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

Friday, January 15, 2016

3 things I tell my teenage daughters on being "the new kids"

Wait!  Don't stop reading because your kids don't have to be the "new kids"!  You live in the same place where you've lived for 30+ years with the same friends and family and that's great- such a blessing!  That's how I grew up actually and I wouldn't trade those precious relationships for anything!  I promise this will still be relevant.  Even if your kids aren't "the new kids", there will be plenty of kids who come into their circles of relationships who ARE new for one reason or another and who need to be reached out to and made to feel welcome.

And think about this... (I know I have plenty of times recently!!)  Do you have a junior or senior in high school?  Well within the next 2 years, they are likely about to be VERY new to a college campus!  When I think about Abbey leaving home in less than two years, I have a mini panic attack wondering if I've covered everything (I quite certainly haven't) and if she'll be prepared for that big scary world out there (by God's grace!).

Anyway,  I am writing this from what I know is the unique perspective of having kids who are frequently the new kids in various social settings and have had to learn to adapt to that, BUT having grown up overseas, they are also somewhat comfortable with newness and transition.  Notice I didn't say it was easy.  Just possibly more comfortable.  We are raising TCKs (Third Culture Kids).  They were born into one distinct culture (American), they are being raised in another distinct culture (Middle Eastern), yet they find themselves not fully belonging to either and therefore have their own, very unique, third culture.  We've moved around a lot (though not as much as some!), their peer group changes a good bit from one year to the next, and they have to learn to say goodbye a lot more often than anyone would like.

Two of them are also teenage girls.  And that, my friends, is a very unique group of people who require a very unique set of relational skills.  To be fair to my girls- I do have to say that so far we have found the teen years with them to be pretty fun.  Yes, there is emotion.  Yes, there is drama, but overall- good times!  I guess that's a good thing since about the time Abbey turned 13, we realized that we would have a teenage daughter under our roof for the next 18 years of our lives.  Teenage girls better be people we can relate to!

You can pray for us....  

As I said, our girls are very accustomed to being "the new kids" in both situations where there are lots of "new kids" (because we are around a lot of other families like us) OR where they are the ONLY "new kids" (because we are entering into a group of people like who I grew up with who started in church nursery together and are about to graduate high school!).  Obviously those are vastly different scenarios, and navigating such waters with teenagers requires a lot of time on the knees.  So, recognizing our perspective, I hope that some of the things we are learning, can help others in the same boat navigate these waters AND help those who are receiving "new kids" into their established peer groups and social situations be welcoming.

So these thoughts have been percolating for the past year or so and have been collected as I've watched my girls, especially my teenagers, in various social situations.  Situations in which they've both thrived as they've been with other TCKs who "get" them on a unique level, and situations where they have really struggled with being the odd man out. In trying to draw from my own experiences, I've felt very old as I've realized how much times have changed!  My generation did not have the social media world to contend with as teenagers and that is definitely another subject altogether, but it is also pretty relevant when it comes to basic relationship skills.  All in all, I've kind of narrowed it down to three things that I really want to be sure my girls know when it comes to relating to other people, being a good friend and functioning in a world where your iWhatever has pretty much become an appendage.  I've given up on trying to completely resist that battle, but I think we have got to find a healthy balance in continuing to teach our kids the value of face-to-face, real life relationships.

So here are 3 things that the girls and I have talked frequently about when it comes to both being and welcoming the new kids.  We've also applied these things to basic relationship skills with peers and adults.  It's very important to Jason and me to have kids who are able to carry on conversations well and relate well to friends of all ages!  A few years ago, I wrote THIS post with 10 things I would tell new moms.  For moms of teens, I whittled my list down to 3.  I just thought I was tired as a new mom.  Parenting teens is a whole new level of tired so I'm keeping the list simple!

