to start these transitional days well
  • In community, build new habits and rhythms
  • Plan now. Jackie and I want to have a weekly family movie night, one dinner per week for just our family, and at dinner, ask each person, “What was a high, a low, and who did you help today?”
But I’m not a unit of one. What about Jackie and the kids? Then, 60+ new Mercy Ships crew members will join in July. And we’re not even to what it’s like being a patient (or hope-to-be-a-patient) of Mercy Ships. 

Application

We all live within habits, rhythms, and liturgies, whether we accept it or not. What are yours? Are they healthy? Are they forming you into a better person (daughter, son, mother, cousin, friend, brother, colleague, boss, student...)? Or are they deforming you? Consider.














Friday, April 26, 2024

The Passage of Time

Time is a unique concept. There's nothing else like it. Tick tock goes the clock.

We have all sorts of terms for it, such as when it goes slow:

  • Hurry up and wait
  • A watched pot never _____ (finish the sentence)
  • It's like watching paint dry
  • Are we there yet? (a personal fave)
And then there are moments when we can't keep up. As if someone just turned up the tempo and we were caught off guard:
  • Time flies
  • Where did the time go..? (as if it's some commodity that we hold in our hands)
  • I'm late! I'm late (said the White Rabbit)
The past two months of preparing, packing, filling out forms, getting all the necessary vaccinations (sometimes four in a day), updating records, and considering what we can bring must fit in two duffel bags, a carry-on bag, and a backpack (per person) is a new exercise. Rumor has it that there's no Amazon two-day shipping.

My youngest once asked me, "Daddy, why can't we go now?" I believe she was dealing with both the excitement of wanting to go and also learning to navigate the liminal space she's in—that we're here but leaving. We're crossing a threshold in the doorway between two very different rooms. 

In other words, time works oddly around our house. As it is, it's shortly after 5AM because I couldn't sleep. But most of our days are sprinkled with "hurry up and wait," such as getting a form or needing to purchase tickets, followed by long periods of preparations (re-painting parts of the house, landscaping, determining the clothes for a hot and very humid life). One of the harder — yet more "goodness" filled — parts have been passing the time with the kids as they grow and mature into older versions of themselves. 

So how do we, as humans, interact with and consider time while in periods of waiting? There are times in our lives when all we do is wait — for that promotion, for our wedding day, for the results to come back from the hospital, the keys to our new home, the birth of our child or grandchild — and gain energy from the eagerness and excitement, or despair and dread if we're worried about it. The words "...but godliness contentment is great gain" come to mind. It is applied to wealth (be content with what you have), but perhaps we can apply it to time, especially considering we treat it as a commodity. 

When we're young, we think we have an endless supply. We see it more as slipping through our hands like water as we age. What if we saw waiting as a gift? As if time were something to be treasured instead of sped up when it would otherwise be an inconvenience? 













Monday, March 11, 2024

New Seasons

Jeff:

A month ago I had a phone call with a good friend of mine. He asked me "What does preparing look like?"

I, too, was also trying to figure out what it meant. This season of life is filled almost entirely with new things — and newness itself. In many ways, it is invigorating. In other ways, I can't imagine having a full-time job (50+ hours a week) and doing all this*. Here is just a smattering of new things to consider:

  • Moving to a new country (Sierra Leone)
  • Replacing and moving the fenceline (Wish we had done this before. SUCH a bigger backyard!)
  • Teaching the kids how to say goodbye well and that we'll be back
  • Learning to do "goodbyes" well (Jeff and Jackie)
  • Trying new foods to learn "that is so weird" vs. "that's different" (rave reviews on Ethiopian food, for the record)
  • Talking about our emotions: eager, overwhelmed, sad, mad, exuberant, wondering ...
  • Renting out the house
  • Preparing the house to be rented
  • Replacing appliances
  • Long-term storage of our material possessions
  • Nearly complete wardrobe change (weather: lows mid-70s, highs 80s-90s with 80-95% humidity year-round)
  • Learning about life on a ship
  • Learning about schooling on a ship
  • Requisite vaccines
Newness is also found in springtime as we see leaves shooting out, buds budding, and allergens — maybe we don't look forward to that part — as this part of the earth warms up to produce a new season. 

An encouragement for you: I don't share these to say "Look at us", but to share a really meaningful conversation. I encourage you that the next time a friend or family member has a big life-changing moment, to sit down and ask them "What does it look like to prepare for your next chapter?"

At the same time, the newness is invigorating and exciting. It's bringing the family closer as we realize we need each other much more than before. Because we haven't traveled this path before, it requires many more conversations, questions, working together, and supporting one another. That has been — and continues to be! — a beautiful bright spot, despite the never-ending to-do list.

This is just our journey — everyone has their own. We're grateful for each of you as you walk with us through these new seasons. As spring comes upon us, enjoy your new season. Find joy, rest, and, perhaps, look to learn or do something new.

*Thankfully, Jeff has a handful of consulting clients and Jackie continues working in physical therapy.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Anatevka

Fiddler on the Roof (1971) - IMDb 

    We have just started the basics of packing. Mostly my china from the dining room hutch and other things we don't use much anyway. Instead of packing it in June, I might as well start now. Nothing major, just some little things. 

    Back in high school I was in musical theatre. My very first production when I got the esteemed title of "villager" was Fiddler on the Roof. At the very end of the show, the whole town is evicted by the evil czar and they sing this dirge of a song called "Anatevka". They look around at all of their stuff "A pot! A pan! A broom! A hat!" and decide who really needs any of this stuff anyway. It's just stuff. It's replaceable and the whole town of Anatevka isn't that great after all. They have each other will be ok with not much else. 

    Every relationship needs a chucker and a hoarder. Jeff is the hoarder and I am the chucker. I throw things away when no one is looking and Jeff keeps everything and is very sentimental. We balance each other and it's a good thing. Well, moving to Africa and knowing we will have crazy small living space has made me want to get rid of even more. I feel like I am leaving Anatevka and looking around at my house going "A pot! A pan!" and feeling good about becoming a minimalist. 

    So in the meantime, if you need a good pan, stop by my house. There is a good chance I'll be giving one away!