Monday, August 18, 2014

First Day of School in Borneo

I pack Evan’s backpack and hope I remembered everything on the list. This week is my firstborn son’s very first day of school in a two-room schoolhouse on our small island in Indonesia. And I’d hate for my baby to not have his pencil box.

Find out more about what Evan's school is like in my guest post at MAF's blog site here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

12 Tips for Surviving Transitions

I know how to move. (Unfortunately, not the dancing kind.)

I’ve made 15 major moves in my life, 8 of those times as a kid, once to bush Alaska, twice within Indonesia. I’ve gone through other major transitions, too. I’ve had three kids in Singapore, then returned home to Indonesia two weeks later, each time having to adjust to life with a new baby. 

I’ve made two several-month visits to the States from Indonesia, traveling from Alaska to Idaho to Texas to Colorado to Missouri to Indiana. And living in Indonesia, I’ve seen a couple dozen expat families move here and leave from here.

I may not be able to tell you where I’m from, but I can tell you a thing or two about how to survive transitions. And I can tell you that though I’ve done it my whole life, it breaks my heart every time I have to say goodbye.

So today I’m going to focus on the heart stuff during a transition, and how to cope with all the change.

1.       Transitions are a process, not an event.

Sometimes it’s filled with the events—the goodbyes, the traveling, the selling and buying, the first day, etc. But the real transitions happen little by little, over time. You’re not going to plop down into a new place and love it on day one, or week one, or even month one. Sometimes it will be fun, sometimes you’ll hate it. Sometimes you’ll feel sad to what you’ve lost (and you must allow yourself to grieve) and some days, you’ll be giddy with all the new possibilities. Give yourself and your family time to adjust and know that various stages of acceptance take different people different lengths of time.

2.       Your house (and stuff) do not make a home.

When you put stuff in boxes and moving trucks and suitcases and crates, you end up with broken stuff, missing stuff, stolen stuff. And when you move overseas, especially, you might find a hard time finding stuff you like, quality stuff, stuff that creates the home you always pictured. It’s natural to want to create a haven in your house, but it’s also tempting, especially in this Pinterest, DIY world, to become obsessed with how things look. Don’t forget that the beauty of a real home  is made by the love of the people inside of it—no matter the chipping paint on the walls or the geckos in the cupboards.

3.       Treat this as an adventure.

In other words, when things aren’t easy or comfortable or expected, look for the humor, the fun, the adventure, the lessons, the growth.

4.       A life in transition looks very different than a settled life. Don’t expect too much too soon.

If you’re joining a team of people who are settled, don’t look at their homes, their productivity at work, their relationships in the community, their kids, their language ability (if you’re overseas), their knowledge, and their stress levels and try to match yours with theirs. They may have spent years getting to the point where they are. And remember, they’ve probably been where you are, too. They can be a great source of wisdom and help on how to deal with where you are now.

5.       Don’t hate the hard stuff—let it grow you.

It’s easy to want to hide from the hard stuff, run from it, be angry about it, try to change it, resent it, and complain about it. But it’s better if you let it grow you, change you, make you stronger, even make you weaker. Not only will your attitude be better, you’ll learn some amazing things about the situation you are in, and about you strong you really are.

6.       Be ready to change—it’s the real treasure of any transition.

You can’t move well, or make a transition well, if you aren’t willing to change. Places and people and cultures and jobs and houses and situations are different. If you dig in your heels about how you view the world, you’ll just get stuck.

7.       Every place has hard things and good things (even the home you just left and miss terribly).

There is tremendous loss in transition, but there is gain in that loss. It’s easy to look back at the last home or job or friendships and remember only the good things. It’s easy to look at a new situation and only see the challenges. But if you embrace the reality that you’ll always encounter a mixture of both good and bad, frustrating and encouraging, stressful and fun, you’ll be able to handle them better.

8.       There are amazing friendships to be had in your new home or situation.

I know you miss your friends. And your old neighborhood. And your favorite barista. And your mom.  I do, too. But believe me, there are people you can grow to love anywhere and everywhere. Since I’ve spent most of my life leaving friends and finding new ones, I can promise you that you won’t be lonely forever, that if you open yourself up to new people, you’ll soon find friends you never want to lose (and who you would never have known if you hadn’t made this change).