I am sharing these with the heart of a learner.  I am sure there are more things, better things, different things that are working for others!  These are things that are currently working for us and I'm sure I will edit it along the way as our daughters lives, relationships and personalities continue to develop.  I welcome your feedback and thoughts!
  1. Look up!  from your phone, your computer, your kindle- whatever it is.  Be engaged where you are with the people who are physically in your presence.  You may not know them well and they may not know you well, and it's guaranteed to stay that way if you are all on your devices in your own little electronic worlds instead of interacting in the real world.  When I talked with my girls about this one, I asked them why they thought it was so much easier to make friends in a group of other TCKs (in many situations, most of whom start out as strangers to each other) than in a group of kids in the states.  Maddie pointed out that most TCKs have, on some level, experienced how fleeting relationships can be.  They have to say goodbye too soon and they have learned the importance of taking advantage of every moment of conversation and face time they have with friends they are developing relationships with.  Of course, also in our world of frequent goodbyes, we are thankful for the ability to STAY connected through social media but when you are WITH people, when you are in the process of forming relationships, LOOK UP from your device!  Notice I didn't say to put it up or even turn it off completely.  I recognize that teens often interact over the world of social media even while they are with each other, but find a balance.  You may be looking at funny videos together or even looking at someone's instagram feed or (not Facebook- I'm told that's becoming irrelevant for teens but what do I know) whatever your current social media of choice is.  Whatever it is, look up from it.  Engage with the people you are physically with.  How?  You might ask.  That's the next point...
  2. Engage others with questions about themselves and their lives.   I feel like this is a pretty obvious thing that shouldn't have to be said, but somehow I still feel like it is a dying art.  I mean, truth be told, anything you want to know as far as facts, you can look it up on the internet in the blink of an eye.  But that cannot take the place of hearing people's life stories and learning from their experiences.  I want my girls to be the kind of people that make other people feel valued and important because they show interest in them.  Ask people questions about where they live, what they enjoy doing, what their opinions are about certain things.  I guarantee that you will learn something and in the process you will have the chance to make someone else feel like they matter.  It made me sad when both of my teenage daughters expressed to me that, in the social situations they had the chance to experience during our time in the states, not one of their peers asked them the first question about who they were and where they lived.  I mean, I'm a little biased, but I feel like my girls have a good bit to offer as far as life experiences and it made me sad that neither of them really had the chance to express that.  And yes, I do recognize that it goes both ways, and, as the "new kids", you often have to put yourselves out there and offer information that is not asked for and that's challenging to do for adults, much less teens!  So that conversation has been had also.  However, because of this experience, we've also had the chance to talk about how important it is to ask people questions about their lives and engage on that level.  They've lived and experienced what it's like to not be asked, so they understand how important it is to ask!  I mean, let's be real.  We really like to talk about ourselves and what we've experienced and what we think about this or that.  We even like love to take pictures of ourselves doing whatever we're doing at any given moment, which leads me to my next point...
  3. Turn the lens away from yourself and back towards the world you are living in!  I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I love a good selfie as much as the next person, WITH my girls or WITH my husband in a cool place, but somehow the whole selfie thing has gone WAY over the top in my opinion.  I remember the days of my uncle setting up the camera on a tripod and running around to his place in the extended family picture, and well, I guess even in the world of selfies, that might still happen, but that's not the point.  The point is, the selfie thing is a dangerous game especially for teenage girls.  It points to an obsession with self and appearance and even establishing certain appearances that is unhealthy.  It points to an obsession with self OVER other people.  If you are constantly turning the lens back on yourself it is impossible for you to see, really see, with an eye of compassion, the needs of people around you.  And it's not so much the selfie itself as the idea behind it, and the follow-up after a selfie of "well how many likes did your picture get?  so and so got this many likes, wonder why she get more than me?"  etc etc.  It's a culture built around the idea of self-promotion and it just sits wrong with me on so many levels.  Let's encourage our kids, our teenagers, to look at the world around them with eyes that truly see the people they are interacting with.  Not with eyes that are wondering how they can use this situation to build an online image, or how their hair or make-up looks in the most recently uploaded pic.  We, and many other Christian families I know of, have deliberately parented our girls from the start with the idea that they were welcome members of our family, NOT the centers of our family.  We were deliberate to structure our family in a way that did not scream to our kids that it revolved around them.  I feel like our current culture is trying to hijack those beliefs and screaming at our kids, our teens,  to build an image for themselves that says it's all about me me me.  Focusing on others automatically takes your focus off of yourself, so I say to my girls, turn the lens back towards the world you're living in.  SEE the world as God intends you to see it, with eyes of compassion and a heart of love for all peoples.   
So there you have it.  These are not amazingly profound by any means, but they have been great conversation starters for us, especially with our teens.  Just asking if they put themselves out there and talked to someone they might not have otherwise (look up), if they found out something new about a person or place (engage with questions) or did they keep their eyes focused on the people around them as opposed to themselves (turn the lens outward).  Simple?  yes.  Easy?  Definitely not. 

