I “met” Lana through her original blog about her family’s adventures in Sweden. We were moving to Stockholm in a few months, and I needed all the advice I could get. She was the perfect source of information, kindly replying my emails and questions. It was an honour to write a guest post for her blog, Spare Change, a place where global ideas meet parenting and life all with Lana’s thoughtful insights and kind spirit. I’ve started the post here, but you can finish reading it over at her site.
My first trip on an airplane was as a 22-month-old flying from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Fayetteville, Arkansas via California. I lived in 13 houses in the first 18 years of my life and split my childhood between coconut trees in a small province in the Philippines, idyllic Arkansan suburbs and smoggy Manila.
When you start your life as a third culture kid, it turns out you just keep looking for it and it keeps looking for you. University came next, again in northwest Arkansas, and I followed that with three years in Australia, a trip around the world, which is how I met the man who would become my husband in Geneva. We lived there for three years before moving seven months ago to Stockholm.
I’ve moved on average every three to four years, it’s a way of life written into my DNA, stamped on my passport and echoed in the chambers of my heart.
But moving to a different country is one thing as a child or teenager. It was full; my sisters and I loved being the well-travelled ones in a group and enjoyed tossing around stories of our favorite airlines (Singapore), airports (also Singapore) and travel adventures (being robbed in Sydney and then two days later in Melbourne). We never filled out immigration forms, dealt with itineraries, packed or unpacked boxes. All we had to do was wake up at the right time (grudgingly), sort our clothes and enjoy the ride.
Moving as the parent is a different story.
When we left Switzerland last August, we had an eight-week-old baby and a two-year-old, both boys. Both of them only knew Geneva as home. I was wrestling with night feedings, a toddler who started waking at night again upon the arrival of his baby brother, packing up a life and saying goodbye and moving to a new culture, all while two little people looked to my husband and I for their security, well being and love.
It was not an easy time, but there is one simple practice I employed as a means of survival: giving permission.
Giving myself, my husband, my kids and our family permission was a simple way to invite peace into our hearts and our home, and we desperately need peace when we are in transition.
The cold silver bench, the cartoonish map of Geneva, signs in French everywhere, the February cold seeping through my grey “coat,” pulling two red suitcases behind me, black boots.
It’s February 4 again, and I let the memories wash over me. Five years ago I arrived in Geneva, Switzerland for the first time. There was no reason to land in this small, nondescript corner of Europe. I wanted to be in Italy, Greece or Spain, somewhere enchanting, romantic, adventurous. But I had prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about February 2009, and for months the whisper in my spirit was, Geneva.
It was always Geneva.
I was traveling around the world for a year from September 2008 to 2009. Taking risks was the game. This play-it-safe-first born was going to get out there and do things she had never done before, jump before she could see where her feet would land, she was going for it.
I bought the EasyJet ticket to Geneva in November when I was in Canada (I traveled around the world for a year from September 2008-2009), warmed my skin in Cape Town, Grahamstown and Addis Ababa, and returned for a few weeks to London in January 2009. Two days before my flight was to leave for Geneva, London had one of its biggest snowstorms in decades, I was late for my flight and missed it.
It was the final test, I suppose. Would she go? Would she really do it?I sat in London’s Stansted Airport alone, with a fast-dwindling savings account, and asked. Do I really have to go to Geneva, can’t You see I have to buy another ticket?
Same voice. Same answer.
I bought the ticket, spent the night in the airport, and on February 4 I landed in cold, grey Geneva.
The year I spent traveling was the most alone I have ever been. Yes, I saw people I knew and loved, but there was a way I transited in and out of lives and relationships, resting here, hurrying there, and I had no one to talk to all the time except for Jesus. We talked. All the time. I have several journals full of my blue-inked cursive from that year, and the entries from the two weeks in Geneva are long, detailed, prayerful, desperate, joyful and (now, to me) entertaining.
For two hours after I got off the plane on that first February 4, I sat in the adjacent train station on a cold metal bench, watching people walk by, wondering what to do next. I had no idea where to go or what to do. I read my Bible, words of courage writing itself on my heart, and journaled before taking the train into the city centre and walking to a youth hostel where I wrote these words:
What I am Thankful For Today:
- this is probably as nice as hostels get anywhere
- just enough francs for a generous portion of pommes frites (french fries)
- understanding some French – NO IDEA how I would have made it this far without it
- amazing afternoon nap
I am waiting for God’s miracle and incredibly thankful (to him) for making today work at all.
