Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Ebenezer

I had originally planned to make my next blog post about our two weeks so far in South Korea.  There's so much to tell!  But first I need to take a minute to write about something that's been on my heart for quite a while, and especially lately, I need to write this as a reminder to myself, even if everyone else ignores it.

The past couple weeks -- in fact, as I've mentioned, this whole summer -- has been nothing short of amazing.  So many good things have happened, so many interesting things... And it's easy to talk about those things.


This has been an incredibly challenging time, too.  We left what was our home for over three years.  We left friends.  We said so many goodbyes.  We stepped into something that is unknown and feels, at times anyway, very strange and overwhelming.  We've wondered if and how things are going to work out.  We've felt lost. 

In my moments of grieving for family and friends far away, or feeling panicked about a problem I'm facing, when I'm scared to move forward, I find myself looking back.  These days especially, my thoughts go to a little plumeria tree outside our house in Hawaii. 

I've mentioned this before, but our first year in Hawaii was so hard.  I experienced an extreme loneliness, almost feeling abandoned.  My kids were sad.  We were all so tired of moving.  Then we had a health scare, and someone even tried to extort money from us and keep our kids in a terrible situation.  (I keep wondering if that's the right word for what happened.  I can't go into the details, but if there is a better word for someone using lies and deceitful business practices to get money from you, please let me know.) 

And then there was our house.  Finding affordable housing in Hawaii is no joke.  Homelessness there is a problem no one seems to talk about, but it's real and prevalent.  Of course, we weren't on the street, but we had such a hard time finding a place to live.  I would wake up every day searching Craigslist and rental sites, and even if I called at 7 a.m., often times the house was already rented.  If one was available, there was almost always a good reason.

We finally found a house that would work.  It had four bedrooms (they were all tiny, but there were four).  It had a pool (the deck was cracked and dangerous, but there was a safety fence, which most houses did not have and I felt it was crucial since Wyatt was a toddler).  It even had an extra room (the floor sloped so much that if you spilled some water at one end of the room, it turned into a flowing river).  AND, it was within our housing allowance, AND it was across the street from a nice park, plus Matt had an easy commute to work, so it was a GO!

Sure, there were more problems... The ceiling had no insulation; it was just the other side of the unshaded roof, making the house feel like the inside of a solar oven.  In the summer, temperatures were regularly in the 90s.  The tile floor in the living room was buckling when we moved in, and the management company fixed it, but it started buckling again.  We had what our neighbor called "the ugliest front door in Kailua" -- a security door that was bright orange with rust and had giant holes where the metal had coroded.  The kitchen counters were warped and falling apart, and sometimes when I was cooking, I got an electric shock from the stove.  The wooden window and door frames were completely rotted out, so that all sorts of critters could come in and out easily -- and they did so quite happily.  It wasn't uncommon to reach into my utensil drawer and have something move under my fingers.

And... Well, there's no good way to say this, but... critters poop. That's all I have to say about that.

While these problems were absolutely no fun, one thing just would not stop bothering me.  There was no plumeria tree on the property.

I know what that sounds like -- spoiled, petty, ridiculous.  I scolded myself constantly for being so bothered by such a silly matter.

But I LOVE plumeria trees.  Much of my childhood in Bangladesh was spent in plumeria trees; my happiest memories were there.  Here I was living in Hawaii, land of the plumeria, without one single plumeria tree! 

But actually, there had been one.  It was in the pictures posted on the property manager's website, but our crochety old neighbor insisted on having it cut down before we moved in because the leaves and flowers were falling into her pool.  Sometimes I looked at the stump where it had been, and as silly as it sounds, it just made me feel more lonely, more lost, more forgotten.

After ten months, we asked to terminate our lease, and to our surprise, the property management agreed in a flash!   (Turns out, they could ask for an increased rent every time someone moved out.)  Finally there was a house on base, and when we got the call telling us so, we said yes to it without even seeing where it was.  I remember driving onto the property with the kids, and then being so incredibly excited when I realized where our new house was -- facing a huge open area, steps from the (fenced) pool and community center.  There were two playgrounds right in front of my house.  It was spacious, clean, comfortable, safe, and beautiful.

And right outside the fence of our little backyard was a plumeria tree.  It wasn't huge, but it was there.  Just a small, beautiful message to me, like God was saying, "I didn't forget you."

If you've been reading my blog, you know the rest of the story (or you can read the short version here).  We made amazing, wonderful friends.  Our family grew.  The two years that followed kept getting better, and that's why saying goodbye was so hard.

One of my favorite hymns is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  I think I love every line in it, but "Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by Thy great help I come" has always stood out to me.  An Ebenezer is "a stone of help", a commemoration of a victory.  1 Samuel 7:12 says, "Then Samuel took a stone and he set it between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer saying, 'Thus far, the Lord has helped us.'" 

I've read about how some families have made "ebenezers" -- shelves or special cases that contain items that remind them of something God helped them through, and I want to have something like that too someday.  I know I have those sorts of things to out in it -- hospital bracelets, all my pregnancy tests (not as gross as it sounds! I promise!), stones picked up from the ground in special places -- but right now they are kept in a very ordinary shoebox labeled "Very Important Memorabilia".

And I have something to add to it.  While I couldn't take the plumeria tree outside our house with me, I did have Skyler snap my picture in it one day.  It's a little blurry, and taken at the end of a long, tiring day.  But as I look at that picture, I can feel the rough bark under my hands again and smell the scent of the plumeria perfuming the breeze.  

I may not know how the problems I face will turn out, but I know this, and draw peace from it: "Thus far, the Lord has helped us." 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Plan Q

One of my dad's famous sayings is, "Plans were made to be changed!"

