Stretching or Stressing?

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I believe stretching is good for a person – stretching beyond our comfort zones, stretching into territory that makes us feel a bit vulnerable. But when stretching turns to stressing, it can be a problem.

Let me illustrate: Providing a meal for a family

I thoroughly enjoyed doing this when I lived in Virginia, USA. It seemed like every month there was a new baby and I’d deliver a meal, sit and talk a bit, bless them and feel like I had really helped. It stretched me to cook for someone, but it didn’t stress me. Packaging comes in large quantities, ovens can fit multiple dishes at once, fridges hold an abundance of food, the extra freezer downstairs is full, pantries store canned goods. Usually, I could create a meal from what I already had at home. Then, I set it in a box or bin that I happened to have lying in a closet, put the meal in the back of my car, drove to the woman’s house, and dropped the food. Often I would stay a little while and chat with the new mom. When we were the recipients of this amazingly helpful service, I had a box in my car with the cleaned dishes people had brought us food in. That way, when I happened to see them again, I could return the dishes.

Now I live in Singapore. Taking a meal to someone stresses me out beyond measure. Why?

First, I don’t have a car. I walk to the store. I carry everything home or wheel it in my “granny cart.”

Second, packaging. At the regular grocery, I am fortunate when I find meat packaged in 500-gram quantities. That’s a little less than a pound. 200 grams is actually more typical. Want salmon? How about one 200-gram fillet? I do have options – the wet market or order from a warehouse – but that requires extra steps. And disposable containers? Must buy them. No “one stop shopping” here.

Third, cooking. Ovens are a luxury here. The majority of cooking is done on the “hob” (think burners). I have an oven. The one in our condo wasn’t working so it was replaced shortly after we moved in. Before the old one was removed, I took the rack from inside. I’m lucky; I have TWO levels in my oven. I can squeeze two 9×13 pans if the contents of both are flat.

Fourth, transport. I don’t have closets where I keep spare things like boxes or gift bags. I could head down to the basement to see if someone else tossed a box or bag. I might find something. Otherwise, my “go to” is plastic shopping bags. I would need to take a taxi because taking food on a bus, train, and walk is just not a good idea. Plus, it’s hot here all the time. Ice cream melts between the grocery store and home.

Do you see my point? Living here – within the choices we have made for ourselves – takes a good stretching thing and makes it a stressful thing. When I am stressed I am a sharp, irritable mom and wife.

So I don’t volunteer for meals for people even though I know it’s a huge blessing; even though I know it is a great way to serve people; even though I like cooking.

But that really isn’t the end of the dilemma.

There are people who do not find gifting meals stressful. Like my friend, Joyce, who just sent me a text saying, “What is the first night in your new place? We want to bring you dinner.” Perhaps it’s because they have a car or a live-in maid. Perhaps they can juggle more things than me. Perhaps they simply do not get stressed about all the steps I mentioned. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps.

But the dilemma continues…do I feel guilty about my decision? Do I feel jealous of what others have? Am I letting bitterness against other mums of small kids creep into my soul because of all this? Am I getting angry?

Some days all these emotions fly though my being and haunt my thoughts. Some days I choose the high road. Instead of wallowing, I invite people who could use a meal to my home. Or I respond to a neighbor that needs something.

I must learn to live with contentment in the life I have. I must know my boundaries and be open to stretching, and at the same time protect myself from stressing.

Thankfulness

IMG_5057I’m sitting at a coffee shop, surrounded by chatter, “Blue Christmas” is playing, my Facebook feed is filled with Thanksgiving preparations, and I’m slowly eating a delicious Ricotta & Sun Dried Tomato (please say to-mah-toe to get the full effect) Quiche. I’m in Orchard, the prime shopping district here in Singapore. Christmas is looming so shops are especially busy. My kids’ school is just around the corner. I’m early for volunteering because I am in search of a candle that smells like a Christmas tree.

But before I tackle Christmas, I need to pause for today.

Thanksgiving. American Thanksgiving. It’s not a holiday here and because my kids do not attend an American school, it’s just like any other day. Except that this year Barbara stepped in. This is our third Thanksgiving in Singapore. The first two were memorable for all the wrong reasons. This year, Barbara stopped me at church a few weeks back and said, “I wanted to invite you for Thanksgiving. My parents will be here. I’ll invite Erin and family, too.”

It’s hard to put into words just how much that invitation means to me. So I’ll try to flesh it out.

