Monday, November 21, 2022

October 2022

If you haven't read the September recap, we started October in the middle of a month-long road trip out west visiting churches and national parks. We tent camped for half the trip and stayed in hotels/airbnbs for half the trip. These month recaps are just some of the highlights from the trip, since it would be too much to write in detail about the whole trip!

We drove from the north rim of the Grand Canyon to Casa Grande (halfway between Phoenix and Tucson) to visit All Nations Church and our friends, the Gibbses, who grew up with Josh in Hardin. 

We drove from there to Joshua Tree National Park in California and camped for two nights. The rocks and vegetation were otherworldly, and the kids and I loved climbing on the huge rocks around our campsite.

From there, we camped 3 nights at Crystal Cove State Park on the beach just south of Los Angeles. None of us had ever seen the Pacific Ocean before, and we all had a great time playing in the waves and enjoying the view of the beach and cliffs from our campsite.

While we were there, we took surfing lessons! Actually just the four big kids and I did it, Josh and Abe opted out, but they still had a lot of fun playing on the beach. Those of us who surfed had an awesome time, and I think if we lived near a beach Jude and I would be out catching waves all the time!

My "little" cousin, Geronimo, drove up from San Diego to see us that afternoon. We hadn't seen each other since we were kids, and it was fun to catch up with him.

We took one morning to drive into LA and see Hollywood. We stopped at the Hollywood sign... 

And also the Chinese Theater to see our favorite celebrities' handprints on the sidewalk. 

From there, we drove back to Phoenix to visit Black Mountain Baptist Church and the Stephenses, and really enjoyed our visit there. 

Then we headed west to White Sands National Park in New Mexico.  The white gypsum sand was so cool to the touch and fun to sled and walk on. It was such a neat experience.

The next day we visited the nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park, also in New Mexico. We did the walk down the natural entrance, and while it was super cool, the youngest among us may or may not have been pretty grumpy this day and made it a little difficult to enjoy.

From there, we visited our last national park of the trip, Big Bend National Park in Texas, and camped there for two nights. It was such a huge and unique park, and it was really cool to be on the Rio Grande and the border with Mexico. We did the Santa Elena Canyon trail, and had to wade across the river and through really deep mud, and it was so much fun!

From Big Bend, we drove ALL THE WAY ACROSS TEXAS to Corpus Christi to visit Yorktown Baptist Church and the Brazells, who I grew up with in Marion. We spent three nights there and got to play on the beach and do some fun touristy things while we were there.

As we made our way back up toward Kentucky, we stopped in San Antonio to check out The Alamo. It was really interesting, and we only wish we could have stayed a little longer.

We spent two nights in Fort Worth, TX specifically to see some old friends who I went to college with and Josh went to seminary with...

... and some even older friends: my best friend from the age of 4 and her dad who was like a second father to me!

When we finally returned to Kentucky, we returned to a very different place than we'd left a month before. Fall had finally come and the leaves were starting to change!

We tried to do all the fun fall things that we've missed the last four years, like a pumpkin patch...

... pumpkin carving with the grandparents...

... and dressing up for Halloween! The kids had never been real trick or treating before (they'd done a few trunk or treats when they were younger), and they really wanted that experience. So we dressed up and hit up a few friends and a sweet neighborhood in Murray. 

October was so crazy and so good!

September 2022

 The last couple of months have been insane, and I'm just now getting caught up! I've so enjoyed doing these monthly recaps as a way of helping me reflect on and remember all of the good things in our lives.

Josh and I got away to Louisville for a weekend, where he preached at Long Run Baptist Church. We got to spend some much-needed time just the two of us and also catch up with a few very encouraging friends.

Taylah and I escorted Haylee on a campus visit to Murray State. She's only a freshman in high school this year, but when we return in 4 years she'll be starting college, so we needed to do this now! She really loved it and is excited about college.

The girls and I went to our friends Trevor and Maggie's wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony. We didn't get to stay for much of the reception, because we had to get back to the boys, but we had a lot of fun.

I ran in my first ever 10K, and Josh and Haylee ran in the 5K! It was so much fun and felt amazing! My cousin, Jeff, also met us there and ran in the 10K. I was running to finish and Jeff was running to win. Which he probably could have done, but he miscounted and ran an extra lap around the course! He still came in 3rd in his age group.

Then we left for the most epic road trip of our lives. These will just be highlights, and I really need to sit down and write out more details of the trip some other time before the memories start to fade. We started out camping for two nights at Rocky Mountain National Park, where it was SUPER cold, wet, and windy. But also gorgeous.

We spent the weekend in Fort Collins, CO with the Thurmans and Josh preached at Overland Church where Zack pastors. Zack visited us in Malawi in February, and it was fun to finally get to meet his family and church.

We drove from there to Moab, UT and visited Arches National Park. The delicate arch hike was one of the things I was most excited about, and it did not disappoint!

