He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Monday, March 31, 2014

This month...

 Is tomorrow really April 1?!  How does that happen?  We've been busy- how 'bout you?  Here's a quick recap...

Ikea opened in Jordan!  Can I get an amen?  So excited that not only are they opened but their prices (at least on some stuff) are actually reasonable!  Our family of 6 ate dinner there for 13 JOD-WITH food leftover- that's less than $20.  See the orange sign below?  That's posted on all the table-curious if that's at Ikea stores in other parts of the world or if it's just necessary here, where NO ONE clears their own table ANYWHERE.  We've already made our first big purchase (and made our first Ikea faux pas...).  Bought a trundle bed (or so we thought) for our guest room, but when we got it home and put it together, we realized the trundle piece came separately.  Oops- no wonder it was so cheap!    

The super great thing about Ikea is that even though it's kind of on the road out of town, it's literally 2 minutes away from the baseball field, which is another thing that started this month.  Naomi moved up from coach pitch to t-ball this year, and Abbey and Maddie are still playing kid pitch on a team with all of their buddies.  Springtime in Jordan means Fridays at the baseball field.  And of course, there are camels in the outfield....

Miss AB has officially dropped her nap.  IF she naps, she's awake way too late at night.  Granted, she's still in the phase of getting pretty grumpy by 7 or so but it means an earlier bedtime and a better night sleep so I'll take it.  Of course, there are days when she does still take a nap.  Sweet baby fell asleep watching for the big girl's bus to get home...

We discovered that one of our favorite burger joints (meaning good American style beef- not weird flavored lamb type meat) has a Sunday deal where you get a burger, hand cut fries and a drink for 3 JOD.  It's kind of become a regular thing...

(not sure why Naomi is sporting the gangsta' look- sometimes I just don't ask....)

And in case you missed it, the girls and I ran a 242 km relay race from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.  Here and here are the before and after descriptions of that craziness.

It was a weird weather month.  It hardly rained all winter until the last couple of weeks (just in time for our crazy race!).  There were several times where it literally rained mud.  Ick.  Believe me when I tell you this is not a phenomena that you want to experience.  The picture below does not do it justice....

As a family, we love entertaining and having friends into our home to share meals together.  It doesn't happen as often as I'd like with our crazy schedule, but we try to open our home at least several times a month.  My mom gave me the Southern Living cookbook for 2014 (kinda/sorta a tradition) and I tried 2 new cheesecake recipes.  This one was amazing!  A perfect combo of lemon bars and cheesecake and yummy homemade lemon curd.  

This one was surprisingly not so great to me.  The crust was a bit off or something.  I think maybe just a chocolate crumb crust would be better.  

(technical question- can you tell on these posts that you can click on the word "this" above and go to the link?  Not sure why they aren't showing up as a different color....  anyone?)

Spent a morning at the children's museum with some good friends.  Anabelle and her little buddy had a blast.  

Naomi was in her first play at school.  This was a HUGE deal to her since her big sisters have had their share of plays.   They did an Arabic, and English and a French play.  She was in the English one but sang songs for all of the others.  She was Marnie Mole, the cute little Mole who had been harmed by the recycling habits of humans.  A great start to her acting career!  

Here (hopefully) is one of the 847 songs that AB sang this month...  

I'm having trouble uploading videos directly to the post so I'm going to try a few different ways to put links on here and see if anything works.  

Here is another song- she's working on covering all the Frozen songs.

And here is one more...

There's no shortage of singing in our house!

Happy April everyone!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

We survived!

We did it!  In case you couldn't tell from my previous post, I definitely had my doubts but we survived the Dead 2 Red and even had a little bit of fun in the process!  Truly it was an amazing experience, albeit NOT one that I think I want to repeat (at least as a runner....).  I was SO proud of the girls- they were SUCH troopers, and in answer to the question people keep asking as to who had the most difficult time- that would most definitely be me!  Even so, I was able to hang in much better than I thought I would be able to!  

We were all a little nervous the day of the race.  After a relatively dry winter and a fairly warm few weeks, it was literally raining buckets in Amman.  We kept telling ourselves, that rain on the Dead Sea highway is much less than up in the city, and I was praying, praying, praying that would be the case.  Just in case though, our car was thoroughly packed with changes of clothes for all the runners including several pairs of socks each, towels, parkas, hats, ear warmers.  We were trying our best to be ready for an even that is nearly impossible to be ready for!  Thankfully as we drove from Amman down towards the Dead Sea, it did clear up.  