Invited – I usually do the inviting. Hosting and including is in my blood – thanks to the family I was born into. I am the one pulling new people in and making them feel welcome. All this inviting gives people the impression that I am well-connected and have loads of friends when, to be honest, I just want to be invited. I want someone to reach out to me and say, “I want you and your family.”

Parents in town – Brian and I are at that point in our expat lives where we are the “mature” people and not the twenty-something’s out for adventure. Occasionally, I find people 10 years older than me, but not my parents’ age. I love being with multiple generations. Especially for holidays. And I love sharing my parents with other people so when Barbara wants to share her parents, I get it.

Barbara – before she went back to work this year we sat down and I said “tell me your story.” Amazing story. She’s a woman who has been molded and shaped and come through it gorgeous. And she gets my husband, loves my kids, and opens her home.

So this year I am incredibly thankful and humbled. Christmas can come and I can go back to being the inviter, but for today I am so thankful simply for being invited.

The 90-10 Principle

In case you didn’t know, I live in Singapore.

That’s a really long way away from where I lived the bulk of my life. It’s not far from places I’ve lived before – the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau. So, Singapore is a familiar place. It’s also a familiar feeling to not belong and to live in a constant state of not quite understanding the world around me. As I told my brother-in-law when we asked me why I wanted to live overseas, “Because I feel normal when I don’t fit in.”

Singapore is a comfortable place to live. The systems are reliable and logical. In general, the people are polite and accepting. I can find practically anything I want. I have friends here, nice neighbors, a good church. My kids are happy at school. Brian likes his job and the crew of internationals he works with. I go through my days without much thought to where I actually live and how far I am from the people I cherish the most and the culture that I am most familiar with. That’s 90% of life.

Then there’s a day like today when I get a newsy email from my mom about wind howling, temp’s dropping, the college kids they are collecting for Thanksgiving, that dad is playing Santa this year for families, etc. Nothing noteworthy yet the tears fall and suddenly I know I am really, really far away.

And I let the tears fall. I take a moment and sob like a baby because it hurts deep inside. That’s the 10% of life.

Then I get a tissue, blow my nose and wipe tears, and put away the groceries. The moment’s gone. That’s why, to be honest, its really more like 5% because I don’t spend much time dwelling in that space.

But I’ll stick with the 90-10 Principle because it is easier to say than the 95-5 Principle. Plus, 95.5 is a radio station in the Detroit Metro area and I don’t need another reminder of home.

Breathing Room

Today ended up completely free. I didn’t expect it to be. I had cleared my day so that I could look at condos for our move at Christmas. Last night I got a text from the Realtor that there weren’t any viewings today. I messaged my faithful jogging partner about a jog, but her pet-sitting jobs spilled into this week. I tried to set up lunch with several people. Nope. Feeling sorry for me yet? Please don’t.

I’m an introvert way down deep inside. In addition to that very real fact, I’ve filled my life with people who I thoroughly enjoy spending time with. Sometimes, though, I require breathing room. I didn’t even know I required it until today came and I got it unexpectedly. I plugged in my iPod and have played music that speaks deeply to my soul all day. I dug into Scripture in a way I haven’t in years. Pouring over verses of God’s immeasurable love for me and my marriage. And now I opened this blog and realized I haven’t written in almost a year.

Definitely need more days of breathing room.

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Hearts

Dear Emily,

Tomorrow you have a cardiology appointment. We’ll meet a new Paediatric Cardiologist because we’re in Singapore. I miss Dr. Ansong. She walked through a lot with us. I remember the day you were born and she told us what the echo showed – holes. Big holes in the centre wall of your heart. I remember her sounding unconcerned; that these holes sometimes heal themselves. So we started a waiting game of appointments and more appointments. Then I remember the day she said that if you didn’t gain anything that week, you would have to go into the hospital. We fought that week. You gained 2 grams. Yup, 2 GRAMS. But you gained and we got to keep you at home. I also remember the day she said that the medicines weren’t enough. They were keeping you out of congestive heart failure, but the holes weren’t getting smaller and your heart was enlarging. Open heart surgery was the solution. Compared to other heart surgeries, yours would be easy. That news didn’t make the idea any easier to hear. Who wants to put their child through that? We did. You looked at us at pre-dawn the day of surgery and we knew we were choosing to put you through pain in order to give you life.

Life.

