Thursday, June 1, 2023

May 2023


This month I started something new that I call Sibling Time in the afternoons. I'd noticed that the girls spent a lot of time together, and Abe and JJ spent a lot of time together, but none of them really have much of a relationship with their other siblings. So I made a weekly schedule where each day the kids are paired up in different combinations. It works out perfectly with five kids, because in five weekdays they get an afternoon with each sibling and one afternoon of alone time. For 30 minutes to an hour after school they spend time with just that one sibling doing something fun together. It's been so good and already really improved their relationships.

We of course celebrated the 4th of May, because we're Star Wars nerds. We actually aren't even that big into Star Wars, but we do like it and it's fun anyway.

This month I started doing some reading about sourdough bread and how a lot of people with non-celiac gluten intolerance do well with sourdough bread when it's fermented long enough. I started trying to make my own starter, and mentioned it one day to Mark, the owner of the Italian restaurant in town. He got excited and gave me a frozen bit of Marisol, their 100 year-old Italian sourdough starter! It was pretty much the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.

We took Marisol home and started feeding her. She's very happy and we are making tons of delicious sourdough! It was bothering me just a little at first, and Josh's sister helped me realize that I wasn't letting it rise long enough. Since I've been letting it rise longer, it's been great! It's quite a bit of work to keep up with, but it's been so nice to have bread whenever we want it.

We watched the coronation of King Charles live, which was pretty cool. Something about it made me surprisingly emotional, and Josh said it made him proud to be an American and a Baptist. Ha. It was interesting to watch after getting into the The Crown the last couple of years and learning more about Queen Elizabeth's coronation and the monarchy in general. 

Josh and Haylee made a really amazing lasagna together. It's a lot of work, but it was SO GOOD.

We celebrated Mother's Day! This crew took me out to Casa Rossa for lunch after church and they went a whole day without any crying at all, which is more than I could have even asked for. Ha. They're a great bunch, and I'm so thankful to get to be their mom.

In January, we shipped by sea several totes of stuff from America that we didn't want to bring with us on the plane (since we were stopping in Rome for a few days on the way back and didn't want to schlep a ton of stuff across the city). This included way more clothes than I remembered and most of the kids' small number of toys. The boys have been super happy to have their action figures again!

JJ did TCK Art Club, and loved it. It's a once a week zoom group meeting just for TCKs (Third Culture Kids, aka kids who are growing up outside of their passport culture... you can read more about what a TCK is here) put on by Kaleidoscope. We love their TCK clubs and highly recommend them!

We had the third graduation of Shepherd's Academy, which was very exciting. You can read more about that here.

JJ found a huge chameleon in the yard. That's not really super notable, but I just love chameleons so much. I've always loved lizards, thanks to my babysitter Irene catching them with me when I was little, and chameleons are by far the coolest lizards. The ones we have here, the flap-necked chameleon, don't change color to match their surroundings, but they are bright green when they're happy and get dark spots all over them when they get stressed or scared.

I took Abe with me on my Blantyre run this month, and we had a fun day out together.

The kids have started going to youth choir practice on Saturdays. Taylah went by herself for a while not long after we moved here, but stopped at some point. Since our little neighbor/friend started going, they are all now interested in going, and the boys sang with the choir on Sunday. Boys stand in the back, no matter how small, so I had to get far to the side to be able to see them! 

Monday, May 1, 2023

April 2023

We started the month celebrating our baby's 7th birthday! He got dinosaur Monopoly Jr, a toy dinosaur, and a rope swing that we hung in the lot where they play. He's funny and brilliant and hot-tempered and affectionate, and we're so thankful for him.

The rains were fewer and farther between this month, so the kids were able to spend more time playing outside with our neighbors. It's a sweet, sweet life. There are a lot of things they miss out on by growing up here, but there are also a lot of wonderful things they get to experience. For as much as my teenagers don't appreciate it, a slow pace of life with plenty of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors is one of my favorites. The weather is so amazing this time of year: in the 70's every day with low humidity, but everything is still green from the rains.

Josh and I recorded a podcast! We usually do this once a month, but I actually took a picture of it this time. Our cat, Ginny, was at the office that day and needing a LOT of attention. So much so that we had to lock her out of the office just to get the episode recorded. This month's episode was about his new book, The Bible Guidebook. You can also see all of our podcast archive here.

Josh was one of four speakers at a marriage conference here in Zomba this month, put on by another church. It was so encouraging to meet and spend the day with those who spoke and attended.

