A Downside

It’s one of the most painful things we have to do.

It makes our life feel transitive, impermanent, without real physical or emotional ties. It hurts. 

It’s a struggle for my kids in particular. This hurts a mother’s heart.

We do it here, then we have to do it again in Uganda.

We have to say goodbye.

We say goodbye to family. This grows harder each time we see them. People grow and age and life circumstances change. Will this be the last time we see my grandma? Our parents? I hope not, but there is no way to know. Will my kids still have fun with their cousins next time they see them or will they have changed so much that there isn’t a connection anymore?

We say goodbye to good friends, people who are like family to us. Unlike family, they have no obligation to us. It’s more of an effort to see them and sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever have another chance.

We say goodbye to people in our church, both our home church in the US and our churches in Uganda. Some of our Ugandan church members emigrate to other countries and we might never see them again this side of heaven.

We say goodbye in each and every church we visit where connections are made. People are busy. I’m busy. We go on with our lives and don’t keep up with those connections like we should.

We’ve said goodbye to missionary friends on the field as they move their family back to the states. Their children are friends with my children. It adds to the isolation we sometimes feel.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It means my kids can keep in touch with people in the US, even talking with them face to face from time to time. They can know their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They can see their friends.

But technology is a double edged sword. It also means we keep busier than we ever have before. Social media makes us feel connected, but the connection is on our own terms, at our own convenience. It can increase feelings of loneliness for people living overseas, because we see all the activity of those in the states and we feel left out. Even worse, sometimes we struggle with feeling ignored, insignificant, and forgotten. 

So, as you pray for missionaries, pray that God will give grace through the goodbyes.

(Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a downer, but merely to express one thing we face and deal with as missionaries. We say goodbye and go on in the joy of the Lord. Some days, however, it is a struggle.)

The Packing Challenge – Part 2

There was never supposed to be a part 2 to this story. I felt like my last post on it was sufficient.

Then we got to the train station Saturday morning.

James and I worked all week to get the packing done. We weighed, repacked, weighed again, repacked some more, until we got everything up to the weight it was supposed to be. Or so we thought.

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Upon arriving at the train station at 5:30 Saturday morning, we were informed that the bathroom scale we were using was 2 pounds off and all our bags were overweight. Amtrak would not allow them to be checked. They had to be 50 pounds. They wouldn’t even allow them if they were 50.5 pounds. 🙁 

I cried. Again.

It did not help that I’d only slept about two hours the night before. (A combination of nervousness about waking on time and lower back pain from all the packing.)

Thank God the train was delayed which gave us enough time to make all the adjustments. We found a way to reduce the weight enough that Amtrak would take the bags in question. This added a box we would have to carry on to the train, but we had no other options.

Then we waited.

And waited.

Then waited some more.

An hour an a half after we were originally scheduled to depart, the delayed train arrived, we all got on with our carry on luggage and found a place to sit.

Thank God for train travel! It’s so much more convenient than car travel, especially when you are tired! We arrived in Chicago along with all our bags, unloaded and met the people who were to pick us up. By some miracle they got all our stuff and our bodies into the vehicles they brought with them and carried us to where we’d be staying over Sunday.

They also had access to an industrial scale. We were able to weigh each and every piece of luggage to verify the weight and add or remove things to get it right! Now we’ll see what happens when we get to the airport tomorrow. Should be interesting, and, as always, never boring.

The Packing Challenge

Numerous times we’ve had people say to us “We appreciate the sacrifices you make!” While we acknowledge the sentiment, we don’t feel like we are sacrificing by living on the mission field.

I have a corner full of luggage that can attest to this lack of sacrifice. :-/

It’s difficult to condense one’s life into a series of 50 pound pieces of luggage, but we must do this every time we make a trip back to the US and return to Uganda. We have to take items we will need but can’t get there. This includes:

  • Sheets for the next couple years. Cloth wears out faster in a tropical climate. We go through about one set of sheets per bed, per year. Growing up, I had a set of sheets given to me that lasted me until I got married. The rate at which sheets fall apart in Uganda came as a huge surprise to me.
  • Clothing is much the same. We line dry everything and we’re careful not to leave it out too long, but it just wears out faster, especially socks and underwear. We have to pack clothes for 6 adult sized people and 2 child sized people for the next term, planning for the growth of the kids in the family. There are clothing markets in Uganda, but the clothes they sell no longer fit my older boys. It’s difficult to find quality clothing in the market. (I’ll come back to this in another post.) 
  • School books for all six kids for the next school years. And school supplies. Just before we left on our last furlough, I started to see higher quality crayons and markers available there. But we still can’t get good colored pencils or mechanical pencils of any kind.
  • Shoes for all of us. Half of us can’t buy shoes in our size in Africa. So if we need them, we have to take them with us. You can buy higher quality shoes there, but you pay for it. It’s cheaper for us to watch for sales here and take the shoes with us, even if it takes luggage space.
  • Chocolate chips – or any baking chip we might want. You can’t buy chocolate chips where we live. The available chocolate is poor quality. I stock up on chips here (and dried blueberries and cranberries) so we have them for baking when we get back there.
  • High quality kitchen implements. I cook a LOT in Africa. It takes hours every day to prepare food there, even meals that are “easy” in the US. We’ve invested in a number of items that will make this take less time. 
  • Mexican spices. We can get Chinese and Indian spices but not Mexican. Indian chili is NOT the same as chili seasoning. Found that one out the hard way. If we want something to have a Mexican flavor, we have to take the spices to flavor it. 