We got to the starting point and got our entire team registered, used the last actual bathroom we would see for the next 20ish hours and got ready to head out.  

 Like I mentioned before, our team of 10 was divided into 2 vans of 5 runners each.  We leap-frogged each other throughout the race.  The first van of runners would take the first 10 km, meet up with the second van who would then take their turn and so on through the night.  This meant that as soon as our van handed off the baton to the other van, we would drive forward 10 km to wait on them and have 45 (ish) minutes of rest depending on how fast they ran.  There were a few times through the night, particularly on some really steep hills, that are 2 vans stayed together passing the baton to each other and each running 100 meter sprints.  Try to envision almost 60 other teams also with 2 vans each doing this on a small 2 lane highway all night long- there were times it got interesting!   Of course, the teams get spread out through the night but it still got crowded at times.   

The other van started the race, so we drove ahead 10 km and enjoyed the beauty of the Dead Sea while we waited for our turn.  

Our order of runners was Abbey, me, Emma, Scott, Maddie, and so it went through the night.  We started out running 1/2 kilometer each which meant that we each ran 4 times in a 10 km cycle before we handed off to the other van.  We all then decided that we liked the idea of shorter segments better. Even though we each had to run more times we were able to run a little faster and overall it ended up seeming more doable, so that's kind of what we stuck with through the night- running 300 meters each.  

Here's Abbey gearing up for the first hand-off. 

 The other van would text us when they were 3 km out and then 1 km out and we would do the same for them so that we could be ready.  For the first several hours (or longer maybe), it was kind of fun when we realized it was almost our turn again, but by the middle of the night, when you were cherishing your 20 minute power nap, the dreaded "3 km out" text was almost feared!  

We would drive slightly behind the runner (always with the door open) and pull around the runner just as their distance was ending so that they next runner could hop out and receive the baton and start running and the finishing runner could hop in the car.

The sound of the car beginning to accelerate to go around you was glorious especially around 6 AM when we were all ABOUT TO DIE.  It meant your 2 minute run (that felt like a life time!!) was coming to an end...

We loaded each car with gatorade, bottles of water, bread, peanut butter and jelly, bananas, oranges, granola bars etc.   Oh, and our car also had a large broken down cardboard box that served as a shield for roadside bathroom breaks throughout the race.  Aren't many trees to hide behind in the middle of the dessert!   (not that it mattered at 3 AM when you could barely see your hand in front of your face.....)

Here's Maddie ready for one of her turns. 

 It started sprinkling a bit several hours into the race and for a segment turned into a torrential downpour.  Thankfully it didn't last long!

The scenery along the way was truly beautiful (I can't take credit for most of these pics- I got them off the Facebook page- Dead 2 Red Relay Race)  

But I must say, that I think this was the most beautiful thing we saw all night long....

Yep, that says Aqaba 20 km!  That meant we had already come about 220 km and I think this was around the time we all hit a major wall (around 6 AM).  But we all pepped up a little, especially after doing shorter sprints with the other van for a time up a pretty steep hill, and I think we all realized that we were going to make it!   

We ended up finishing the race in 18 hours and 45 minutes.  We came in 20th out of 50+ teams.   We stayed with our other van the last few kilometers and at the end, your whole team gets out and runs together.   Here is our team of 10 crossing the finish line in Aqaba.  

We were super thankful for our discounted night at the Movenpick where the race finished up.  We all had 3-5 hour naps that afternoon, went to a banquet for race participants and then all slept a good 12 hours.  It was comical the next day watching each other try to change clothes and get up and down stairs.  It's amazing the amount of everyday activities that require the legs to bend!!

I'm pretty sure Maddie and Abbey are already planning their next race along with other friends.  They have great plans to decrease our time and be one of the teams that sprints all night long. Me?  I'm happy to be their driver....

Sunday, March 9, 2014

It's a marathon (AND a sprint....)

Have you ever gotten yourself into something quite knowingly, and yet you still end up thinking, "WHAT IN THE WOLRD am I doing?!?!"

