Today’s post is by my friend, Lana of the wonderful blog Spare Change. I met Lana through her blog before I moved to Stockholm, and she quickly became a great source of information on life in Sweden and then so much more.
Lana Wimmer is a writer and artist. She received her B.S. in Family Psychology from Brigham Young University and earned her next degree in Reverse Psychology from raising four kids (ages 6-19). Married to a U.S. diplomat for 21 years, she’s moved over 15 times, calling five different countries “home.” When she’s not multitasking, cooking or carpooling, she can be found hiking in the red rock mountains behind her St. George, Utah home. Her current project, due out someday,is a guide to the expat lifestyle.
Even If Things Are Going Wrong, You Are Still AlrightNothing went as planned, starting with the ants. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We moved to the U.S. in July. We’d been living abroad in Sweden for the past three years and before that, our family of six, moved over 15 times, calling five different countries “home.” With my husband posted to Iraq this year, we decided to buy a home closer to family (and with good weather, can you blame us?) in St. George, Utah.
Miraculously, we found and bought the house in four days. Every obstacle that came our way was removed. It felt right. It felt good. It felt exciting!
And yet when we arrived so many things went wrong.
Starting with the ants. They were everywhere, in the bathrooms, the kitchen, the basement. Roaches too, but the ants were worse. They got into our clothes in our closets and into our shoes. They crawled in through the windows and up through the drains. They even camped out in the dishwasher! The exterminator sprayed four times but they kept coming back. And then…
The waters came. I welcomed the rain, but not the leak in the bathroom exhaust fan. Water poured through, kurplunk kurplunk, splashing into the toilet and onto the floor. Ants and rain! We called a roofer to fix the leak and then…
The kitchen ceiling started leaking, water poured in from the light fixtures and above the cabinets. It was coming from the air conditioner so I shut down the system and temperatures indoors soared to 90 degrees. When the technician arrived, he found the condensing tubes clogged. The water in the “overflow pan” was flooding through the ceiling. We fixed and paid for repairs, and then…
The neighbors below us stopped by to introduce themselves, and Oh by the way, did you know you have water coming through your concrete fence onto our driveway? We’re scared the wall might destabilize and fall over onto our cars. What?!?!
I followed them back to their driveway and couldn’t believe my eyes, water oozing through the fence, surrounded by gigantic white mineral stains. See we told you, their heads nodded. “And look,” the wife said, pointing to the curb, “there’s more water running down the street. It’s coming from your yard.” A swift moving current flowed along the asphalt; something a child could have floated a paper boat on. “Where’s it coming from?” I asked.
“Maybe your pool is leaking,” the man said, easing his way toward his front door, “Or it could be your sewer. Nice meeting you.”
I stood alone feeling as though a force combined against me was trying to wash me away, literally, stripping down my resolve, planting doubt in my heart and fear in my mind. What if the pool was leaking? What would that cost? Who would I call? What about the fence? Could it be the sewer? Back home I paced the tiles, footsteps echoing, gazing up at the water stained ceiling. How many things had gone wrong?
Lord, I silently asked, how can everything go wrong when I thought this was right? Didn’t you lead me here? Hadn’t you taken every obstacle out of our way? Did I make the wrong decision to buy this home, when things had gone so smoothly?
And then this thought…when did right mean easy? Did doing the right thing mean life was going to be smooth sailing ALL the time?
No, of course not.
When I looked at my circumstances in their entirety, as they really were, I had a good life, a very good life. I just wasn’t remembering. In the face of challenges I’d forgotten how much was still going right…I had my health, I had a home, I had my family. That was the point, after all, to move back closer to family, to be there not only for holidays but also for the everyday stuff—family dinners and get-togethers. I was extremely blessed to have people who loved me and cared about my kids. I also had mountain trails to hike and National Parks nearly in my backyard—places of beauty. I had a safe community and good schools. There was so much to be grateful for.
Thank you Lord, I mustered, even if it is hard.
I looked at the contacts list on my phone. My neighbors across the street, a retired couple, had said if I ever needed anything to give a holler. “Hi there,” I said, “it’s me, your neighbor…” and unfolded my dilemma.
They said, “We’ll be right over.”
Minutes later we were gathered at the curb, heads down, studying the flow of water. The husband traced it back to my water main and pointed to where the water gurgled up next to the light pole by the road. “This is a city problem.”
I took in his words slowly. Did you just say…this is a CITY problem? “So it’s not my pool?”