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I had the packing well in hand in preparation for leaving for Uganda.

I was wrong.

Or delusional. 

Probably delusional.

Remember how I said that every piece must weigh exactly 50 pounds and be securely packed? Yeah, well that’s easier said than done.

It’s rather like putting together a 15,000 piece 3D puzzle with pieces in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights, and volumes and in total weighs over 1,000 pounds.

I had most of the packing already “finished.” Friday, I had the kids sort all the things they needed to have packed and make a pile. Saturday, I worked to get one piece that was full but did not weigh 50 pounds up to weight. I worked on that for an hour. No matter what I did, the container could not hold 50 pounds with those contents. I finally had to stop and move on to another container. Then that container could not reach 50 pounds no matter what I did. By this time, I’d been working for several hours. I was hungry, hot, and tired. And I was crying.

I think I’m just bad at packing.

Saturday night I barely slept. Remember the puzzle analogy? I laid awake thinking of ways I could get those pieces up to the right weight and still have room for everything.

Conclusion? I opened every piece of luggage with any flexibility on contents and pulled out the heaviest items. Then I took the lightweight items out of the containers and distributed them among the luggage. My nice, neat, orderly row of packed luggage was ruined.

But it worked. I filled the containers. They weighed 50 pounds. I fixed the suitcases and made those weigh 50 pounds. I cheered every time the scale hit the desired weight.

It’s a process. 🙂

It also ought to be a challenge or a reality show: Packing Xtreme. Pick up your life and make it fit in as few 50 pound pieces of luggage as you can using only a bathroom scale to check the weight.

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Friday Funny – Teal’c vs. The Tree

We had workmen in our yard repairing our dog pen which left us with a quandary: How would we restrain the very guard dog whose pen they were repairing? Teal’c was a great guard dog. Any stranger in the yard was fair game. You could not claim his bark was worse than his bite. He did not bark.

The only solution we had was to chain him to the tree by his collar. He had shade. He had water. The kids went out and played with him now and then.

I think he thought he could pull over the tree and get loose. He really wanted to get loose.

He started out standing up and pulling against the tree, but eventually got tired and sat down. He sat this way for the better part of the afternoon, dare I say, doggedly trying to pull the tree over. We tried distraction. We tried redirection. Nothing worked. 

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(I hesitated to post this picture for fear of accusations of animal cruelty. That was not the case whatsoever. He really was that stubborn and tenacious. He’s the dog that figured out how to open the gate and let himself out of the dog pen – thus the need to make repairs on the pen. He then figured out how to open that gate. We finally installed a full-sized door with a latch he couldn’t reach and stopped our escape artist in his tracks.)

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How a Book Comes About – Part 1

My best friend, Rachel Miller, just released her second novel. She is prepping for the sequel to those books and blogged about it on her author blog. She finished her post with the questions: Are you an author? What plotting/outlining methods and tools do you use? I decided to answer her question in my own blog post.

My own plotting methods differ greatly from Rachel’s. This is not a bad thing. I would imagine there are as many methods as there are writers. I’ve read a few books about novel preparation and every author has his or her own ideas of how to do it. In my experience, we fall into one of three categories:

  1. Plotter – A plotter plans their book from start to finish before they sit down to write the actual words and scenes. This might include an outline, historical research, character profiles, and back story. Tolkien wrote an entire language for his novel preparation. Stephen King (who claims to do as little research as possible, but wrote an 800 page book about the Kennedy assassination) has written entire novels from the back story he created for his characters. 
  2. Pantser – Chris Baty coined this term in his book No Plot? No Problem! It refers to a novelist who does little to no preparation for their novel. They may have an idea of a character and a beginning plot device, but they “go where the story takes them” as they write it. This may be an over-simplification of the term, but you get the general idea. 
  3. Plantser – This combination of the last two terms sums up where I fall into the novel plotting/outlining spectrum. It refers to basic plot/character/setting development, followed by “going where the story takes you” ;-). 

When I’m planning a novel, I think of the basic plot premise, beginning, middle and end. I make mental notes for myself, high points – or plot points if you want to call them that, scenes I want to include in the book. I know I need 20-25 of these in a 50,000 word novel, though this number is flexible, depending on how long it takes to write each point and how many perspectives I’m using. (Talents has 4 main characters and each section was 12,000-20,000 words long. I didn’t need as many plot points for each character since I was intertwining the stories of 4 different people.)