9.       Don’t let your house become your cage. Get involved.

It’s easy to hunker down in a new place or situation. But the sooner you can get out of your house, out of your comfort zone, out of your expectations, the sooner you’ll find good things in your new home. Ask the locals questions about what their life is like. Find a way to volunteer. Visit a neighbor. Join a club or a church. Try a new restaurant. Make the choice to really live where you are.

10.   Be afraid BUT be brave, too.

Transitions are really scary. You may cry a lot. You might be angry. You’ll certainly be overwhelmed…often. But don’t want until you’re no longer scared of the new situation to get out there and figure out life. While you’re afraid, be brave, too. Do the things you don’t think you can do. Introduce yourself to the people who look scary (they might just be scared, too.) And let yourself get a little lost…it’s amazing what you might find out about your new world and yourself.

11.   Expect the unexpected.

You might have spent months planning for this transition. You’ve read books and blogs and packing lists. You’ve been through training and talked with people who’ve gone through it. You’ve sold your stuff and bought new stuff. And you think you’re as ready as you can ever be. Now, take all your plans and your ideas and your expectations and pack them away in some box that you promise not to open for at least a year after you’ve made your transition. 

Those things usually hurt you more than help you. Be ready for anything—both the good and the bad. If you’ve been told you’re moving to a place where there is absolutely nothing to do for fun, you may spend the first couple of years blind to the things that ARE really nice about your new home. On the other hand, if you expect to have a certain kind of house or a certain kind of food item available, you may just end up being disappointed. Better to go in expecting the unexpected and be pleasantly surprised.

12.   Remember why you did this.

Whether it’s a new baby that’s changing your life, or a ministry you chose overseas, or a move to follow a job you or your spouse loves, remember why you made this decision. Remember your real purpose, your goals, the things you want out of this. Remember that you want to be a mom, that you want to serve those in need, you want to expand your abilities, you want to go to college, you want your spouse to enjoy his or her job. So as long as those things continue to be true, then the things you don’t want can be counted as simply the cost for the the dream.

Monday, April 28, 2014


I shouldn’t still be here in Indonesia.

It’s been eight years on the same narrow street on the same tiny island. And I just can’t believe it.

That’s twice as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere in my whole life.

Find out more at MAF's blog site where I'm guest posting today.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What it's Really Like Living Overseas

 I had slept for only two hours in two days. We’d just flown from Colorado to our home in Indonesia, with our three small kids.

So that January day as we drove from the airport to our home that we hadn’t seen in eight months, I turned to my husband, Brad, and said, “Look at all those trees they’ve planted since we left.”

“Um, no,” Brad said. “Those were always here."

Oh, yeah. This town does, after all, sit on the edge of one of the world’s largest rainforests.

Besides being very green, my world here in Indonesia is pretty small. The island where I live is only about nine miles by 13 miles in size. And as a mama to three little kids and with no roads off the island, I don’t get out of here much.

So, when I get asked, “What’s Indonesia really like?” I have a hard time answering.

So, I’m taking advantage of the somewhat fresh eyes I have after my time away to tell you.

I sit here in week one of returning to Indonesia. I am busy cleaning out the shrew droppings and the cobwebs and taking stock of what’s moldy and what’s broken in the Indonesian house we rent. I have lots of errands to do…police station to renew my license, grocery store to get all those raw ingredients for making yogurt and bread and granola and pickles (actually I visit three tiny stores to get everything I need).

I’m surprised at some things…that I can remember the language, and can remember to drive on the left side of the road.

But I’m not surprised at how much I still dread those power outages that can last for hours. And those long lines at the gas station—how will I keep my kids quiet for the hour that it will take to wait to fill up the car?

But overall, it all feels very exciting and adventurous to be back. My birds of paradise plants are thriving in my backyard. I get to eat fresh pineapple almost every day. I get to catch up with all my friends.