He laughed. “The water pipe is broke under the road,” (he’d seen it in other parts of the neighborhood). “Call the utility company and they’ll handle it.”
The city will handle it. I don’t have to handle it. Thank you Lord!
I called the city and twenty-four hours later a crew was digging up the road, making the repairs. As for the concrete fence, I turned off the sprinklers and contacted a landscaper. The landscaper came right over and identified the problem: dogs. The previous owner’s dogs had chewed off the drip lines watering the bushes. Instead of dripping at a slow rate 45 minutes each morning, they gushed water, causing the massive seepage! The landscaper kindly replaced the drip heads AND DIDN’T EVEN CHARGE ME. Yes God, thank you for reminding me, your grace is free.
When everything seems to be going wrong and it feels overwhelming, keep trusting and answers will follow. My series of unfortunate events brought me to the point of surrender. In that humble place, I could view my circumstances and not only find gratitude, but grace too. Here’s where I found friends and help and the solutions I needed to my problems. Faith isn’t what makes things easy; it makes them possible (Luke 1:36).
When we trust God, our challenges feel different, less like hardships and more like surmountable obstacles designed to make us stronger. I was overwhelmed, taking care of ants, leaks, floods and disasters! But acceptance, rather than resistance, gave me the mindset to move forward.
We may not understand why things are difficult at a particular moment in time, but we don’t have to. All we really need to know is that, “Where you are today is no accident. God is using the situation you are in right now to shape you and prepare you for the place He wants to bring you into tomorrow. Trust Him with His plan even if you don’t understand it.” Author Unknown
God’s grace will always take you where you need to go, even if sometimes that place is right here, right now, in the trial. Trust that wrong can actually be all right and you’ll find seas part and rainbows descend just when you need them.
Now it’s your turn: How are your challenges helping you to move forward? What are you thankful for?
Our children need words of life to build their souls in this breaking, we need words of life to build our souls in this breaking.
Put on your shoes, quick! These are the words that come naturally to me, I am a rusher, I like getting things done, a child’s pace is approximately 10000 times slower than the speed at which I want my to-list accomplished. But I have learned the very hard way the power my words and my attitude have in building or destroying my children. The very, very, very hard way. I feel the need to say this again today, I make these mistakes almost every day. Speaking words of life is an intentional, character-forming, tongue-restraining, control of my natural impulses in every way. It is not easy, it is not natural, but it is a choice. This is good news because as long as I am alive, I can make a different choice, I can choose to speak life and turn away from words that push and rush and from words that hurt and destroy.
I can think of fewer things that put life, joy and vitality back into my children and husband than affirming words. The only way I am able to intentionally speak words of life over them is to slow myself down. I don’t need to hurry them, my words can build them, and my words can show them that they are seen and known.
When he called and asked me to put his socks on after trying and I want to get out the door, You tried so hard to put your sock on, I am so proud of you.
When we arrive exhausted at a restaurant, but I still want to keep driving, That car ride was so long, I can see that you were hot in your car seat. Thank you for your patience.
When I cannot believe I have to deal with yet another aggressive move on the playground, I see you are sad to lose your toys, but you may not hit and take this other boys’ toys even when you are sad. Come to me and tell me about your sadness, we can talk about it together.
When it is way past dinner time and bed time and it’s Child Fall Apart time but an AirBnB host has messed up our booking, I know it is late and you are tired, we are doing everything we can to get the key to the guest house. Papa is trying to get a new SIM card to make a phone call about the key, we have to wait together right now. We are a family, we are a team, and we are in this together. We can do it.
Your spouse needs to know you can see what causes them stress, and they need to know that you know when you are the one contributing to their stress. It is humbling, it can be exhausting, but it leads to a tired but tried trust.
Thank you for taking the time to sort out the visa application. I really appreciate that.
The garden looks fantastic, thank you for all the time you spent working on it.
I said I would call the airline, but I forgot. I know that adds work to our schedule, I am sorry.
Gentle, patient, building words provide a rhythm of grace and kindness for our family. It makes the pace of our lives manageable in a season that carries with it inherent stress. I have to fight daily to find these words, but it is worth it.
Now it’s your turn: Who needs words of life in your world right now? What words can you speak over them? Do you need words of life yourself? Where can you find them?
I didn’t say to accept negative behavior – for anyone who is wondering – there is no justification for angry words or actions or passive aggressive conversations or hurtful ways of behaving. Those things will always be wrong, requiring humility and repentance to turn from them, and forgiveness to make things right with the people we have wounded.