From Arches, we drove to Zion National Park and camped there 3 nights. 

Then we ended the month camping for two nights at the north rim of the Grand Canyon! We all agreed that we wished we could have spent a lot more time there; it was so perfect.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

It Must Be Nice to Have a House Helper

 The issue of having a house helper is one that causes embarrassment and frustration for many missionaries. It feels extravagant to have a maid, especially if she works full-time, as is the case for many missionaries in developing countries. Some missionaries stalwartly refuse to have house help, and others hide their helper's existence from friends and supporters. Those of us who do share that we have a house helper have inevitably gotten the comment at some point that, "it must be nice," implying that we're living it up on the mission field with our maids and easy lives. And while, yes, it is admittedly pretty nice to not have to clean toilets, there's so much more to understand about why most missionaries have house helpers.

First of all, you have house helpers too, yours just aren't human. Your house helpers are the obvious ones like your dishwashers, clothes dryers, microwaves, and robot vacuums. And they're also less obvious ones, like:

1. Reliable water and electricity that you never have to think about, much less stress about things like collecting rain water to fill toilets, spending what feels like half your life on the phone with the electric company, making sure you don't use certain appliances when you're on solar backup for half of every day, and constantly checking the water tank to see if you have enough water to shower that day.

2. Central heating and air so you don't have to keep your windows open all the time, which leaves your entire house covered in dust and bugs, and living in a generally cleaner environment where the streets are paved and grass holds the dirt in place so your house doesn't get as dirty, dusty, and muddy. My entire house in Malawi has to be swept and mopped every single day, and it is still never clean. I never go outside barefoot, and yet my feet are always dirty just from being barefoot inside the house.

3. Quick, easy meal options, whether that is Chick-fil-A, doordash, or canned spaghetti sauce from the grocery store. Most missionaries live in places with few, if any, fast or convenience food options and cook everything from scratch, which takes a lot of time. House helpers often either help with some of the meal prep and cooking, or their assistance with other household tasks frees up the missionary to do all this cooking.

4. Family, friends, or reliable childcare. Many house helpers of missionaries with small kids also work as a sort of nanny and help with the kids. When there are no other reliable childcare options where you live, this help is invaluable.

5. One-stop shopping that is easy to drive to and is in a language you understand. Some house helpers help with shopping because it is easier for a local to navigate the markets and shops. In the markets, foreigners are often charged what I call the "azungu price," or the foreigner price, because in many cultures it is perfectly normal to charge someone more if you think they are able to pay more. Even if the missionary does their own shopping, it takes much longer and is often more stressful than shopping in your own culture.

6. Generally living in a culture that is your own and doesn't require much thought to navigate. You wouldn't believe the amount of time and mental energy that is consumed just from living every day in a different culture. Traditions, expectations, presuppositions, norms, and taboos are all different from what you know, and can be a minefield to navigate. This gets exhausting.

And while a house helper is often invaluable to relieving much of the stress listed above, they also come with some of their own stresses. Having someone in your house all the time is pretty awkward. Many personality types feel unable to relax in their own home until the helper leaves for the day. And as you can imagine would happen with someone in your house all the time and helping with your kids, house helpers often become part of the family. This is a beautiful thing, but it also means that their struggles become your struggles. Yes, you pay them a good wage, but when a child is sick, an uncle dies, fertilizer needs to be bought, or a roof needs to be replaced, they come to you for help. 

You're also an employer, a role that most missionaries have never had experience with before and don't particularly enjoy. You have to deal with them not showing up for work, managing what they're expected to do, having hard conversations when they aren't doing what they should, and all of the things a boss or HR person would usually deal with.

So the next time you hear a missionary mention their house helper and you're tempted to think, "it must be nice," remember that it isn't as simple as it may seem. Do we love our overseas lives and the work we do? Absolutely! Are we complaining about any of it? Not at all. Are we living in luxury with our maids and easy lives? Also not at all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

August 2022

How is it possible that we've done so much in just one month? And I know I'm going to feel this way even more in the next few months! We are staying so busy here. Josh is visiting a new church every Sunday, and sometimes leaving on Saturday if the church is more than a couple hours away. The kids and I have mostly been staying at Hardin Baptist. It's been super hard to do that by myself every Sunday, but not as hard as it would be to take this crew to a different church every week. And we really want the kids to make/deepen some solid friendships here so it feels familiar when they return for future furloughs and college.

We said goodbye to Josh's sister and her family as they went back down to Florida. It was really fun having them around all summer.

We went for our first camping trip at Dam 50 in my hometown. It's a really nice little campground on the river, and we had a good time even though it was crazy hot. My mom, Aunt Judy, and her daughter-in-law came out to hang out with us, and a good, sweaty time was had by all. Unfortunately our trip got cut from two nights down to one when the weather forecast said it would be storming the next morning while we would be packing up to go home. That sounded like a 0% fun way to end our first camping trip, so we decided to pack up a day early.