Five years later, I read the pages, and see myself again. Young. Full of faith. Unstoppable. Fragile, vulnerable but in my weakness, there was total strength.
What happened in the two-and-a-half weeks I spent Geneva confound me today. I met so many women in my six-person hostel room who were on a journey, listened to them, prayed with some, I walked the streets of Geneva listening for where to go and what to do, and there were always answers. Six days after I landed I met the man who would eventually become my husband.
There is much more to tell, and the story is long. I write it down every February because I cannot forget where I came from, I cannot forget what He did, and I must keep connecting the dots between my past and my present.
Today I woke up early, made granola for breakfast, played ”membery” (memory) with my toddler, nursed our baby, cooked a giant pot of bolognese, asked my Little Boy for obedience many times, cuddled with the boys in our make-shift “ark,” had meaningful conversations with friends, ate dinner with Husband. This is my normal, every day life. The red suitcase and black boots are gone, Swedish replaces French, the grey “coat” doesn’t button across my midsection.
But I am still asking my questions. What’s next? Where do You want me to go? What do You want me to do? The answers rarely involve stamps in my passport – and with two small kids, thank God for that – and are usually along the lines of, Your son needs your kindness. Go play with Little Boy in the “ark.” Write that email. Be honest about how you are feeling with people. Ask your husband for forgiveness. Talk about me. Keep dreaming.
Love. Serve. Love. Serve. Love. Serve.
It’s my normal life, and it is unglamorous, ordinary and stained with banana fingerprints (we’re trying baby-led weaning right now with Baby). It took me all of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 to realize that my life post-travels, this non-adventure required all the love I had to give. I kept looking for another big adventure, for the Next Great Step of Faith, and God kept handing me diapers and people and breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Every single day. The faith-filled life of risk I thought I wanted was forever out of my reach. But the truth was right there in front of me, I was living it (and not living it) every day:
Five years ago I needed strong faith to get on the plane without knowing where my feet would land. Today I need strong faith to give my all in love. Loving and serving people is the riskiest, scariest, most-rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Gratitude needs to become the new cement in the foundation of my life, I wrote when 2013 began because I knew I was staring into the face of hopelessness if I lived any other way, I knew what it had been like to survive day after day of highs and lows and no balance, I knew I was pregnant with our second and demands on my body and time would only increase, and the feelings of loss I wrestled with would get stronger.
I had been reading Ann Voskamp’s blog for a few years, and often sat behind a screen with my heart pounding when I read about what she calls “counting the gifts” – writing down a daily list of thank yous. I knew I couldn’t do it any more. I was done with living from a place of If Only. I was going to write a new story for my life that began with, I have all I need, I am grateful, I have enough.
The journal is for my second son, the place where I wrote him letters, collected tickets and other small things during his pregnancy, and it also contains page after page of, I am thankful for:
9. Josiah’s fascination with the bus doors.
52. Leftover tortellini sauce, the bites of bacon
113. Ephesians 6 – “and put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Thankful that I am spiritually ARMED.
240. SO MUCH movement from little baby
426. “I will cast all my fears upon Jesus. I lay all of my burdens down at his feet. And any time I feel afraid, don’t know what to do, I will cast all my cares upon Jesus.” True for Josiah. True for me.
435. The largest IKEA store in the world is in Stockholm!!!
484. Daniel Jonathan – life’s miracle – unspeakable joy
651. Carpet of leaves that we walked through this morning
801. Josiah giving Daniel “babyccino” sips
Word after word, line upon line, numbers growing, page after page of gratitude.
January rolled into March that gave way to September and November, and pregnancy became a baby, and Switzerland became Sweden, life with two kids would be amazing for some months, terrifying in others, darkness descended on Stockholm, and it felt (feels) dark in my own mind, like a fog that would not leave and I have yet to find my balance, but I am anchored in this place of gratitude.
No matter how hard the day was, no matter how much I felt (feel) like quitting, no matter how badly I wanted more sleep, writing down my thanks secured me in Truth.
Today, I have enough. Today, Jesus is enough. Today, he gives me enough.
I have what I need. I am thankful. I am thankful. I am thankful. Dear God, I am so thankful.
And it’s The Truth I lived day after day. When I turned toward his heart for me, I’m still broken, bleeding, struggling with two children, struggling to understand what my purpose is in the world, struggling to know when will this end, when will I ever feel like myself again.
But his heart.
