One Year Thoughts

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This month marks a full year since we returned from Cambodia.  We stepped off the plane in Dallas, Texas, hurting from the good-byes of over a decade of friendships, unsure of what God wanted us to do next.  The pain of the transition was likened to getting whole branches cut off.  We walked around with phantom pains from limbs that were no longer there. We wondered how we would fit back into American culture.  We ached from the loss of identity and purpose.

Slowly, God revealed our next steps.  After five months of living in my parents’ basement, we moved to Worthington, Minnesota, where Vandenn had accepted a job with Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ).  As we settled into our new home and into our community, God started to cause new buds of growth.  They were small and tender but fragrant with the constant grace that surrounded us.

At a going-away party that my friends had given me before leaving Cambodia, a good friend told me that just like I had developed close friends and community in Phnom Penh, I would do the same thing in this new place.  It would take time, but it would happen.  It  seemed a bit impossible and daunting at the time.  As an introvert, I don’t make new friends that easily.  I was tired at the thought of starting over.  Yet, this is where God wanted me to be–at a place where I had to be wholly dependent upon Him again.  So with many tear-filled nights, I cried out to God to bring me friends again, to help me feel at home.

And He has provided.  A year later, I can look around me and see the friends that He has brought to me.  I feel part of a community again.

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(Just two of the wonderful friends that I have been blessed with this year.)

Starting over in a new town, in a “new” country, is never easy.  After a year here, though, I can say that God has abundantly provided for us.  A few weeks ago we went to the Windsurfing Regatta here in town and kept running into people that we knew.  That’s a great feeling.  It’s fun to go to Carson’s t-ball games and see familiar faces.  I can walk into the grocery store and the cashiers know me and the kids.  Walking into church, I feel connected.  I love watching my kids run up to friends.

Our hearts still reside in many places across the world.  I think that is part of the pleasure and pain of having lived in different places.  God has met us in each of those places.  Just a couple weeks ago I had the joy of meeting with my closest friend from Cambodia and then my closest friend from Mongolia.  This week I will meet with my closest friend from my college days.  Just like having more kids expands our hearts in ways beyond comprehension, God expands our hearts to enfold new friends and new experiences.  Each one is a precious reminder of His love for us.

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Spring of Water

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Spring days are full of optimism.  Yesterday we went for a bike ride around Lake Okabena with some friends. The strain of muscles hardly used has left me a bit sore this morning, but thankful for smooth trails and a peace in my heart for where we are at this time.

I have written quite openly about my struggle with depression and dark days, and there were times when I didn’t think I would be at this point–a place of light and joy and rest.  This is what I wrote almost a year ago:

Dust flies through the air, kicked up by trucks, motos, and tuk tuks.  It settles lightly upon our minivan, as I drive down the road.  Dry season is upon us.  The floods are a distant memory.  The trees in our yard droop under the rising heat, bearing down for the hot season. Yet, in the midst of the heat is one glorious sign–mangoes.  When temperatures sky-rocket and the ground becomes cracked and worn, mangoes—juicy, sweet, delicious, golden goodness—ripen on the trees.  Fruit coming out of dusty dryness. 

I felt dry and worn.  Any sign of fruit was not readily evident.  But God kept working even when I couldn’t feel it or see it.

There are so many passages in the Bible that speak into this.  One of my favorites is Isaiah 58:11 which says:

And the Lord will guide you continually

and satisfy your desire in scorched places

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

What I have come to see more fully is that there will be times when we fill cracked and dry and we will have seasons when our scorched places are filled with water.  This doesn’t change the fact that the source of living water is always with us.  He is there even in the dusty dryness, when the memory of abundant water is fading.  Even in my dark days, He guided me.  When I cried that His waters had failed me, He whispered His promises to me.

Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

In the last several years I have been humbled, I have hungered for fullness, and I have seen that it is not by my strength or power that I am able to live.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14 ESV).  What helped me through, was knowing that ultimately, my present life and my eternity were sealed in Him, that my thirst was satiated at the cross.  While I may feel parched at times on this earth, I am secure in the eternal Spring of water..

In Any and Every Circumstance

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April in Cambodia is the hottest time of year.  Sweat is your constant companion and it takes extra effort to make it through simple tasks.  Contrast that with the spring in Minnesota: we’ve had up and down temps ranging from 30s to 70s.  And honestly, it’s been lovely.

I love winter. I love how the cold weather turns you inward, and I like to dig deep into the comfort of a blanket while I sit on the couch.  Spring comes and the warmth starts to awaken sleeping parts.  As the sun reaches its rays onto my head, I watch as my kids pedal fast legs up and down our driveway, in earnest to make up for the last months inside.  Carson’s growth has allowed him to use the monkey bars and he swings with strong and sure muscles from bar to bar.