We were excited to welcome new baby Nathaniel to our Gospel Life family! He's precious and strong, and mom and baby are both doing great. Big brother Jedidiah is not a fan of the big brother life so far, but we know he'll come around once Nathaniel gets big enough to play with.

I've been marveling recently at how much the boys have grown in the last year. The top picture is from April 2022, and the bottom one from April 2023. The girls haven't grown in a couple of years now (much to their dismay), so notice the boys in relation to their sisters. Jude has surpassed Taylah and almost caught up with Haylee, JJ has almost caught up with Taylah, and Abe now reaches her shoulders (if he were standing up straight in the second picture)! Haylee doesn't have much time left to be the tallest kid in the family, and I suspect that it won't be long before JJ is taller than all of us. Jude and JJ's feet are 

We had some visitors for a week from Henderson, Kentucky. They stayed busy most of the week doing Body & Soul conferences at a few churches and helping Gospel Life Baptist Church with distributing clothes the church members had donated for victims of Cyclone Freddy. One of their days, though, we got to take them for a boat safari at Liwonde National Park. We didn't see much besides hippos, but we had a nice relaxing ride up and down the Shire River, and the weather was perfect. They were a kind and encouraging group, and it was a blessing to have them here.

JJ sang Amazing Grace at church, and we were so proud of him! He was so nervous but also so determined, and then he was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. We pray God continues to use JJ's gifts and passions for his glory as he grows up!

We ended the month celebrating Josh's 37th birthday! All he ever asks for for his birthday are real (aka not the gluten, dairy, and sugar free kind we usually make) Toll House recipe chocolate chip cookies. He's the best in every possible way, and I can't imagine life without him.

Monday, April 10, 2023

March 2023

 March was a VERY wet month in Malawi! We started off the month celebrating JJ's 11th birthday, followed shortly by the coming of Cyclone Freddy. 

It stayed over southern Malawi for four days and brought utter devastation with it. Zomba city, where we live, fared well because of our high elevation and abundance of mature trees, but Blantyre city and the rest of Zomba district were hit extremely hard. Hundreds died, and it will be a long time before those who were left behind are able to rebuild their lives. (Not my picture below.)

We still managed to celebrate my favorite holiday: St. Patrick's Day with our array of green shades. 

In spite of numerous disruptions, we persevered with homeschooling. The kids and their new teachers seem to finally be getting in a good groove, and we are very thankful.

Our newest cat, Percy, was neutered this month, which always serves as a fun homeschool science lesson!

Even after the cyclone, we got more and more rains. That's the main theme of this month. Lots and lots of rain, and little else. That's really all there is to say!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Repost: Hard Doesn't Mean Bad or Wrong

I wrote this back in 2015, and have been thinking about it a lot lately. The last two months... year... five years... seventeen years... have all been difficult. Really difficult. And just as I predicted eight years ago, it has only gotten harder as time has gone on. My younger self honestly had a better outlook on it than my older, much more weary self does, and I needed to re-read these encouraging words. Maybe you do, too, so I'm sharing it again:

I've been chewing on a thought lately that I need to get out. I'm not sure how eloquently I'll get it out, but I'm going to try.

Just because something is hard, doesn't mean that it's bad or wrong.

Actually, I would argue that hard is good, and if you aren't doing anything hard, then you're probably doing something wrong.

I just thought this was a great picture for a post about doing hard things.

Because God doesn't mold us into being more like Christ through the easy stuff. Think back on the times when you grew the most in your faith. For me it has been our first move to a new city after we got married, infertility, Jude's autism, moving back from Moldova, miscarriage and more infertility, Josh struggling to find work, foster adoption... these have been the times that have been so hard, I didn't know if I could go on. The times that have left me sobbing before God and sometimes before a person or two whom I trust. The times that have made me cling to Jesus for dear life, and instead of walk away from him, say with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

One of Jude's first therapy sessions. Autism has brought us to our knees probably more than anything else.

But for as desperately, miserably hard as those times have been, they have also been the sweetest times of fellowship with and comfort from God that I have ever known, and I look back on them not with regret or pain, but deep fondness and thankfulness to God for drawing me nearer to him through them. Not just for getting me through them, but for bringing me into them in the first place.

Would I have chosen to go through those times? Not a chance. Does it make me uneasy to think about the times he will bring me into and through in the future? A bit. Because if there's one thing I've learned in my 12 years of walking with God, it's that the trials that strengthen our faith and trust in God are like lifting weights--they get harder and heavier each time. But they are so worth it for the sake of a stronger faith in God, knowing and loving him more deeply, and showing his glory more clearly to those around me.

That M.Div. was worth it, but it was not an easy few years.