But then I learn that my Indonesian neighbor just lost her 20-year-old son.  I visit her and listen to her story as her son’s body lays there in his simple open coffin in their tiny front room. He was healthy until one day he started vomiting and coughing. My neighbor took him to a local hospital and he was dead by the next morning. She thinks it was because they gave him a blood transfusion of the wrong blood type. The doctor never explained what he was sick with or why he died.

And I am mad and heartbroken and then I remember what it’s really like here.

It’s a lot of things. Hard. Poor. Confusing. Exciting. Mundane. Dirty. Smelly. Beautiful. Friendly. Exhausting. Hot. Hospitable. Fun. Boring. Adventurous. Scary.

It’s home, but it’s also foreign. It’s where I want to be, but sometimes, on the really hard days, it’s where I want to flee.

But as I think about my friend’s son and about the mistakes made, I think, too about my own kids. I think about the times they’ve been sick and the choices we have and don’t have. I think of all the bad things that could happen to them and to me and to my husband and my friends. And it helps me come up with a word that best explains what it’s really like living here.

It’s personal.  

This is where I spent half of my 20s and now half of my 30s and almost two-thirds of my marriage.

It’s where I first became a mom and where my kids’ first steps were taken and where I wonder if I can even do this motherhood thing right.

It’s where I’ve made lifelong friends with people from everywhere and where I’ve lost some of them and where I meet new ones all the time.

It’s where I sit with my insecurities and my growth and my homesickness and my deep sense of purpose and my fears and my mama-bear courage.

It’s where I bake lumpy bread that my family still devours and where I forget about the  yogurt I’m making until it’s long ruined and where I have a pile of dirty cloth diapers to clean.

It’s where I’ve learned about the hearts of these dear Borneo peoples and yet still don’t understand why the bad things happen or how to fix it all.

It’s where death feels way too close and life is so intoxicating and love is sacrificial.

It’s where I live and breathe and sometimes feel like I can’t catch my breath.

And in many ways it’s not so different from your world wherever that may be. There are things you like. And don’t like. People who make you feel great about life and people who break your heart. There are kids to raise and sleep to long for and dreams that are shelved and dreams that are happening right now.

But here we are in the midst of the hard things and good things, the doubts and the faith, the lush trees and the drab winter. Living.

One deeply personal moment at a time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I am not enough

My friend looks like a skeleton, like she’s barely alive. And it’s true, in so many ways.

My Indonesian friend may have Parkinson’s which makes her look like she’s 100, though she might be just 60 or so.  On this tiny island with limited health care, she’s never been diagnosed, probably never will be.

She sees me and my three kids and calls out to me while we’re still on the road. I can’t hear her words, of course. Her voice is weak. Her body hunched and sitting in the same hard-backed chair in which she is always sitting.

I’m relieved.

This is the first time I’ve seen her since my eight-month visit to the States. And I was worried before I left that she wouldn’t make it, that our goodbye then was final. But my relief quickly turns into concern. From her increasingly skinny frame and her tired eyes, it looks like she just barely is. Just barely lives.

The first thing out of her mouth is an apology for her smell, for not having showered yet that day. Every day, she has to wait for her daughter--who just got home from work when I arrived--to carry her and bathe her and I just can’t imagine.

I tell her not to worry. Tell her that I’m all sweaty from the walk up her road in the heat of this tropical day. That I smell too.

Then she asks me if I’m real. If I’m really there. And when did I return to Indonesia? And why was I away so long? She tells me I’m her only friend. That no one else visits her. She is crying. And I guess I should be honored.

But I’m not. I’m mainly just sad.

Because I know I am not enough.

She says she aches and so I rub her bony shoulder. Her hands rest on her legs, the disease pressing her hand into a fist that I haven’t seen unfolded in years. She tells me that now that I’m back, I can massage her all the time and maybe she’ll get better.

I know it’s not true. That even if I was there 24-7, which just isn’t possible, that it wouldn’t heal her from all that makes her sick.

I know I’m not enough.

I try to unfold her fingers, to rub her hands, and it’s hard and I worry that I’m hurting her. And then I do smell her. That sweaty, clenched hand that never gets clean. And in the heat of the day, it reeks and soon my own hands reek and I fight the nausea.