Every year in Jordan there is a race.  I would say marathon but that doesn't really do it justice, considering a marathon is typically 26 miles.  This is a race, run by teams, starting at the Dead Sea at 395 meters BELOW sea level (the lowest place on earth, mind you) and continuing to the Red Sea in Aqaba AT sea level, 243 km away.  Sounds pretty glamorous right?  I mean that IS pretty cool to run in teams from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.  Who gets to do that?  Those are apparently the thoughts I was thinking several months ago when I signed myself and my precious 2 oldest daughters up for this night of pure torture endless fun.  Oh yeah, that's right, I said night.  In case you missed the part where I said that this race is 243 km long, that means it takes 10 people (the number per team) a pretty darn long time to run it.   So apparently the planners of this amazing event decided that it would be fun for it to be an ALL NIGHT LONG event.  I guess it does make more sense for it to finish in the day time.  Anyway, what that all means is that the race begins AT the Dead Sea at 4 PM on Thursday afternoon and ends the next day at 4 PM in Aqaba.  I think the fastest team finishes in about 12 hours.  The team we're on this year, some of whom ran last year, finished in about 20 hours.

Thankfully, the girls and I are on a team with people who have done this before and there is a plan.  Apparently there is a system to this whole thing that seems to work pretty well.  We have 10 people on our team and will be divided into 2 vehicles.  (and lest you think Jason got out of participating- don't worry, he's driving the van).  Anyway, so 5 runners per vehicle.  Basically one vehicle of runners starts and the next drives about 10 kilometers ahead and waits for the running vehicle to catch up and so the cycle continues all night long.  Since I don't do this kind of math, I'm simply repeating what I've been told, but apparently, the 5 runners in each vehicle run 1/2 kilometer each for 4 cycles until they catch up with the other van who then takes over for the next 10 kilometers.  The van drives slowly behind each runner until their 1/2 k is almost up and then circles around, the next runner hops out, the baton (light stick in the middle of the night) is passed off, the runner who just finishes hops in the van and the next runner takes off.  I'm told (again by people who do this kind of math) that each of us will end up running about 16 miles over the course of about 20 hours in 1/2 kilometer increments. (anybody else's head about to explode- I'm hoping it makes more sense when we're actually doing it....)   WHAT COULD BE MORE FUN?!?!?!

So, the girls and I have been training, but it strikes me, how in the heck do you train for this kind of thing?  I mean running 1/2 kilometer is pretty easy especially if you are in the pattern of regularly running.  But running 1/2 kilometer x 48 times while staying up all night to do so....  Exactly how does one train for that?  I have no idea!   But we've had fun trying to figure it out...

(some of us have apparently had a little more fun in our training than others.  Abbey is quite the ham on the treadmill...  It's a wonder there have not already been injuries)

Others of us just want to get through a run without hurting something...

Truly though, we're preparing as best we can, but are open to any and all suggestions, especially from experienced runners.  I mean, I DO run, but basically I run because my metabolism has essentially deserted me, and, well, I love food.  Therefore I run.  Anyway, suggestions welcome.  Actually come to think of it- considering we are 4 days out, maybe don't suggest anything because it will freak me out that we're not already doing it!  We're already running intervals on the treadmill, and now I've added planking and 50 deep squats morning and night to our routine for this week- apparently we need to strengthen the muscles around our knees so our legs don't turn to jelly!  

I'm definitely feeling my age as I mentally prepare for this night of awesomeness.  The funny thing is, Jason and I have this running dialogue where he calls me "almost 40" and I jokingly refuse to accept that classification.  (Ok, ok so now that I am only 3 months away from the big 4-0, I grudgingly accept that I truly am "almost 40", but come one, I didn't have to claim almost 40, when I was only 36 did I?  Anyone with any brains will tell you that 36 is clearly in your mid 30s and absolutely NOT "almost 40".  I mean really).  But I digress.   The point being, that for the purpose of discussing this race, I am clearly "almost 40" and the oldest member of our team ( I think).  There is one other dad on our team running with his daughter and he may actually be my age, but for the purpose of drama I am going to go ahead and claim the "oldest team member" position since I'm pretty sure he has a few marathons under his belt and athletically speaking that makes him a few years younger, right?  

Anyway, in almost exactly 4 days from now, Abbey, Maddie and I will be joining a team of another dad and daughter and 5 extremely fit 20-something year old Cross Fit junkies who have graciously allowed us to humiliate run with them.   (some of them are actually probably in their 30s but I think their general fitness level brings their mean age down to at least mid 20s.)   I say this so you get the point that the girls and I are way out of our league here, but again, WHAT COULD BE MORE FUN?!  (it's not like any of us are competitive or anything and actually WANT to do well) 

So to recap....

-Running 1/2 kilometer segments for a total of 16 miles
-Staying up all night to do so
-Running from the lowest point of elevation ON THE PLANET up to 257 meters above sea level and back down to sea level (this equals running uphill almost the whole way in case you missed it)
-Cramming into a van with a bunch of other smelly runners in between runs
-Trying to figure out how to train for this marathon, umm, I mean series of sprints...