Then, I think through the characters. I name them. (This is my biggest struggle. The main character names come easily but the supporting characters are harder.) I think about who they are, how they would respond to different situations and to each other. I’ll work through sample conversations in my head before I ever write a word. I picture what they look like. 

This is how I resemble a pantser:  I don’t write anything down. It’s like watching a movie in my head so I just write down what I see. Sometimes an additional scene will present itself, so I’ll write that into the book. Sometimes I decide I don’t like where it’s going, so I’ll change it as I go. It’s more fluid than an outline but more planned than just winging it.

So far, I’ve never struggled with the dreaded writer’s block. There have been a few times when I had scenes I didn’t really feel like writing, maybe they were painful or included events I’d rather avoid. I’ve even put off writing those for days. A couple times I wasn’t sure how to get the protagonist from where I had him to where I wanted him without using an obvious plot device. (Other times I embraced and flaunted their use! Hah! Sometimes you just need a good plot device in a book!)

My rather loosy-goosy method has produced 8 novels so far. It’s by no means an exact science, but I don’t care as long as it gets the job done. Now I just need to buckle down and get those books edited.

Take Time to Smell the…Rainbows?

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One of my least favorite chores to complete as we prepare to leave for Uganda (or while prepping to come back for furlough) is packing. I dread it. I lose sleep over it. I agonize over every packing decision. Every piece of luggage must be exactly 50 pounds AND the items inside must be balanced so they can’t jostle around and break or be damaged. 

Last furlough, I didn’t start our final packing until two weeks before our departure date. I didn’t finish it until early the morning we left. It was miserable.

This time, I started packing in January. I ended up redoing part of that packing in March. My poor husband has worked with me and provided moral support and packing encouragement. He helps with the packing, too. He’ll lift the pieces onto the scale and off for me and then helps me rearrange until things are just right. At least I hope they are just right. I guess we’ll see.

In the midst of all this, we had one more trip to take. Part of me resented it. I have so much to do to get ready, it just seemed like a huge interruption. At the same time, there were several things I looked forward to about the trip. It’s hard for me, a goal oriented person, to switch my focus from goals to people. 

I’m so glad I did.

This trip has been great. I got to spend over a week with my best friend, Rachel Miller, and her church. (I didn’t get any pictures. 🙁 )

We got to spend a few days with some dear friends from Uganda whom we haven’t seen in over a year.

I got to see Mt. St. Helens! I’ve always wanted to see it. The weather was perfect when we drove in to see our friends and we were able to get good pictures of its south side. Some day we’re going to come back and spend more time hiking in the area.

Our friends took us hiking on Smith Rock and we had a blast. 

As we drove across Montana on our way to Oregon, we passed through heavy rain storms. We came out of the storm in the mountains. It was still pouring rain on us and the brilliant sun caught the raindrops and formed a double rainbow.

Sometimes in life, we need to step back, take a breath, and enjoy the little things, rainbows, mountains, time with friends, coffee breaks, good books. The things that need to get done will get done.

Someday we won’t remember the to-do list we accomplished, but we will remember the time spent with those we love.

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Today we woke to snow flurries! We’ve gotten a little of everything on this trip.

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Friday Funny

Last year, the kids decided they all needed to pose as the Egyptians they’d seen in the hieroglyphs in the Cairo Museum. Goofy kids! They were brave letting me document it for future generations. (Brennah was just trying to keep the wind and her hair out of her eyes!

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Friday Funny

I’m pretty sure this is not why I eat. 😀

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This little restaurant was tucked back between High Street and Mackansigh Street in our town. I never ate there but we occasionally bought aloe vera juice from them. They sold the same food as all the other restaurants in town but with things like fruit smoothies and salad on the menu as well.

Missionary…Tuesday – A glimpse into our life in Uganda

I wanted to do a “Missionary Monday” post. It has a better ring to it than “missionary Tuesday.” It took me longer to figure out how to make the video and I didn’t get that uploaded until late last night. So, Missionary Tuesday it is – at least this week.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching in Victory Club — a Bible club our church holds two Sunday nights a month for children in the neighborhood. I spent most of the week leading up to Victory Club looking for pictures, putting them into a Keynote presentation, and preparing what I was going to say. The kids loved it! Even the troublemakers listened in rapt attention! But then, who doesn’t like pictures of elephants and weird looking bugs. 😉

After all that work (and because I have another video/slide project coming up that I’ll need to make so I wanted the practice) I decided to make my “slide” show into a video so more than just our Victory Club kids could see it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The Bible also says that “my eye has affected my heart.” I know I can hardly look at these pictures without tearing up. I could tell stories about each individual pictured. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.