You’ve got it in spades, now, my child. You are bundles of energy. You are feisty and full of personality. You have spunk. You have the ability to drive me absolutely batty and then melt my frustrated, angry, had-more-than-enough-and-I-am-about-to-lose-it heart with a sweet hug, a kiss, and a “I yuv you, Mommy.” I watch you dive into the swimming pool and happily porpoise your way back to the surface. I am fascinated by your ability and willingness to try (and master) new things which your big brother is just gaining the confidence to think about trying. I laugh when I see you do somersaults in our tiny living room or twirl like a ballerina as we wait for Zach at OT. I smile when I hear you yell “Group hug!” and you and Zach tackle daddy’s legs. Some days that same vivaciousness comes out in not-so-laughable or loveable behaviour, but even though I prefer to forget those days, I realize that I am immeasurably blessed to have them with you.

Because for a little while there, that 2 gram week, those days seemed a really long way away.

So guard your heart, child. It’s a precious commodity.  

“My child, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart, for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. “ Proverbs 4:20-23

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New Ryhthms

am a creature of habit. I dream of days with nothing to do and no agenda, living life on the fly. My reality, though, is schedule, planning, and lists – structure. I function better that way. As a friend said recently, “Mothering doesn’t come naturally to me.” It doesn’t to me either. It takes me building it. I built a rhythm in Virginia. Mornings had play dates, time at home, excursions, errands, etc. Afternoons were very predictable with two kids going down for long naps during which time I would get my Bible study done, exercise, and shower. On months when Brian worked early he could take the kids outside to play and I would get dinner ready. On months that he worked afternoons, I would take the kids outside and dinner would be as simple as a bowl of cereal. It was a rhythm we all knew and could anticipate. It wasn’t perfect in any way, but it worked for us.

When we moved to Singapore, my structure fell into little tiny pieces. Brian’s schedule changed so I was now managing kids and dinner simultaneously. Zach didn’t need that afternoon nap and, although he did really well with an hour of quiet time in the play room, I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to into one hour. I am an introvert and those two hours I used to have re-energized me to handle the small beings in my life. One hour just didn’t cut it. I felt scattered, rushed, and intruded upon. Gradually, tiny step by tiny step, the kids and I found a new rhythm that worked. I love my kids. I love the time I’m blessed to have with them. I am capable of loving them better when I have some mental space to myself. So I started setting an alarm early in the morning in order to get time to myself before everyone else woke up. That has helped immensely.

Now, Zach is in school. Almost two weeks are done. At 7:15 we walk out of our condo and put him on the bus. At 4:15, Em and I go meet the bus. Now, we have lunches to pack, notes from school to read and respond to, parent meetings, uniforms to make sure get worn on the correct day, labels to put on EVERYTHING. etc.

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Now, I have a little girl who doesn’t have her brother to entertain her. Now, I have quiet afternoons again when Emily is sleeping. But I needed to find a new rhythm. Week 1 felt off. It felt like work. Week 2 has been a little better. I anticipate Week 3 will be even smoother.

Finding a new rhythm is hard. It’s like learning a new dance. You observe, you try, you fall down. You know where you want to be full of grace and in perfect step with the music, but it takes work. Some steps are easy. Zach is absolutely happy with exactly the same lunch and snack every day.Since  I’ve regained my quiet in the afternoon, I’ve used that time in the last two weeks to take a short nap, create charts, set up meal plans, create a grocery list, plan my next day, and drink a cup of tea in silence. Some steps are hard. Every morning I have to choose to get out of bed at 5:00 to exercise and start my day with some solitude. Emily is learning to play on her own and not asking to watch or play on the iPad all day. Brian is getting up a little earlier to help with the morning list of things that need to happen before the school bus arrives.

Everyone is getting used to our new rhythm. We’re not very graceful yet. We’re still refining it. But this is life. It changes, it shapes us. We can choose to change with it or grumble and wish for our old rhythm.

I choose to go with this new rhythm.

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New Journeys

ImageLittle Boy Blue started Kindergarten today (here it’s called K2). So many thoughts and emotions have run through my mind this week. He is ready for this step. I will miss him dearly, but the time is right and this journey needs to start.

On Tuesday, his first full day, we had music playing as we packed lunches, got dressed, ate breakfast, got shoes on, etc. I love Andrew Peterson songs. They hit my heart and penetrate deep into my soul every time I listen to them. This song sent tears streaming down my face and captures the hopes, the fears, the dreams I have for my son. I love you, Zach, may what we have taught you guide your steps.