And if you're praying for us now with the 2 teens we have now, we're gonna need you to beef up those prayers significantly in another 5-7 years when this dynamic duo hits the teenage years together...

My prayer for all of us, whether we are in "new kid" type situations or in our most comfortable setting, is that we will overflow with love for those around us and that we will live as learners, making the most of the situations that God puts us in.  I am not meaning to connect these verses or take them out of context, but I love that in and of themselves they are reminders of God's sovereignty in the places that He has us, as well as the ways we should go about living our lives.  

Acts 17:26
"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."

Ephesians 5:15-16
"Be very careful then, how you live- not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."

Monday, January 11, 2016


For lack of a better excuse, let's just say I didn't post about any of the girls birthdays this year, because I wanted to do them all in one post together.  Yep, that's why...   It's not at all because i have barely had enough time to breathe much less think about blogging about how/why/when and where I'm breathing.  

Anyway, with a New Year is, as always, the realization that time is marching on.  With each passing year, I get more and more desperate to make it slow down.  Of course,  I'm excited about the futures the lie ahead for my girls, but, especially as my Abbey gets closer and closer to leaving the nest, I want to grab on to each moment and soak it in.  The thought of her leaving always has me just moments away from a complete emotional breakdown. So as I looked back on moments and pictures from the fall of things I wanted to post about, I realized that a post focusing on my baby's 16th birthday might not be good for my emotional well being.  

Then I realized that I hadn't posted any of their birthday celebrations.  Solution!  One post about all the birthdays we've celebrated this year will keep me from being overly sappy and emotional about any one individual milestone...  Right?  We'll see.

I really can't think of enough superlatives to describe the ways each of these little ladies have stolen my heart.  Each in their own unique and special way.  
I was chatting with a friend recently about daughters and drama.  She asked me which of my 4 was the most dramatic and I quickly responded, "Naomi!" without missing a beat.  She is our comedian, our entertainer.  She marches to the beat of her own drummer and challenges me in the best possible ways.  Love this girl. 
Naomi was very excited to celebrate her birthday in America this year.   

She wanted neopolitan cupcakes.

And cake.
We had fun figuring out how to make that happen!

With a February birthday, the weather is not very cooperative to plan on something outdoors.  The house we were living in was a bit too small to host a large crowd of giggly girls.  So we opted for a putt-putt birthday across town.

Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of the finished cake before attempting to carry it across town in a torrential downpour.  (good thing we didn't plan for an outdoor party!)
It was ok, though- still tasty good even though the presentation was a bit lacking...
Pretty sure these crazy girls didn't notice!
I really didn't get many pictures at all.  Can I just say Putt Putt is a very loud place?  Sensory overload!  AND since it was raining, the girls missed out on the many outdoor activities (like, well, putt-putt).  Thankfully there was lots of fun to be had in the video arcade...
Anabelle loved the bowling alley!

There was also laser tag fun (no pictures), lots more video games (no pictures) and pizza.  There was also a ropes course up above the video game area.  This was as far as Naomi got on that...
Some of the girls made it but mostly there were tears and few willing to venture out on the ropes!
Overall a very fun party in the good ole USA.  

Fast forward a few months to May and we celebrated Miss Anabelle's b'day.  This little girl is such a joy.  She may give Naomi a run for her money as reigning drama queen of the Cox family, but for now, it's hard to tell what is true drama and what is just being four.  

Talk about no pictures from Naomi's b'day- ALL I have from AB's day is the above collage from my phone!  Oh well.  We got her a new b'ball goal (that stayed in the US at mom's house) but she loved it for the few months she had to play with it.  I was also off the hook as far as cake, because she wanted a hello kitty ice cream cake that she saw at the store.  Score!  
AB's birthday occasionally falls on Mother's Day which was the case this past year.  We had a fun family day celebrating our little princess!

July rolled around and it was time to celebrate Maddie's 14th birthday!  (Seriously, where does the time go?!)  This girl is pure sweetness.  I love seeing how God is growing her love for creating beauty whether it be on a canvas or in the kitchen.  We spent the week of her birthday at Papa and Nana's farm so she was able to spend lots of quality time in the great outdoors doing things that she loves.
Picking blueberries and other gardening.. 
 Fishing in the pond...

Helping Papa and Nana take care of the animals.

We spent Maddie's actually birthday with all the family at Lake Winnie, an awesome family amusement park in Chattanooga,

So we had Maddie's birthday celebration the night before.