Good thing, too, because you could kind of say that's the story of my life, and you could definitely say it's been the story of my summer!

As we were finishing our amazing roadtrip, the kids and I had some decisions to make. Matt was heading off to training, and I wasn't exactly sure what we would do. My big sister lives in Washington state, and I desperately wanted to see her because I hadn't since January 2014!!! She'd never met Annalee!! She lived in Germany and then had gone to live in Washington, so when we took our trip to California last fall, we weren't able to see her. 

BUUUUT... Driving to her would take at least two long days. I hoped maybe she'd be coming to California, but she was working and couldn't get time off. And then came the bombshell: within two weeks of each other, both she and her husband were very unexpectedly laid off. While she had the time now, I couldn't expect her to travel to see me, and she was in a flurry of applying for new positions.

Meanwhile, Jayna had an offer to go with her friend from Anacortes (where we lived in Washington prior to moving to Hawaii) to a youth mission trip in inner city  Portland.  At first she told me no; she didn't want to do it because she'd be on it for her birthday.

But when I returned to our hotel room after dropping Matt off at LAX at 5:30 that Saturday morning, she was awake.

"I think we should do it, Mom" she said as I was just crawling back into bed, hoping to sleep a few more hours.  "I think we should drive up to Washington, and I need to get there by Monday at noon so that the youth group can meet me on their way to Portland."

And she was right; it actually... kind of... made perfect sense.

So in a few hours, we were repacked and driving north on I-5. We stopped in Stockton for the night to stay at my father-in-law's, then hit the road as early as possible (which, honestly, was about 9), and drove like crazy.  Jayna finally let us stop for the night in Salem at about 9:30 pm. First thing the next morning, we were on the road again! 

It was lunchtime when we got to where my sister lives. Jayna had arranged to have the youth group pick her up there that afternoon on their way to Portland, and we were meeting Jenny and her family at an Indian food place for lunch.

Oh my goodness, seeing my sister again... It brings tears to my eyes to remember.
 We were just standing in the parking lot hugging and crying. Every minute of the drive was worth it.
After lunch, I got Jayna sent off, and then had the greatest week at Jenny's house.
We did things like going to the Point Defiance Zoo
and shopping, but the best part was just being with her

and her sweet kids (minus her eldest who was at camp). We hiked,

visited parks and playgrounds,
and went blueberry-picking
-- and picked 21 pounds of blueberries!!  And by the end of the week, there was wonderful news: both Jenny and my brother-in-law had great job offers!
That Saturday, I drove up to Anacortes to get Jayna and see friends.  We had such a nice, restful three days.  Our friends we were staying with live kind of in the country,
so the kids had so much fun hiking on the trail on their property, jumping on the trampoline, feeding their chickens... And just being with them because they are some of The World's Nicest People.

I visited other friends (like my friend Amber, mentioned in this post, a worthwhile read even if it's not Small Business Saturday today!) and hiked at Washington Park,

one of my favorite places.
Then we headed back to my sister's for one more night.  We left her house and stopped for the night in Salem, where I had dinner with my old boarding school roommate and dear friend, Heather.
Then we stayed with "Aunt" Linda and "Uncle" Terry -- much-loved staff at the same school.

We finally made it back to California, visited more family, and spent several days at my in-laws' house, with a little side trip here and there, like to the train museum in Sacramento.
The hardest part of this summer was that my kids weren't very healthy. Annalee kicked off the summer with back-to-back Hand Foot &Mouth and roseola. Right before we left Hawaii, I discovered that Lilly had a raging middle ear infection. Then we all had, to varying degrees, a chest cold. Wyatt and Annalee had it worst, so I ended up taking them to urgent care. Then Wyatt caught a tummy thing and spent a night throwing up or crying about his stomach hurting when we were in Monterey and I'd planned to see some friends, including an older friend who is battling cancer. I couldn't have him around her or risk it if I were coming down with the bug, so we walked around Monterey instead.

Yes, "Plans were made to be changed."

We rejoined Matt in Southern California
and learned that his training was ending sooner than expected. So we changed our travel to South Korea by 48 hours to have a day of rest before he started work here. And so plans changed again. We spent our last week with some of our closest friends, people we'd been wanting to see all month, but they had the flu. It was such a wonderful time, filled with the kind of laughter that makes your sides and cheeks hurt. The only downside was that leaving felt heart-crushing.
I have no idea what edition of my summer plan this would be, but I'm guessing Plan Q. Just a ballpark estimate.

But with Jayna starting her senior year of high school, I've been thinking a lot about what I want my kids to know by the time they leave my house.  And one of them is this: having a plan is good.  But being willing to change a plan without it completely derailing your life is invaluable.  I've seen adults who couldn't handle one small adjustment to their schedule without being in a snit. 

We had to be very flexible this summer, and I'm not going to lie: it wasn't always easy, just as I'm sure it wasn't easy for our friends and family who put us up.  There were times when I almost lost my mind, and the kids probably thought I had.  Friends who heard what we were up to thought we we're crazy too.  

But I know this: it was a great summer.  

In exchange for their flexibility, my kids had so many amazing experiences.  They saw old favorite places and found new ones.  They saw old friends and made new ones.  And they connected with family in a way that we needed so badly before embarking on our Korean adventure.
When we were in Anacortes, Paul, the patriarch of the family we were staying with, said something I'm always saying (but it's better when it comes from someone else right?): "Kids can never have too many people who love them."
We were filled to the brim with love with summer, so that instead of feeling depleted as we left California a week ago, we were energized and encouraged for what we are undertaking. Honestly, my only regret is not seeing more of our loved ones.

I hope my kids have learned that they will find joy in the places their many ever-changing plans take them -- even if next time, they are on Plan Z by the time the journey is over!