We chat about my kids and her grandkids who are playing all around us. Sometimes it’s awkward and sometimes we're interrupted by a child or a neighbor or a motorbike roaring by. Sometimes my friend and I go deeper about stuff I won’t share here. And sometimes she reminds me of my grandma back in the States, the one with Alzeimer's, the one I may never see again because I am here. But soon it’s time for me to get home and finish dinner and I tell her I’ll be back in a week.

“Tomorrow?” she begs. “Why not tomorrow?”

I don’t explain to her that many days my other responsibilities and my life as a mom of young kids is so busy I feel like I’m drowning. That I’ve learned after nine years in Indonesia that I have to pace myself, that I have to leave some margin.  

That every day, I see needs and even when I respond in the tiny ways that I can, people still hurt. People still die. People still need.

That no matter what I do or how hard I try or what I’ve sacrificed to be here, I’m just not enough.

I don’t tell her that this gap between the needs I see and the small, mistakes-filled things I do is one of the hardest things I face here. That I fight guilt and inadequacy and exhaustion when I listen to the lie that maybe I could fix everything if I could just figure out how.

And with a few of her family members around, the time is not right for me to tell her again what I’ve told her dozens of times. What I tell myself almost every day. What I must remind myself so that I can live.

That I am not enough. That what I do will never be enough. Not for their sake. Not for mine.

That I, too, would be dying in so many ways without Him. That I, too, would struggle with the guilt from a lifetime of broken relationships and regrets if it weren't for Him.

That what she most needs deep down is something that no human-sized good work--hers or mine--can fill.

That though I can’t always be there with her all the time, I pray to Him for her, trust Him to watch over her. That it is Him who is Everything and who loves me and that love is so consuming that it covers all my own messiness, my stench, turns all this into beauty, and into joy, if I let it. That anything I do right or say right is not me. But Him through me.

That I don't have to carry her burdens, my burdens, your burdens because He already has.

That though I am not enough, never will be, I hope to be back again to visit her next week, to offer for the one-hundredth time, One who is.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

25 Tips on Flying Internationally with Little Kids

I now measure my worst nights of sleep against nights spent on airplanes.

As in, “I’ve been up off and on all night with my sick baby, but at least I’m not on a 12-hour flight across the Pacific, followed by a brief layover in Tokyo and then another 6-hour flight and then a 3-hour and then 1-hour flight, holding one or two of my tired, thrashing, crying kids in a tiny airplane seat wondering if we’ve crossed the international dateline yet so I can forever forget that day.”

Since moving to Indonesia nine years ago, I’ve crossed the globe several times from the States to Indonesia with some combination of my now three kids. Not to mention the flights within the States (including from the mainland to Alaska and the mainland to Hawaii), or throughout Indonesia,  or with my newborns from Singapore to Indonesia.

But this weekend I've got my growing list of tips from friends and from hard-learned experience to help me make the trip from the States back to Indonesia.



   1.       Bring new toys and maybe even wrap them. Then pull them out at regular intervals along the way for fun surprises.

   2.       Let the older kids carry or roll their own small backpacks.

   3.      Pack enough for the trip (enough diapers, changes of clothes, a couple extra blankets,  some new toys and few snacks) but try not to over-do it because you will have to carry and keep track of all your carry-on stuff and your kids.

   4.       Bring a few kid-carrying options, especially for the little ones. Like a sling (light and very packable) for that sleeping baby that you don’t want to wake as you walk through customs; or a front baby carrier for hands-free handing over of passports and that very light umbrella stroller can give that toddler a place to doze during layovers.

   5.       Double check with the airline to make sure your family is seated as close together as possible. You don’t want your 3-year-old sitting all by himself several rows back, or you with the baby while hubby and older kid are on the other side of the plane.

   6.       On those long journeys, put your kids in their pajamas when it's an appropriate time to "go to bed," give them their favorite stuffed animal or blanket and get them set up in a sleep spot. Then sleep when they sleep, even if you’re really excited about the movie you’re trying to watch. You don’t know how long they’ll sleep or what is ahead. Get your rest when you can.