She requested carrot cake and the ever versatile birthday punch (this time green to match our plates and napkins)

Anabelle was a great helper to her big sister, as I'm sure you can imagine!

August came and went like a blur as we traveled back to Jordan from the US, then traveled some more for some meetings and finally made it back to Jordan to stay around the beginning of September,  just in time to prep for AJ's 16th birthday.  So amazingly hard to believe! 

Abbey Joy.  My mini-me.   I get this girl down in the deepest part of me. She is talented in ways I have never been and never will be as far as natural leadership and love for theatre and the stage, but I can relate to her deepest struggles and fears without them even having to be verbalized.  Can't wait to see where the Lord takes this one!   I can't believe it will be less than 2 years until she officially spreads her wings and heads out on life's great adventure.  And that's all I have to say about that. (for now).  (emotional basket case, much?!)

Abbey reminded us all several times that she was the "ONLY FAMILY MEMBER" who didn't get to have her b'day in the US this year.  Woe is her! 

She requested fish tacos and a mexican fiesta bar for her birthday.  

And lemon cheesecake to finish it off!

As the ONLY FAMILY MEMBER with a non US b'day, we had to draw Abbey's birthday out a bit.  So we had our family celebration and a few days later, she and one of her besties had a double slumber party.

These 2 are 4 days apart and have been having birthdays together long enough that they had a Littlest Pet Shop cake back in the day...

They've moved on to more sophisticated mint chocolate chip cakes...
So thankful for life long friends!

OH, and I didn't mention that this was a multi location party.  They only came to us after having a pizza dinner at Taylor's house before coming to us for the cake and sleep-over part.

Anabelle was never too far from the center of activity.  Especially when it came to helping "Tay Tay" open gifts!

Abbey made Taylor this painted canvas with pictures of their 10 year plus friendship.  Love these girls!

So there you have it.  The Cox girls birthdays in one simple post.  Just in time for the 2016 cycle of birthdays to roll around!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Transition (ing)

I added the "ing" to transition in the title because I'm realizing that it's something that is never truly done.  In this crazy life we lead (who signed me up for this anyway?!), there is always something to transition from or to, whether it be a new living situation, a new language (or even a dialect shift in the current language), a new school, etc etc etc.  The list goes on!  

In the midst of the craziness, one thing that has remained constant, is the resiliency of these 4 amazing little people and for that I am super thankful.  The transitions of our life that still have me kicking and screaming (on a good day), have become very normal to them.  No, that does not make goodbye easy.  Pretty sure that part gets harder every time.   

But the flexibility and resiliency required for this life we lead- they've got that part down.  And that is such a blessing from the Lord that I do not take for granted for one minute. 
 It's the days leading up to and from the transition that get me.  The packing, the sorting, the "mom can i keep this bag of rocks?" type questions.  The days where every room of my house look like this.  Footlockers piled everywhere, "give away, throw away, keep" piles on top of the footlockers.  
And did I say "my house"?  Because I guess in reality that is not the case either.  It's a temporary dwelling that we call home simply because the 6 of us are there, and most days, that is enough, but in the midst of transition it often makes me want to pull my hair out!  

And, of course, in the midst of transition days, there is usually some sort of crisis, medical or dental or otherwise, that leads to additional stress in one way or another.  One year, I had to have a 3 procedure root canal on an abscessed tooth that delayed our return for almost a month.  Another time, we were scrambling to get Naomi's "tummy issues" taken care of in a timely manner.  This year was no exception.  

At a last minute dental visit, my sweet Uncle Tom pointed out that sweet Anabelle had a smile that was more than a little crooked.  Not because that's just the way she smiled as I thought...
No, my sweet little thumb sucker, had quite a severe crossbite that needed to be corrected fairly quickly.  So off we went to the orthodontist to get a spacer put in to correct that bite (and hopefully end the thumb sucking)

We talked it up big the night before explaining that we were going to fix her teeth and that sucking her thumb was not good and the spacer would help her stop doing that.  Sweet angel called me from her room that night and asked me if she could suck her thumb "just one more night".  How could I say no?!

At the orthodontist the next day, she was SUCH a champ!  Didn't blink an eye as they messed with her mouth, took impressions and got everything set up.  And she hasn't sucked her thumb since!  She didn't even try.  She even explained to people that sucking her thumb messed up her teeth and that's why she has a spacer.  
Over the next few weeks during all the packing and craziness we had 3-4 more visits to the orthodontist (stupid thing kept falling out) and she traveled back to Jordan with spacer intact and just got it out a few weeks ago.  Bite fixed.  Thumb-sucking fixed.  All in the midst of craziness.  I'm telling you these girl are champs.  