Ok, ok.  So I'm talking like the world's about to end, when in reality, we are really excited about making this memory.  I mean, it really is true, how often can you say you've gotten to do something like this, and how often can you give your kids the chance to do something like this?!  I love a good challenge especially when it comes to fitness, and I love that my girls are excited about the opportunity to push themselves to do something that is probably going to be way out of their comfort zone.  Jason is super excited to stay up all night with us constantly driving at the pace of about 7 miles per hour...   All in all, we should make some really fun memories and hopefully not lose any toenails in the process and still all be able to walk this next day.  I thought it would be fun to write this pre-race post so that I can update you again after the race and let you know how it all turns out.  

Ready or not, Dead 2 Red, here we come!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Let God provide your village

I have been very thankful lately for seasons of life.   Thankful that, as always, my God knew what He was doing in setting times for "every activity under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  Of course I have days when my joy far outweighs my grieving or sorrow, but lately it seems the scale has tipped more towards the negative side of things.  I've been experiencing a fairly difficult season, made even more difficult by the fact that some days I can't even fully describe what exactly is so hard, but suffice it to say life has just been hard.   This kid is sick, that one has a pretty hefty school assignment, this one doesn't think it's fun to sleep at night anymore, that one is overwhelmed by the multitude of activities SOMEONE (hmmm) allowed her to sign up for...  All these things in and of themselves should be fairly manageable but combined with the daily grind, the intricacies of doing life overseas, and let's just say I have had more than my share of throwing up my hands and declaring that I am officially done type of moments.  Thankfully there's usually no one there over the age of 2 to hear my declaration so it typically means very little.  Regardless, the heart attitude has been there, and I have recognized that in this season, my heart needs some work.  As I've prayed through my desire to move more towards a time to laugh, a season of joy, God has been faithful in gently reminding me of His truths and convicting my heart all at the same time.

It was on of those hard days recently, you know the ones especially if you're a mom of toddlers- the days that are just SO hard, and you have absolutely nothing to pinpoint the hardness on, but you feel like you've been hit by a MACK truck, your laundry is multiplying like rabbits, the refrigerator is STILL not complying in spitting out meals with absolutely no work on your part, the list goes on and the hands go up in the air in surrender.  Then you collapse on the couch in despair and so the pity party begins.  Anyway, it was one of those days when my pity party was at it's worst, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and call my mom and ask if we could come over for dinner.  Which only made the pity party worse, because, duh, there are a few oceans separating me and my mom at this moment.  On this day, I read the blog of a fellow overseas worker who quipped, "they say it takes a village (to raise kids)...  and today I miss my village!"   And I thought, YES!   I miss my village!   I miss knowing that my mom, dad, brother, sisters and brother-in-laws, mother and father-n-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents are just a phone call away.  I miss knowing that, if needed, I could collapse on my mom's couch and have her feed me and all my people if I so desired.  I miss being able to give my kids the opportunity to run around with their cousins until they collapse from exhaustion.  I MISS MY VILLAGE.

And then I remembered Facebook.  And I thought, "ooh ooh- my village is right there in my computer!".  So I got online and took quizzes that other relatives took and we "liked" that we were the same Downton Abbey character or that we were destined to live in the same US state together. (my brother and I should apparently both be living in Virginia...)  I had a few Skype chats with others.  I read some blogs.  Then I shut my computer and felt God's gentle nudging....

"Do you feel better, child?"  

"Did your "village" encourage you?"

And I felt empty and not encouraged or fulfilled and still frustrated....

And then I reminded God (ever so gently mind you), that HE was the one who called me away from my village and made things so amazingly difficult in the first place.  

And then (shockingly), He gently reminded me that He desires to be the source of my strength and that as my shepherd, He will lead me to the exact streams whose sustenance I need, and He also showed me that I was attempting to be filled by something that is possibly more draining than filling (the internet)

(I feel I should take this moment to remind you that I am totally preaching at myself here, but God has shown me that it could also be something that others (especially moms) experience so for that reason I am compelled to share)

So that's the background for the life lessons God's been teaching me over the last few weeks.  To clarify, especially compared to some, I don't really spend THAT much time on the internet.  Yes, I do Facebook.  Yes, I read blogs.  But I also have 4 kids and a fairly busy household to run so the quantity of time is not necessarily that great.  What I have really felt led to consider, though, is my motivation for internet time.  What am I seeking to accomplish through time perusing various sites? 