His heart toward me – his heart toward you, friend – it says, I’m here, Devi, I’m here. I’m here and I’m for you. I’m for you. I’m giving you myself, my presence, it is enough for you.
I see this now from this lavish list of totally normal moments; I didn’t even write a list every day, but the practice of looking, searching, recording taught me a new way of living. Living grateful. Last year I asked God to make gratitude the cement in the foundation of my life, and I have watched him build me on this foundation, anchor me in the truth of his abundance and generosity.
Friend, the hard has not gone away.
It’s still there. I live with it. Every. Single Day.
And often the hard gets harder. The harder gets even worse, and then it’s Christmas dinner 2013, and I feel so sick, so awful, so exhausted that I go to bed before my own children. The worse unravels until I am barreling toward what feels like breakdown, and last week Husband comes home at 7pm to a toddler running around, a baby screaming from his crib, and a zombie-like wife on the couch who’s saying, I can’t.
But still. Even then. I can see the beautiful, tender, magnificent hand of God, never leaving, never forsaking, and it is still giving the gift of grace.
823. Falling apart yesterday evening, and in the middle of it Josiah saying to me, I want to follow Jesus.
824. Josiah talking about how God healed him.
830. Being able to just fall apart with Husband – his love and acceptance
Here I am at number 852 in another week after weeks that have redefined what difficult means to me. It’s not a special number, to most people 852 means nothing, but when I see 852 today on my red journal with gold engraving on the front, I see 852 markers in my fight for gratitude, 852 ways in which I have seen the hand of God active in my life, 852 choices to see beauty instead of ugly, 852 miracles no matter how small, 852 memorials to grace, 852 stones in a path toward healing, health and wholeness, 852 reasons to keep going, keep believing, keep counting.
Eight-hundred-and-fifty-two ways that I experienced the kindness of a Compassionate Father, a Faithful Friend, a Passionate Lover. He opens his hand and satisfies the desires of all things. All Things. ALL THINGS.
When I started thinking about what to eat on Sunday, I knew it needed to be simple. The simplest, easiest food I could find because I did not want to spend time assembling, cooking, and (most importantly) thinking about it. I wanted something I could mindlessly put together week after week that would result in a nourishing, basic and filling meal.
My Sundays are now an oasis at the end of a week that usually takes everything I have to give. Amazingly the time I spend actively seeking rest and putting busyness and activity away gives me strength for the week to come. The time I spend resting gives me energy for working.
And this chicken soup is a bit like that, a meal that keeps on giving. It takes around five to 10 minutes of prep time depending on what the ingredients are, and it allows for keeping it the same week after week or for a bit of variety if I start to feel bored. But the best part? It feeds us for lunch and dinner on Sunday and then I get to use the left over chicken for lunches for at least two days of the week.
The base of this soup is a whole chicken, cold water, salt and pepper. Depending on the ingredients I have around (and my particular fancy for the week), it turns into a Vietnamese-inspired Asian broth or I go the way of the northern hemisphere and make it into a carrot, leek, thyme and bay leaf affair. The recipe below is for what I made for the past two Sundays. If you make this soup and find that you like the flavours, Smitten Kitchen had a recipe last week for Chicken Pho, which looks amazing.
I usually get it ready on Saturday evening by putting everything into the pot except for the water and returning it to the fridge. It is the most lovely feeling only have to add water before putting the pot on the stove to cook and knowing that our meals for the whole day are done.
1 whole chicken
10 slices of ginger
2 lemongrass stalks, crushed with a rolling pin
3 star anise
3 cardamom pods, bruised
egg noodles (whatever quantity suits your needs)
kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped (For the Asian version of this soup, a variety of veggies would be excellent compliments: mushrooms, broccoli, sliced carrots. Kale was what I had, and it worked very well)
1. Place chicken, ginger, lemongrass, star anise and cardamom pods in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. (I would normally add sea salt and black pepper, but I left it and salted at the end because I needed the chicken to feed Baby who needs everything unsalted right now.)
2. After it boils, lower to a simmer and let it bubble for an hour.
3. After an hour, the chicken should be cooked completely. Remove it from the broth, take the meat off the bones and shred.
4. Bring the broth back to a boil, add the kale and egg noodles and cook according to the instructions on the packet. You could also cook the egg noodles separately and add however much you want. It does lose its texture a bit when it stays in the liquid all day. We keep it like this to serve its simple purpose for our Sunday, but I can imagine it would be better with the noodles left out and added in if you wanted to reheat the soup and eat later.