Returning to our overseas home always has lots of mixed feelings.  We're truly happy to be back in our home with our stuff and reunite with friends and Mia puppy!!....

 but there is also the bittersweet-ness of missing American family and friends.  And jet lag is never fun...

The biggest adjustment for me is usually figuring out how to cook and clean again.  Until you've lived here, you can never truly understand how different cleaning is.  It's different on a regular day, but add a dust storm to the mix and whew!  I'm ready to head back to the states where doors and windows closed mean that they are actually sealed.

A storm like this coming in overnight...
 combined with the American family not checking the weather to know it was coming and leaving all windows open through the night to keep the house cool, does not equal a happy momma!
The above picture is about day 3 when we could finally see across the street again.  But each fan definitely had to be taken apart and cleaned!  

Figuring out cooking always takes me by surprise a bit as well.  Yes, we've lived in this part of the world for almost 13 years but how quickly you forget when surrounded by American conveniences! 
In case you missed it, my post from last year HERE addresses most of my complaints with the grocery store here.  But, ah, how quickly we forget...
Thankfully I have some great helpers.
(a requirement when you have more than one cart- again see previous rant  post about the push-ability of  grocery carts here)

And oh how I miss massive Costco bags of triple washed spinach!!
Washing of fruits and veggies is a massive undertaking.
It took some time, but we got the kitchen organized and back in working order.  Pretty much just in time to discover that we needed to try a gluten free diet with Naomi.  Good thing we got the kitchen in working order, because I have spent A LOT of time in there this fall!!  

Thankfully I discovered some great freezer-crockpot recipes that have helped with the crazy evenings and dinner prep...

Naomi is feeling great now.  Bottom line, we've discovered that gluten combined with stress is not a great combo for her.  She does ok with gluten during school breaks and low stress times.  N has also started swimming this fall which she has LOVED.  Mom and dad don't necessarily love that all extracurriculars here tend to occur in the evenings but we are making it work!

Another part of our transition back to life here was school for all.  Abbey and Maddie were (freakishly- yes, I'm raising nerds) excited about receiving their homeschool books in the US and they took up one entire trunk coming back.

They've done great getting back into the swing of things.  

I was a little more concerned about Naomi and Anabelle having been in English speaking school in the states and having to transition back to school in all Arabic.  
I should clarify that i wasn't too concerned about Anabelle.  She has been talking about going to "Naomi's school" for almost a year and was super excited.  

The first day was just an hour visit where I got to go to.  She loved it.
The next day, the REAL start of school, she was bouncing off the walls excited.  Naomi was tentatively excited as well.

(almost forget to say goodbye to mom.  Oh my heart!)

Naomi has done GREAT transitioning back to Arabic.  She works twice a week with her tutor and is speaking and reading more and more.  I'd say being able to label the parts and systems of the body in Arabic is not so bad!

(her teachers also sing her praises as having some of the best Arabic script in the class)

And Anabelle came home a few weeks ago having written her name in Arabic for the first time and was quite proud.  She even pronounces it with an "Arab speaking English" accent.  "AH-NA-BEEELE"

They were very excited for "costume day" on Halloween.  No, it's not celebrated here overall, but some school get in on the fun...
Anabelle was apparently one of several Elsa's in her class....

In the middle of our craziness, we had the blessing of having Annie (my mom) come for a visit so I could accompany Jason to a meeting in the US.  Knowing she was coming definitely made the goodbyes a bit easier in August!
She didn't exactly have a smooth flight and her suitcase arrived several days late (like I said, whose idea was all this transition?!), but she did make it!  We discovered a new local restaurant together. Yummy!

And of course, we had to let her experience IKEA in Jordan...

It's been a crazy busy, hectic, transition-y fall, but by God's grace we are surviving and the younger ones in the house even seem to be thriving, praise the Lord.  Me?   I'm getting there, but the older I get, the more I think this transition business is for the birds!!

I guess in reality though, as believers, we are constantly in a state of transition and the true worry should come when we begin to see this world as our permanent home because it is not.   That doesn't necessarily make the transition easier, but it does help me keep an eternal perspective and embrace the moments with these 5 crazy people I'm doing life with.  Wherever they are- that is where my heart and my home is at that moment.

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."
Philippians 3:20-21