One of the churches Josh preached at this week was Hardin Baptist! It was great having him with us for one Sunday. He also preached at my home church, Union Baptist, which was really special. It was so good to see everyone at Union and be able to mutually encourage each other.

We've been out on Pappy's boat a good bit again this month, and really in the water with a cold watermelon has been about the only sane place to be for much of the month. It's been SO HOT. Jude LOVES tubing so much, and Abe finally worked up the courage to try it, and of course loved it too. 

Josh also preached at the church he pastored for four years, Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, and we all went along to see everyone! We got to spend the weekend in this idyllic cabin, which inspired Josh to start planning our retirement cabin. 

Our friend Skye, who lived with us in Malawi for two months a couple of years ago, drove up from Nashville to see us, and we all had a good time catching up.

We've also started going through our storage container that's at Josh's parents' house. We didn't store a whole lot when we moved to Malawi, but you can tell that as I was packing I definitely got to a point where I was just DONE and decided to deal with the rest of the stuff in four years. Ha. Understandably so, though, right? I was trying to pack up a whole house to either store, sell, or take to Malawi, and it was really overwhelming. We'd also put a lot of stuff in there that was intended for a yard sale which never happened. So now it's four years later and we're trying to organize all of that a little better and finally sell or donate a lot of it. The kids also have a good time looking through their old toys, artwork, and books.

This past weekend, Josh preached at a church near St. Louis, and took Taylah with him for the weekend. The church surprised them at the last minute with tickets to a Cardinals game! They had a really fun weekend together, and enjoyed the game and getting to visit City Light church.

Friday, August 5, 2022

July 2022

July has been SO BUSY! Josh's sister and her family have been in town from Florida all month, and we've been making up for the last four years by spending as much time as possible with them. It's been super fun, and really sweet to see the cousins bond. Her son and my boys love playing together, and her little girls and my big girls love each other so much.

We did the traditional 4th of July lunch with Josh's mom's family, and we had family over to our house for the 4th where we did BBQ and s'mores and sparklers and fireworks and all the fun 4th of July things. Murray cancelled the big fireworks show, so we ran to Kroger to get a pack of our own fireworks and had just as good of a time.

We went to see Minions: Rise of Gru in the theater, which was super fun. It was Abe's first time in a movie theater. I remember when we were in Malawi, my mom tried to explain to him what a movie theater was, and his mind was blown by the idea. They all LOVED the movie and the theater experience.

Josh preached at my mom's church this month, and after church we got to go see my grandparents and spend some time with my parents. We haven't gotten to spend as much time as we'd hoped in my hometown, because they're having a water crisis this summer thanks to a breach in the levee at the city water reservoir. The city is giving out rations of free bottled water to residents, and my parents are flushing their toilets with water they collect as it drips off the air conditioner. Anyway, all that to say that my parents can't really accommodate a bunch of extra people at their house flushing toilets and washing hands and stuff. Hopefully soon we'll be able to get up that way more!

Hardin Baptist had VBS, and I somehow now only have two kids young enough for it?? The girls had fun helping in the little kids' rooms, and Jude, Josh, and I enjoyed our quiet evenings at home.

Abe and JJ had a mini motorbike accident (it's kind of a long story that happened because the boys weren't doing what they were supposed to) which sent us racing to the ER thinking Abe would need stitches on his forehead. He ended up with a head CT and ankle x-ray that both came back fine, no stitches, and a big ole goose egg on his forehead. As it healed and the swelling dropped from his forehead, it filled his eye (which wasn't actually injured in the wreck) and his eye was black and swollen for several days. He was proud of how tough he looked!

Josh's parents got a pontoon boat recently, and we are becoming lake people! Jude loves boating and tubing more than any other human on the planet, and it's been so fun to do something he loves so much. It's also been great family time together.

The girls and I have started doing crossfit twice a week! This is something I've wanted to do for a LONG time, and we're building some habits that I hope we're able to take back to Malawi with us (I'm also starting a mental list of what exercise equipment it might be feasible for us to take back with us). I'm so proud of us, and how strong we're getting! We've also been running twice a week with some friends, and have really enjoyed that too! It's really nice to be able to run here without attracting lots of attention, and running with friends makes it even better.

We took the kids to the LBL Nature Station one day to look at all the animals. The boys were the perfect ages for it, and loved it so much. Afterward, we walked around Hematite lake, which would have been fun if Abe hadn't been so grumpy, but honestly that's true of most things we do, so we're used to it. Ha. Look how tall Jude is next to Mammie!

I have a million pictures from this month of our kids + Jessi's kids and all of us on the boat. It's been a busy and good month. We're so thankful for all of the time we got to spend with them.