When I look at you, boy
I can see the road that lies ahead
I can see the love and the sorrow

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

Your first kiss, your first crush
The first time you know you’re not enough
The first time there’s no one there to hold you

The first time you pack it all up
And drive alone across America
Please remember the words that I told you

Keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home

And I know you’ll be scared when you take up that cross
And I know it’ll hurt, ’cause I know what it costs
And I love you so much and it’s so hard to watch
But you’re gonna grow up and you’re gonna get lost
Just go back, go back

Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home

“You’ll Find Your Way” by Andrew Peterson

Light for the Lost Boy Album

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Getting to Know Emily

I’m getting to know Emily in a new way these days. Zach’s enrolled in a Holiday Programme at school (think all the fun stuff of school with no tests). The first week I decided to take him to and from school to ease him into going to school. Since it’s 45 minutes to an hour to get to his school via public transportation, I opted to stay down in Orchard with Emily instead of spending all morning on the trains.

 

Orchard is the glitzy, shopping area of Singapore. To people-watch there is fascinating – oodles of tourists, all looking sweaty and slightly lost; the classy business crew in suits and heels; the workers doing major construction; the other moms with their toddlers who completely baffle me as they prance down the sidewalk in clogs and dresses pushing their massive prams. For three mornings, Emily and I joined this parade and I got to know my little girl a little more.

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She LOVES coffee. Two mornings we ended up at the Coffee Bean. I got a black brew of the day. She got a few spoonfuls of my coffee in her cup of milk. She would be perfectly happy drinking it black.

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She LOVES playgrounds. We discovered an indoor playground at Paragon Mall. Once we got past the Versace, Couch, Jimmy Choo, Hermes, and plenty of other stores I will probably never walk into, we played at the playground. Em is agile and athletic. She figured out that if she stretches to reach the bar over the slide as she exits the tunnel, she can swing like a monkey and get enough momentum to go down the slide extra fast. She also discovered that going down on her back, head first was incredibly fun.

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She LOVES people. The first day our friend, Kathryn, and her son, Sam joined us. The rest of the week, Em kept asking for Sam. “Where’s Sam, mommy? Will Sam come?” Since there was no Sam Wednesday or Friday new friends were made. There was a little Filipino girl on Wednesday and a French boy on Friday.

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She’s getting BIGGER. It was fun at the playground to watch the other parents and helpers hover over their little ones. I was the only parent watching from the sideline. The others were within an arm’s length of their dear little ones. Part of that was age of kids, but part of it was me very intentionally letting Emily be bigger. She’s smart and much more of a risk taker than Zach. I watched her test her slide acrobatics. Each time she swung a little harder. She asked me to come the first time she went down the slide backwards and headfirst. The second time she did it herself. I was reminded of an article I read recently that all our hovering hinders our kids’ ability to recognize what really is dangerous. Instead of allowing them to decide for themselves what they are capable of, we hover and decide for them. We instill fear instead of confidence. So, in a very small way, I let Emily make the decisions and test her own limits.

 

She LOVES Zach. He has been her constant in life. He’s walked all the changes in the last year with her. He’s shown her how to do things, been her cheerleader. He’s annoyed, frustrated, and angered her plenty too, but she loves him dearly. Each day when I said it was time to go get Zach, there was no push back. “Zach done with ‘cool? Yeah! We get Zach now?” She’d watch for him at OFS and run to him when he walked into the auditorium.

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She’s still LITTLE. Although our mornings were fun, they took their toll. Rush hour crowds meant I didn’t take the stroller so she walked (or was carried) majority of the morning. Each day we barely made it home before she was in a little puddle of slumber.

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I’m looking forward to this fall. I’ll just have Emily all day, every day. I’ll get to know her a little deeper. We’ll be involved in plenty, but I’ll schedule down time to just wander and be. Soon enough, she will be as big as she thinks she is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality vs Imagination

I’ve had this image in my head for a long time. It’s me walking my kid to school, dropping him off, then later walking back to school to pick him up, younger sibling in tow. I remember balancing on my mom’s bike as we went to a neighborhood preschool held in a carport in the Philippines. I remember the walks to and from Eriksson Elementary in Michigan with my older sister. There are great memories.

Rarely in my life, does my reality match my imagination.

School Experience #1: I got to live out my imagination with Zach during his brief time at St. Andrews Preschool in Virginia. Those are precious memories. Cool, clean air; walking through the dense flowers and chestnut trees beside the library; collecting a smiling Zach as he waves the day’s project in the air; then meandering home.