5. Take out the lemongrass, ginger, star anise and cardamom if you prefer it that way (we like to leave it in), then add however much chicken you want in the soup and put the rest away for lunches (like sandwiches and tacos), serve up in bowls and your done.
Our car pulls into the driveway, two boys in the back seat minutes away from nap time. We are all ready for their time to sleep. I turn off the engine, try to pull the key out and nothing. The key is stuck, not coming out. Whining escalates from my backseat drivers, unhappiness abounds, I am starting to feel a bit desperate while the whisper of, First world problems, echo in my mind. I pray over the key, I ask God for a Miracle.
I’m sitting there, hands fiddling with the key, when I start to feel like God is Right There with his voice speaking quietly to my heart:
This is your key.
While I admire God’s ability to try to make a joke, I don’t feel like dealing with two angry kids, so I take the boys out, put them both to sleep, praying and hoping no one will steal the car from the driveway with the key in the ignition. When I return to the car, I put my hand on the gear and then I hits me.
The car was still in Drive.
I push it into Park, turn the key, it slides out effortlessly.
I hear the voice again:
Park. Rest. Rest is the key.
It’s no secret that I’m exhausted. All the time. All. The. Time. Whenever someone asks me how I am, my response is usually along the lines of, I’m well, you know, I’m tired, but I’m well. Most people look at the baby and toddler I tow around with me, smile and nod and then change the subject. It’s the rule, right? Small kids means fatigue.
My children are an easy target when I’m looking for whom to blame. The truth though? That’s a bit more complicated. Yes, I would have more energy if I slept without being woken up at night, and if I wasn’t breastfeeding, I would feel more well in general. But there are lots of little ways I give my rest away every single day.
I wear myself out by my time spent online because when I scroll through Facebook I’m observing, watching, digesting other people’s lives, and no matter how hard I try I find myself comparing, judging and regularly feeling jealous because who wouldn’t want to be flying off to (insert tropical island here) without small kids? It doesn’t even need to be so exotic, the sight of you eating a full meal in a restaurant without being interrupted by little hands and voices, that’s enough to make me feel like my life is lacking something.
And those thoughts about lack, those feelings that my life isn’t enough?
Exhausting. And far more wearying than a night of uninterrupted sleep.
I read a lot, mostly online, articles, blog posts, new ideas, new research. The vast majority of what I read is good, it’s edifying, technically encouraging and usually full of lovely ideas. But even this good reading lays a weight on my heart. Let’s say I read five blog posts in one sitting, which probably takes 30 minutes, and let’s presume that every single one of them were excellent, edifying and encouraging in content. It still leaves me with a head full of new ideas, opinions and ways-in-which-I-should-be-doing things, and if I did this every day for one week, that’s 35 competing ideas, and even if they aren’t competing, those are 35 different ways in which I could be doing, living, beingdifferently. Even those articles about grace and resting in grace and being enough and I am enough leave me exhausted.
Months ago Katie, a blog friend, wrote about her Sunday dilemma. She was figuring out how to rest on a Sunday, how to set it apart from the rest of the week. It’s been on my mind ever since, and as 2013 drew closer and closer toward its end, I could feel the way my body, my soul and my spirit were longing for rest.
So as of 2014, one of our family resolutions is to set apart our Sundays, and from the start to the end, we spend the day resting. We try to prepare for it by doing as much as we can on Saturday evening, I make a large pot of soup on Sunday that we eat for lunch and dinner (simple recipe to come tomorrow). The laptop stays closed for me, no email, no blogging, no social media, no reading online. We play with the kids, sometimes we sing, we might spend time outside, but the main ingredient of the day is this - there is nothing we have todo.
When both boys are down for their nap, I sit on our couch, light a few candles, pull out my journals, a book, my Bible, and I read and journal as much as I can. My pen scratches across the paper freely, I don’t think much about what I write, I lay down burdens and connections in my mind, in many ways I turn it off so that I can turn on my heart and soul.
This time is my fuel for the week. The more I empty myself of the burdens, worries, cares and concerns of the six days that preceded it, I fill up. With truth. With grace. With beauty. I refocus and recharge and remind myself of what matters: God, dreams, Word, my family, the world I inhabit in Stockholm, the simple. I leave each Sunday with more to give those I love in my life and more to give myself in the ups and downs of each week.
It turns out I needed to be in Park mode in more ways than one. Rest is quickly becoming my most prized possession in 2014, the key that opens the door to peace, joy and love.