Think about Elisabeth Elliot, who just passed on to Heaven. Everyone who is familiar with her story looks at her in awe and wishes for just a small measure of her faith in God. But look at everything she suffered in her life, and how she clung to God through them! Our faith is small not because there was anything special about Elisabeth Elliot from a human perspective, but because we shrink away from anything that might be hard or make us uncomfortable or encroach on our American Dream, and by the grace of God she didn't. There is a reason Paul wrote to us in Romans:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV, emphasis mine)
We REJOICE in our sufferings!

So I'm learning to lean in to the hard. Not necessarily to go looking for it, but to embrace it when it comes or when God calls us into a path that we know will be hard. Because I don't want a complacent life where I never grow more into the image of Christ. I don't want an easy life that even an unbeliever could live, where God's power, love, comfort, and eternal worth aren't put on display for his glory. I want to know him and make him known through the hard times.

Don't believe the lie that hard things are bad.

If you feel God calling you to do something that will be hard, don't shrink from it. It could be the best thing you've ever done.

And the hard thing you're going through may be really awful right now, but if you hold fast to God, someday you will look back on it with thanulness when you remember the depth of comfort and faith that met you there.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

February 2023

 February has somehow been both very chill and very stressful. We haven't done much outside the home this month, but we've had plenty of things going on at home to keep us busy. Josh has been teaching at Shepherds Academy, I've hired and trained homeschool teachers for the kids, and we've had a million side projects, repairmen in and out of the house for various things that have broken, and a constant run of metaphorical fires to put out.

We started the month by hosting our homeschool friends at our house for our monthly get-together. It had been a long time since we'd seen our friends here, and it was so much fun to get to hang out with them again! 

We celebrated Jude's 14th birthday by all going out for sorbet and putting candles in his favorite meal, meatloaf, because he doesn't like cake. He's an absolute gift.

Poe has proven to be such a sweet, funny, and smart guard dog. He's instinctively learned from the way we follow Jude around and keep a close eye on him that Jude must be protected. Wherever Jude is, Poe is close by keeping an eye on him. If Poe thinks Jude is doing something he shouldn't, like climbing on something, he will look at us and ruff as if to say, "aren't you going to stop him??" One day (pictured above) Jude and I were outside when it started raining. I got in the truck while he continued happily walking around in the rain. Poe walked up, saw that Jude was alone, and started urgently looking around and barking! I had to open the truck door to let Poe know I was watching him before he stopped, but Poe stayed really close and didn't take his eyes off Jude anyway. I guess he doesn't trust me! Ha!

We've made some new friends who moved here while we were in the US, and we spent one Saturday at their house with the kids playing in the pool and exploring their grounds. It's been great to get to know them, and they have a daughter Taylah's age, which has been great for her.

Our kids have spent loads and loads of time with our neighbors'/colleagues' kids. I've been thinking about what a blessing it is to have them close by, these built-in best friends and playmates. Their younger daughter has gotten to a really fun age and has so much personality. She's learned some English from her big sister and from us, and her favorite thing to say right now is, "I don't know" to everything. Having seven kids in the house can get a bit chaotic, but thankfully we can just send them outside most of the time since the weather is so nice.

As I said, Josh has been teaching this whole month. The residential students of Shepherds Academy stay for a longer time than the modular students, and are taught and discipled more in-depth. He and our Malawian colleague, Isaac, have been teaching several subjects, and our friend and new translator, Khama, is doing a great job keeping up with Josh in class.

Malawi is still experiencing 10 hour daily load shedding, but for some wonderful reason our line doesn't usually get the full blackout scheduled. In case I haven't explained before, load shedding is when there are planned blackouts (usually either all morning, all afternoon/evening, or a little in the morning and a little in the afternoon/evening) because the country isn't producing enough power for everyone to have power all the time. Every week a load shedding schedule is released so you know when to expect the power to be out. It can be a pain, but I honestly really love our lamp-lit evenings, and the power comes back on just as we are ready to go to sleep, so we still have our fans and sound machines.

We spent a full Saturday last weekend gardening in the front yard. When we left for America, all of my houseplants got moved outside for easier watering, but few of them survived. So I bought a bunch of new plants at the nursery and we worked hard getting them potted. We also planted a whole row of Amaryllis along our front wall, which we're really excited to see fill in and bloom. I love that Amaryllis leaves look nice all year as a border, and then look really stunning in hot season when they're blooming!