The pleasure of these days almost makes us feel guilty.  Things that weren’t possible in Cambodia are now readily available.  Last Sunday afternoon we gathered with a few other families on a wide open, grassy field to play a relaxed game of touch football. The younger kids played on the playground right next to it, running around and enjoying their friends.  We had spent the morning celebrating Resurrection Sunday and our hearts were full.  Faith, fellowship, friends, and fun.  All in a relaxed atmosphere that was near impossible to attain in Phnom Penh.  Daily life was just not this easy there.  As we sat down that evening after it was all over, Vandenn said, “I feel a bit guilty at how great this day was.”

And the truth is, we’ve been having many of those great days.  God has given us some new friends and community that have truly blessed us and our kids.  We have a couple parks within walking distance from our home.  Carson can ride his bike up and down our road without fear that a moto or car will hit him.  Our kids have become friends with neighbors and run freely between our backyards.  We worship in English on Sundays and our kids are able to be involved in Sunday school and nursery–freeing us up to actually be in the service.  My kids have grandparents and cousins and an aunt and uncle near by whom they see regularly.  I don’t fear power outages during nap time or at night.  When it rains I’m not worried about flooding.  Laundry is a piece of cake with a dryer. And I haven’t had to deal with any rats since living here, either

All of these things can make us feel a bit guilty. We still have friends overseas who are dealing with the opposite of this.

I am reminded, though, of the verse in James that says, “Every good and perfect gift, comes down from the Father of Light, in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

And also in Philippians 4 when it says, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret to facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

In any and every circumstance, we are called to contentment.  Not a feeling of martyrdom or superiority when we’re toughing it out with hard things. Nor is it a feeling of guilt when there are more comforting things around us.  All things come from above.  And all circumstances should bring us to Jesus, thanking Him for all that He has done for us.

Lighter Days

16263572816_3f6943c10d_b16103365919_a4d4fdf3f2_zThe days near the equator flow by in pretty regular 12-hour periods of dark and light all year long.  Here in the Midwest of the United States, we have the long, dark nights of winter and the longer, brighter days of summer. The change starts to become noticeable even before the warm weather slowly begins pushing under the quilted cover of snow and ice.  After the Winter Solstice, when we hunker down under the darkest and shortest day of the year, we breathe a sigh of expectation that the darkness will slowly start to recede and the light will begin trickle in earlier. The change is almost unremarkable at first.  But we know it’s happening. The darkness doesn’t seem as oppressive and never ending.  One day we wake up and the sun is peeking through.

Sometimes just the hope of light is what gets you through the dark days.  You can start to breathe and move again.  Depression has a way of making you want to dig deep and stay for awhile.

One day at church a sweet Sister came up to me, hugged me and said, “This will not last forever. There is an end in sight.  Have hope.”  As I walked out to the car, I felt lighter.  For the first time in a long time, I could tell myself that there was an end to this. I wasn’t going to live under this winter solstice of my soul forever.  I just needed someone to remind me of that, to grab me by the shoulders and say, “I’ve been there; you will get through this too.”

Maybe you need to be told that today.  The dark will not be this deep and this long forever.  Open your eyes to the light creeping in and hold on to that hope.

 

Let’s Make History

16183647766_c83383cac6_k 16209515925_79d64345c4_kLast week we survived wind chills in the negative thirties and multiple school cancellations and delays. The beaches of Cambodia looked mighty inviting!  At times I look out of our window and am just struck at how different this life is.  The snow is gorgeous and I love how it sparkles in the sun.  But after awhile, cars drive on it and it becomes a yucky, mushy, dirty brown.  These snowy, cold days, though, were ones that I dreamed of during the hot, sweaty weather of the tropics.  It’s a bit ironic that we always seem to be searching for something different–different weather, different house, different circumstances–and we have a hard time really enjoying the place that we’re in.

While I’m enjoying settling into our house and community, I feel an urge, an itch, to do more, to explore, to move on to the next thing.  Maybe it’s the result of now being a third culture adult.  I’ve become used to a nomadic, somewhat adventurous lifestyle.  Although my heart longed for consistency and security, there is a small, wild spirit in me that will forever long for new places and experiences.  Neither Vandenn nor I feel like the overseas chapter of our lives is done for good–we can feel it tapping us on the shoulders, beckoning us back.  That being said, we also know we are called at this time to settle here in the States.