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1st day at St. Andrews Preschool

School experience #2 morphed it a little. Calvary Preschool graciously allowed Zach to participate for one month while we lived in between homes (Virginia and Singapore). Each morning, I buckled him into his car seat, drove past the Texas Longhorns and Metetal Airport, walked him into school, gave him a kiss in his class and he was off. Emily and I waited in those comfy seats outside his room, ready for a grin and a tackle.

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1st Day at Calvary Preschool

School experience #3 is even farther from my imaginated bliss. I did take Zach to and from school the first week. Zach, Em and I left the house at 7:45, caught a bus down to the MRT station, rode the train at the peak of rush hour 6 stops, exited through a ritzy mall, crossed a busy street booming with taxis and buses, climbed 39 stairs, crossed a green space where workers take their lunch time naps, greeted the guards at the school gate, walked into the auditorium where he joined his classmates about 8:45 thoroughly sweaty and a bit worn out. At 12:30 Emily and I arrived back at that auditorium. I loved watching Emily look for his little face come through the door. Big grins, proud boy.

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1st Day at Overseas Family School

Today took that imaginated image and tossed it far away. Today a minibus picked Zach up at our condo at 7:25. The Auntie will keep tabs on Zach and the other kids as the driver focuses on driving. A little before 8:45, Zach and his bus mates will climb off the bus and find their class in the auditorium. At 12:30, he will line up by the #2 Sign and climb back on the bus. About 1:30 that bus will drop him off at our condo. Emily and I will be waiting for him. I hope he comes off smiling and tackles his sister in a bear hug.

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1st Day on the OFS Bus

As I look back, each experience has graciously given me the opportunity to let my little boy grow up. Each  change has required new skills and developed new patterns for both of us. Each experience I have hidden my nervousness and smiled, “Ready, Zach?” The cool part is that each time he has gradually gotten more confident in his response. This morning he began the day with, “I get to ride the bus today, right?” “Yes.” “Yeah! I’m getting big!”

So we enter this new world, still a little nervous, but fully aware that God loves this Little Boy Blue more than I can ever love him. And when I am not present, God is. Omnipresence. Amazing gift for this time & space-bound parent. Grants me peace as I watch my boy ride away.

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Living Dangerously

I choose to live dangerously here. I don’t carry an umbrella unless its raining when I leave my condo. It’s one more thing on top of wallet, water bottles, snack, phone, transit passes, sunglasses, things to do on the train/bus/taxi, stroller, etc. I know I have never gotten a cold from getting wet from rain. I know in the 7 months I have been here I’ve only been caught in the rain a handful of times (and usually I was headed home so it really doesn’t matter). I know that I don’t melt when I get wet and that my clothes will eventually dry.

 

But I do live in Singapore which, according to the display at the zoo, is next to the Amazon as the amount of rainfall each year. I read one article that said, “It rains somewhere in Singapore every single day.” Another article talked about “rainy season” and “dry season” in Singapore. Rainy season can bring 11 inches of rain or more each month. Dry season can bring 6 inches or more. In contract, the highest rainfall New York City gets is less than 5 inches in a month. All that to say, to not carry an umbrella is living dangerously.

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Today Brian was home early because he needed to go back into work later in the evening. We headed to the store to grab some groceries before dinner. Zach looked out the window, “I think it’s going to rain, Mom.”

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“We’ll be fine, Zach. We’ll be fast.”

 

Yeah. Fast wasn’t going to cut it today. The heavens opened and the deluge began while we were in the grocery store. Em, already a basket case for some reason this week didn’t want to get wet. Zach was cringing at the exit. Brian was being stoic and telling them it was just rain and we had to get through it to head home. I knelt down next to Zach and said, “Okay, we’re going to play a game. Let’s see how many choices we can make that allow us to stay dry?” And with a smile we started our meandering way home.photo (2)

 

It was definitely the long way, but we were dry up until the last 100 meters or so. As we looked over the last bit which has no covered walkways,  I said, “Okay, Zach. We have one more choice. We’re going to get wet. Our choice is do we get wet happy or grumpy?” Still unconvinced, he hesitated. That’s when the shopkeeper stepped out and said, “You want umbrella? I have. You borrow umbrella and bring back later.” Lovely shopkeeper. So we borrowed her umbrella and hurried home. Zach got the umbrella to himself. I thoroughly enjoyed getting drenched. Brought back memories of sprinting with my friend, Melissa, in Macau without umbrellas. I love the looks I get from locals when I let the rain pelt me.

 

In a land where it’s endless summer, rain is the closest I’m going to get to seasons. For that reason, I’ll continue to live dangerously.