But negative emotions are different from negative actions. Emotions are feelings caused by our circumstances, and while we cannot allow our life to be determined by them, we have to acknowledge our anger. We have to honor our grief. We can allow our emotions to lead us to places in our hearts that we must face for the work of wholeness to take place in our lives.
Talk to someone about how you are feeling, preferably not someone who is in the transition with you because they have their own set of negative emotions. It has been crucial for me to find women who are not connected with our transition, friends in Sweden, friends in Germany and friends in other places, to whom I can vent. Irrationally. Negatively. Anything I want to let out, I let it out to them, they are a safe place for these negative feelings. I am angry because I don’t want to move. I am so sad. Life with kids is disappointing and discouraging. Find safe people who can handle the full weight of your emotions but who do not try to fix you or explain your emotions away.
Accepting my negative feelings and acknowledging them to someone else is the door to letting those feelings out of my life.
For those of you who are parents, I want to tell you to expect negative – very negative – emotions and behaviors from your kids during a move. When we moved from Switzerland to Sweden, Big Boy was only two years old. We moved everything out of our apartment, and the boys and I stayed separately at a new place for a week while Husband went to Sweden to start unpacking. Big Boy woke up five to seven times in the night almost every night, and this is after he had been sleeping through the night for well over a year. He woke up more than our newborn did. I was blind with fatigue and frustrated out of my mind. I wish I could tell you I was gracious and patient. I was not. I did not realize how afraid and unsettled he must have been, he had lost his only home and watched his physical life get packed into boxes, and he was apart from his Papa for the longest stretch ever in his life.
This move we’ve dealt with tantrums, defiance, all kinds of controlling weirdness with food and sleep and many other things. Yes, there are certain behaviors we cannot tolerate. But our kids need their fears acknowledged. My sons need to know that they can be sad about leaving their home. They do not need to move on. Right now, it is time to grieve.
They need to hear me give words to their emotions when they do not have the vocabulary for it yet, Are you sad because we are not in the yellow house anymore? You are angry because you don’t have your toys here. You don’t want to say goodbye to your friends. You are sad about leaving Sweden.
And they need to hear me honestly express my own emotions about this move. I was getting ready for our going away party by hanging up lanterns when Big Boy came up to me. He was distressed because he had accidentally broken one of his shoes. But I could tell it was something else, he was falling apart completely. We had set out a table of our things that we didn’t want anymore for people to take, and he had asked me several times that afternoon why people were taking our things.
I pulled him into my arms and said, Are you sad because there are things here that we are giving away? Do you feel afraid that we won’t have anything left for us? Are you sad because we are saying goodbye to our friends and to Sweden?
He nodded yes to each question and sobbed in my arms. I held him, and I cried, and I told him the only thing I could, Mommy is so sad, too, buddy. I’m so sad to leave the yellow house and to say goodbye to Sweden.
Now it’s your turn: Is it difficult for your accept your emotions? What can you do to help yourself feel your feelings?
After we moved to Sweden, we tried to find a large rubbish bin, and couldn’t. We ended up with a small rectangular box under our sink. I had an eight-week-old baby and a two-year-old in diapers, we probably filled that bin once a day if not more in the first months. Having to throw out the trash regularly made me angry, not every now and then, but very, very frequently. It wasn’t about the rubbish necessarily, it was about being in a new place where I couldn’t figure out a solution to a problem that would have been easily solved in a country where I was more familiar with stores.
Moving to a new country or place is a study in being out of control, and this can and will often lead to strong feelings of anger.
For me the anger was directed toward my husband and kids, and this manifested itself in different ways, very regularly in careless, angry words and other times in worse behaviors. I don’t have a lot of advice on how to deal with this, believe me I’m still dealing with this in our current move. Here are a few things I try to practice that help.
Expect it. As crazy as this sounds, when a move is on the horizon, it helps me to expect to be angry about little things and big things. I have to expect it so that I create some margins and help structures in my life.
Time to myself. I need it every day to recharge, to journal my feelings out, to pray and ask God for strength, and to speak words of truth over myself.
Ask for help. If I can tell that I am getting angry with the kids, I try to tell Husband, so he knows and can pray for me, and can give me some time away from the kids in the evening or weekend. I try to get a babysitter.
See a counselor. In a season when I was more seriously concerned about the consequences of my anger, I started seeing a counselor who helped me face some of the pain in my own life that was leading to the mistakes I was making. There are no easy fixes for the anger and its consequences, but professional help with someone who is qualified can be a good place to start especially if you think that you can no longer manage your own self, and if the people around you express the same concerns.