I think one of the hardest things about moving into a new location like this is that you have to start all over with making friends.  Not only do you feel like friends back overseas have in a sense forgotten you and moved on, but you find yourself plopped into a town where people have been around for awhile. They have their routines and inside jokes. They have history together.  I have been awake in bed many nights, thinking about this.  I have wondered where I fit and if I will feel that sense of belonging again.  I wish I could just snap my fingers and have an instant great history with this new community.

I remember when I first married Vandenn and we hung out with some of his college friends.  They had all of these stories that they just laughed and laughed about, but I had no clue what had happened.  I hadn’t been there. Vandenn and I were just at the beginning of making a history together. We barely knew each other and that really bothered me. I felt that his friends almost had a deeper and better connection because of that shared past.  Now, over eight years later, I don’t feel that way.  Vandenn and I have forged our own, special history together and I can share in the joy of his past friendships.

I really don’t like being the “new girl.”  And it’s a bit weirder because I did grow up here and do know many people, but I’m now new…but not…but yes.

During this time, I have to remind myself that we are just at the beginning of making a history here.  And that can’t be rushed.

A Settled Heart

Since moving back from Cambodia, I have struggled with whether or not to continue this blog. I have wondered if people would still be interested in reading it or if people were really only reading because I was a mom living overseas. Now that we are settled in Southwest Minnesota, without the Asian flair of daily life, I have questioned whether my writing can stand up to the change. And you know what? I don’t have an answer to that. But I really hope that it can. I love to write, and if anything, I need to write.

Last November, after five months of living with my parents, Vandenn and I were able to move into our own home. It’s quite amazing that we were actually able to buy our own house! We are loving it. It’s strange knowing that we can do anything to it that we want to. I love our kitchen–spacious and bright–and I love how it overlooks our backyard. A backyard, people! We’ve never had one!

As we’ve begun to make this place home, I can’t help but be reminded that a settled home does not make a settled heart. It helps, for sure, but when it comes down to it, no matter how greatly decorated your house is or how organized you happen to be, it can not make the ultimate changes your heart needs to feel settled.

Back in Cambodia our last house needed a lot of work to make it feel homey. As I gathered pillows and curtains from Ikea in Thailand, I was excited to make those changes. I thought that once my house felt pretty and homey, that my heart would finally be settled and happy. But you know what? It didn’t help. A great color scheme ultimately did not change the darkness that was settling into my heart.

Now here in our new home, in our new town, I know that a new place is not the answer to the troubles of my heart. My home can bring me a space of comfort and a place to love and grow with my family, but I can’t put all my hopes into it. I still have to do the hard work of letting Christ renew my heart. It’s only in Him that we are truly settled. Location and housing is secondary.

Chicken Wonton Soup

This past week, the weather turned colder and soup sounded so good.  For some reason, my kids are not a huge fan of soup, so anytime I make it, I make some rice and they pull stuff out of the soup that they want to put on top of the rice.  This recipe comes from Catherine McCord’s Weelicious: One Family. One Meal cookbook.  While I have found some great recipes out of it, my kids seem bent on breaking the stereotype of the “kid-friendly” meal.  They seem to like very little at this point. If they could eat rice and marinated meat every day, they would. Or eggs, rice and soy sauce–their favorite meal by far.

Upon our return to the states, it made me so frustrated that I would spend time cooking food that my kids just didn’t like.  Are all kids this picky?  Every meal time was a battle.  Finally, Vandenn told me not to push it so hard and not to feel bad about the fact that my kids didn’t want to eat. They wouldn’t starve. When they wanted to eat, they would.  So, I have continued to cook food that we adults enjoy and have tried not to worry about the fact that my kids mostly eat rice.

This soup was delicious, even by Carson’s standards.  I love anything that includes sesame oil–reminds me of Korean food. It makes the kitchen smell amazing. Here’s the recipe.

Chicken Wonton Soup

Filling 

1/2 lb ground chicken or turkey

1/4 cup grated carrots

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 scallion, chopped

1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 egg white

One 12-oz package wonton wrappers (found in refrigerated section of your grocery)

Broth

1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tsp minced fresh ginger

2 small garlic cloves, minced

Two 32-oz boxes low-sodium chicken broth

1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

2 cups chopped bok choy

2 scallions, chopped

1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

  1. To make the wontons, place all the ingredients except the wonton wrappers in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Place a large piece of parchment paper on a work surface and lay out appx. 20 wonton wrappers.
  3. Place 1 tsp of the chicken filling in the center of each wonton square.
  4. Brush two edges of the wonton wrapper with water.  Fold over to shape into a triangle, pinching the sides to seal, and set aside.
  5. To make the broth, heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the ginger and garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the broth and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the wontons, bok choy, and vinegar, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the wontons are tender.