   7.       Consider asking the airline for bulkhead seating to allow your children a little more area to play.

   8.       Walk the aisles. With the crying baby, with the restless toddler.

   9.       Pick your battles. I find my kids don’t like to eat much on those long airplane rides. They’re usually more tired than hungry. I don’t force them to eat at the expense of them feeling content or rested.
   10.   Bring a few favorite, familiar snacks for the kids, but focus on more of the packaged kinds—crackers, goldfish, etc. You usually can’t bring fresh fruits, cheeses and meats through customs. You might be able to bring packaged pureed baby food (applesauce, etc.) through customs if you ask real nice (but it might still end up in the trash.)

   11.   Bring their favorite sippy cups, full of water, as many airports will allow you to take those through security these days. It’s nice to have a drink all ready to go for them when the plane takes off and ears start hurting with the pressure.

   12.   Bring a few extra changes of clothes for yourself, just in case there are accidents or sick kids.
   13.   A week or so before your trip, avoid interactions with sick people or big groups of people (like nurseries, play groups). Bouts of sickness on those long flights makes the trip much more grueling.

   14.   Give your kids vitamin C drinks (or eat more Vitamin C rich food) every day for several days before your trips to boost their immune system and help to prevent sicknesses on the flight.

   15.   Let your kids (and you) have the time to recover from jet lag. Don’t plan much for those days before and after your trip to allow for some extra rest time. And be patient with your kids as it will likely take several days for them to make the time switch in their new place.

   16.   Know that whatever you bring on the airplane could get lost under a seat. So, if your kid needs his special blanket or stuffed animal, make sure you don’t leave it behind on the last airplane or have a replacement on hand.

   17.   Book a room in the hotel for those layovers lasting more than four or five hours. Consider routing your layovers through airports that have hotels right in the airport. Many of those airport hotels allow you to rent a simple room for short periods, like for six hours, which could give your family a chance to catch up on sleep. Request a crib or extra beds ahead of time if you need them.

   18.   Use your technology…whether it’s the individual in-flight movies on bigger airplanes, or your tablet or computer or portable DVD player, let your children watch or play games.

   19.   Have a friend or niece or sibling or parent that could join you for the trip? Consider bringing along a helper, even if you’re also traveling with your spouse. The more adults to help with the kids, the better. 

   20.   Talk with your spouse or traveling helper ahead of time about responsibilities. Consider dividing children or tasks. Like maybe you primarily take care of the baby, while hubby takes the 3-year-old and 5-year-old. But also include the option of switching it up to give your other kids some mommy time and give yourself a break from the baby.

   21.   Check the baggage allowances for each of the airlines you take. Even if your international flight gives you two checked 50-pound bags a person, the domestic airline you take once you arrive in a country may only give you one free 20-kilogram bag.
   22.   Keep all your important papers, documents, passports, etc. in a sealable plastic folder of some sort for easy access.
   23.   Don’t let your kids see your fear. Ahead of time, play up the trip as the adventure that it is. Make every part of the journey sound special and fun—airplane movies, special foods on their own tray, a new airport with fun moving sidewalks, etc.

   24.   Ignore the looks. As you’re walking your crying baby up and down the aisles, don’t worry what the other passengers are thinking. I’ve found most other travelers are gracious—either they’ve been where you are, or they’re just glad that they aren’t. But even if they give you a dirty look or make a comment, your job isn’t to please them anyway. It’s to get your kids and yourself through the flight.

   25.   Once you have your trip planned and your bags packed, try not to think about the journey ahead no matter how worried you are about it. Get your rest. Enjoy the place you are. Say your goodbyes as well as you can.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Going Back

“Do you want to go back?” The woman asked as she held one of my Mom’s peanut butter brownies in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. And she wasn’t even sweating.

Neither was I.

We were standing in my parents’ cozy family room on a cool Colorado summer evening, talking about our life and work in Indonesia, which felt really far away right then.

Just two months into a seven-month stay in the States, I was still getting used to the fact that I could put makeup on in the morning and it wouldn’t drip off my face in tropical sweat an hour later. And that I had choices of how to do my hair—curled, straightened, scrunched. Instead of the usual choice I had in Indonesia—frizzy.