If I'm being completely real, I am amazingly thankful for the internet and what it provides especially for those of us living oceans away from our extended family.   My husband grew up overseas in the 80s long before email was even a possibility, much less Skype, Facebook, instagram and the many other options that I am totally unaware of in my old age...  To communicate with their family back in the states, they didn't even make phone calls on a regular basis.  To even hear each others voices, they recorded themselves on cassette tapes and mailed them back and forth.  Imagine!  For that reason, every time Skype connects and my girls can look into the eyes of their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, I am amazingly thankful.

Yet, as thankful as I am for the connectivity of our world today, I am realizing that in some ways, in some situations, it hurts more than it helps.  Don't get me wrong,   I wouldn't trade the face to face Skype chats for anything, but I have been convicted to consider my motivations for running to Facebook or blogs for my encouragement and support.  When my first inclination is to look something up online or ask the Facebook world for their opinion as opposed to knocking on a neighbors door or talking to a real live person face to face, then something is a little off.

Instead of shaking my finger at God for calling me out of my village and away from my people, I need to remember that in His infinite wisdom,  He has placed me in a different village and provided me with a unique community.  I, however, have to be the one to open my eyes to that village and be willing to BE where He has placed me.  Not just live there and exist there, but truly BE ALL THERE.  

Scripture clearly shows us with it's many references to the Body of Christ and descriptions of the believers in the early church (Acts 2 and 4) that God highly values living life in community.  Jesus's own parents were so comfortable in their traveling village when they were returning home from the Passover Feast that it was a full day before they even realized that their Son was not with their company of travelers- their village so to speak (Luke 2:41-52).  However, God has also been known to call us specifically OUT of those communities.  In Genesis 12:1, He specifically tells Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household."   So what gives?  How can I, as one called to leave my most comfortable village, balance the call to go, with the need to function within the comforts of a village?

For me, I am realizing that I need to be carefully examining my motivations for internet "therapy".  What am I doing on Facebook and blogs and what am I seeking to gain from it?  Have I first sought answers from the Word and from the people that I live among?  I am discovering that figuring out the balance between the blessing of modern technology and the temptation to let that virtual world take the place of the village God has called me to is a difficult task indeed!  

I definitely don't have all the answers for this, but I think just being aware of the temptations and risks for me is a big step.  Obviously, some things are irreplaceable- my parents couch, my grandmothers kitchen- I am not seeking to replace those comforts of my original village.  They are invaluable to me every few years when I return to my village.  However, the awareness that God has given me another village if I will just plug into it is comforting and challenging all at the same time.  And no, the irony that I am writing this on a blog accessible through the internet, is not lost on me.   It is what it is.  

There are two key verses that God has challenged me with recently.  Acts 17:26-27 says "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."  Wow.  So not only did God determine the best times for us to live in and establish where we should live, but His purpose in doing so was that we, mankind, could more effectively reach out for Him and find Him.   The application for me is simple.  God has placed me here.  He has placed my family here, and He has a divine purpose in doing so.  His message to me is BE where I have placed you.  THRIVE where I have placed you.  Eek!!  How can I not be obedient with eternity at stake?!  

The next challenge for me is from 1 Thessalonians 2 where Paul is describing his first visit to the people in Thessalonica.  Verses 7-8 of chapter 2 say, "but we were gently among you, like a mother wring for her little children.  we loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us."  Again, eek!  Sometimes it is far too easy to not be delighted by the people God has planted me among.  And I think that can be true for any of us no matter where we live.  How is it that the grass is always greener elsewhere?!  

My challenge and pray for myself is that I will be delighted to share life with the people where I am, and that I will not be guilty of wishing for my other village so much that I miss opportunities to be blessed by the one God has placed me in.  Obviously there will be days of homesickness.  That is unavoidable.  But how I choose to deal with that homesickness and get the support that I need from the body of Christ is key in my ability to survive long term in the village God has provided.  Am i pining away for my original village that I am no longer in, or am I allowing myself to be ministered to and to minister among my new village?

How the internet plays into all this?  I'm not completely sure, but I do know that I need to be very aware of my choices and motivations.  To my original village- don't worry, I'm not about to cut you off!  I'm just praying for ways to be more effective in the village that God has given me right out my front door.

So this is where I am.  It's been a season of tears in many ways, often unexplainable tears (which I guess I should be used to in a houseful of females!).  But it is a season.  I am so thankful for God's guidance that can turn a season of tears into a season of laughter, dancing and joy.  So today, I am deliberately choosing to thank God for my village and to choose to be joyful that I am exactly where He knows I should be.