To wrap up, I just have to add in this picture I took from our front porch a few days ago. We're in our fifth year of living here and this view of the Zomba plateau never gets old to me, especially during rainy season when it's so clear and green. It takes my breath away every single day. Our Creator is amazing!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

January 2023

Oh January. You were such a roller coaster of a month for us in every possible way. Let's recap.

We started the New Year the same way we always do, waking up on our mattresses in the living room floor. I never sleep great when we do this, but it's so worth it for the memories we make with this tradition.

We had lunch with all the grandparents at Josh's parents house, and his mom cooked a traditional New Year's Day meal of hog's jowl, black-eyed peas, cooked cabbage, corn bread, and some other yummies.

We spent as much time as possible with the grandparents in our last couple of weeks in Kentucky.

We also drove to Nashville for one night so the girls could have a sleepover with Skye, who lived with us for 2 months 3 years ago. They had an awesome time, and it was fun to meet her mom too.

Josh continued to preach in a different church every Sunday. It was particularly special for him to get to preach at Waldo Baptist Church where his former youth pastor, Trad York, is the pastor. The grandparents watched the kids so I could go too, and we got to have a date lunch in Paducah afterward.

We went to my hometown one last time to see some of my family, especially my dad's side of the family. His sisters came to my parents' house to visit, and then later my sister and I went to visit our grandparents. It's pretty impressive that my grandmother is still so healthy and so are all of her kids, and it was fun to recreate the picture above of the four siblings as kids (minus the neighbor kid from the first photo). Not all of them may want the world to know exactly how old they are, but you may remember that we just celebrated my dad's 80th birthday in November, so you can do some rough estimating!

We also celebrated Haylee's and my birthdays just before we left! Haylee requested a cake that looked like the cake Hagrid made Harry Potter for his 11th birthday, and Janice surprised me with one for me too! 

We said goodbye to the sweet, tiny house that we've been blessed to call home for 7 months.

And then we said goodbye to our parents at the airport in St. Louis. Jude's face in the picture above says it all. After we said goodbye and started walking toward security, he went back and grabbed both grandmas and tried to bring them with us. If only we could.

After two flights, we said hello to Rome, Italy for a few days on our way back to Malawi! Having a stop in between proved to be a really good way to let our hearts and minds transition from one continent to another, and we're thankful to be able to do it. We visited a bunch of places that we didn't have time for the last time we were in Rome, including the place where Julius Cesar was killed, Hadrian's Mausoleum/Castel Sant'Angelo, the Scala Sancta, a Percy Jackson themed tour of the Capitoline Museum, the Capuchin Crypt, and more. We also ate a LOT of gelato, of course, even though it was really cold. When in Rome, right?

From Rome, we took two more flights and finally arrived in Malawi! We didn't have any trouble with Rey on Ethiopian Airlines in June, but this time we had a lot of fuss both in Rome and in Addis Ababa about her. Both times they were unsure about whether or not they could let her on the plane, even though she's clearly a service dog and had been on a lot of flights already, some with Ethiopian Airlines themselves. Both times, we prayed for favor and God answered and let us through.

We spent the last week of January just settling back in here in our home in Malawi, Josh preparing for his school to start (it started Monday), and me interviewing applicants for tutors for our kids so they can get back to school asap.

We also got a new kitten. Let me explain (since many of you know we already have several). A couple of years ago we had a grey kitten named Minnie whose fur was different from the rest of the cats. It was softer and thicker, almost like rabbit fur, and, most importantly, she didn't bother JJ's recently developed cat allergies like the other cats did. For this sweet, cat-loving boy to develop a cat allergy was really hard on him, but at least he had Minnie he could love on. Until one day Minnie wandered out our front gate. We didn't think anything about it at the time, because all of our cats come and go a lot, but Minnie wasn't quite as smart as the others and never left our walls. We tell ourselves that she got lost and adopted by another loving family, but whatever happened, she never came home. The internet told me that a lot of "blue" (aka grey) cats have that different kind of fur and are generally known as less allergenic, so I started keeping an eye out in Malawi for another kitten like her. Just a couple of weeks before we left the US to return, the SPCA posted a picture of a sweet grey baby needing a home! It was meant to be! So this little guy joined our madhouse and now responds (sort of) to Percy.

For as hard as it was to say goodbye, it is so good to be back to our home and our stuff and our pets and the amazing weather of Malawi (I'm currently writing from my front porch on a perfectly mid-70's degree day, while Kentucky endures some kind of ice storm and temperatures that we do not miss). We miss our family in the US, and we wish we could live closer. But we also love our life here, and we're thankful for that because this is where God has called us to be for this season, and being miserable here would make things really hard and not bring him the glory that he deserves.