I was getting used to pizza delivery and hubby’s availability to get up with the baby in the middle of the night and no fears of break-ins or airplane crashes or cobras.

And I was getting used to being honest about how exhausted I really was.

“Um, today? Do I want to go back? Maybe not today,” I said to the woman with a smile and a laugh to cover my almost-truthful answer.

I had just met this woman, after all, though she and her husband had been making donations to our work with MAF for the past few months. But maybe it was my dark eye circles from caring for still-jet-lagged kids all throughout the night, or maybe it was her own fears she’d admitted about ever doing what we’re doing. But most likely, it was the panic I knew I couldn’t keep out of my eyes.

She raised an eyebrow, looked me over and nodded. She knew.

No. I didn’t want to go back. All I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep. For a very long time.

Fast forward five months and many nights away by myself or with hubby with grandparents watching the kids, and many more of Mom’s cooking and convenience shopping and a baby who almost is sleeping through the night when he’s not sick or teething or moving to yet another house.  Fast forward to getting all my shots taken care of, and my teeth cleaned and fixed and my new stash of vitamins and bags packed with the items from my list. Fast forward to getting spoiled by friends giving us dinners out, vacations to rest, a chance to share, space to breathe.

And I'm ready. To go back. 

In a couple of weeks, we will board the plane and hope we have enough diapers and toys and clothes for the 20-something hour journey from the States to Japan to Singapore to Balikpapan to Tarakan in Indonesia. 

I’ve done the trip a few times before, the first time some nine years ago when I went to Indonesia sight-unseen, full of fears and dreams, ready for an adventure, but expecting a disaster.

I did it again five years ago with my first born baby boy—a year old at the time, and with a new set of mommy fears and my eyes much more wide open, but with the hopes that this time, I’d finally know what I’m doing.

You’d think it would get easier each time I go back to Indonesia, and in some ways it does. I know so much more than I did when I first went. I know how to drive on the other side of the world, how to trap a shrew, how to send my husband off to fly over the jungle without a fear in my heart.

I know how to be gracious when an Indonesian visitor arrives four hours late, and how to face down those mean dogs who bite at me on my morning run and how to use Skype to call all the way back to poison control in the States when a kid drinks something wrong.

But I also know other things.  That the goodbyes are always hard with things never said quite right. That I’m jealous that my sisters’ kids will grow up knowing each other while they’ll forget my name. That between running after my little kids and trying to figure out how to respond to endless needs around us, it will be hard to catch my breath until I return back to the States for a break…three-and-a-half years from now.

I know that this work is messy and the relationships can be hard and that my insecurities follow me to the other side of the world.  My husband who loves to save loves will spend many days disappointing people no matter how many times he says yes to that extra flight, that additional need. I know I’ll have bad attitudes about power outages.

I know that bad things could happen. That things will get taken. My kids will get sick and I’ll worry that it’s dengue fever.

People we love might die.

When I started this journey nine years ago, I only thought I wasn’t cut out for this. That I didn’t know what I was doing. That I would fail.

Now I know all that will happen.

My eyes are wide open and my thoughts are buzzing and my hands are shaking.

But I’ve learned some other things along the way. I know that things that cost a lot are worth a lot.

I know that relationships that rip your heart apart end up saving you in the end. I know that a country that both breaks my heart also fills my heart. I know I want adventure more than comfort zones, change more than same old same old, a life story of hope more a life sentence of paralyzing fear.

I know that living a life of purpose satisfies me more than the cute house with the white picket fence. 

I know that miracles happen in Borneo jungles and that sometimes that miracle is the change in my own heart.

And I’ve learned that though I am small and afraid and so very incapable, I am not alone.

So, I go back with things I know how to do and things I may never get right.  I go with preparations made and plans that will crumble in the face of reality. And I go my heart full of things I want and full of things I don’t.

But I go with Him. The Invisible whose hand in all of this is so very clear. The All-Powerful who is patient with my feet of clay. The Most-High who reaches down from heaven to hold my trembling fingers.

And so we go back and at the same time, move forward.

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