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I rolled over the other day, and said to Husband, I miss Sweden. Only a few words, but this was more than homesickness. It’s the sadness that follows me around even though life in Australia has been more than good. Sadness that cannot be shaken, not by gratitude or numbering my blessings or coffees or warm weather. Fatigue can wash over me in the middle of the day, and I’m still surprised with the overwhelm when it comes to making simple decisions, the energy I do not seem to have for connecting with people.

We moved to Melbourne, Australia six months ago after two years of living in Sweden and more years before that of a life in Switzerland. I grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippines with furloughs and eventually university in the United States. I moved to Australia as a young adult, traveled around the world and met my husband in Switzerland. I moved every three to four years of my entire life, so carrying on is what I have always done. The boxes get packed, the forms are filled, the mad rush to the airport is made without a thought. The wheels lift off the ground, and the familiar thrill of the new adventure to come takes over.

At least that’s what moving used to feel like. 

I am 34 now, and I have two boys under five in tow. You could say that life on the move, all that carrying on, caught up with me. 

I tell myself that this move to Melbourne should be easy, the easiest I’ve made in my life. I have family and friends here, a support system is in place. I can read, speak and write in English. I can make a bank transfer again. I know where everything is. People are helpful and friendly, white-sand beaches are less than a 30-minute drive away, cafes and delicious food are everywhere.

But there are emotions, events and fears I picked up from carrying on, and I was carrying them everywhere.

I started 2016 on a personal retreat, and I took Soulkeeping by John Ortberg with me. Toward the end of the book there is a chapter about rest. He writes about the Christian life, how it is not easy and is not supposed to be easy. We know this, don’t we? We’ve read the book about holiness and not happiness, we know to expect suffering, even to rejoice in suffering. 

You know this. You are mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, sisters in far flung places, fighting your daily battles. You’ve argued with with your boss, studied for exams, wrestled children who don’t listen. There’s an illness in your family with no diagnosis. You wonder how much longer you can live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re walking out a difficult marriage day after day. Or maybe you’re just unsettled wherever you are in the life that you have and there is no explanation.

You know that God has not called you to easy. 

D in the light

I never expected my life to be easy. When it comes to hard work or the incoming “hard” thing, I’ve always thought, This is from God. But Ortberg continued. 

The Bible uses the word easy only once. It came from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

‘Easy’ is a soul word, not a circumstance word. The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke. 

Soulkeeping, by John Ortberg

We carry a weight when we walk through transitions. There is the role you have to fill in your work, the complex people issues, the kind of work that rarely yields a finished product. It is the weight of our children’s emotions expressed in slammed doors and tantrums. Carrying on takes its toll on our marriages, the emotions present in a partnership that may not often be expressed. There are the daily tasks we have to attend to, and in the middle of this storm, we carry the weight, we bear the difficulty, we take it upon ourselves to do it all, feel it all and carry it all.

We have the punishing voice of productivity saying, “Do more. Be more” and the distressed words of anxiety on the other, “It will not work out. It will all fail.” And this is the heavy, hard yoke that was not meant for our shoulders.

I’ve had to open my eyes to the quiet, gentle presence of Jesus in all my moves. The one who comes in and shoulders the weight. His whisper says, You are weary and heavy laden, come to me. Let me carry it. He is not asking for pieces of my life or parts of my problems. He wants it all. His invitation is to a life of letting go

It means more mess, more muddle, things may not happen when you or I want, but I am making the choice to say, I cannot do it all. 

I cannot solve all the problems. There may be overdue bills or an empty refrigerator.

I cannot manage everyone’s emotions. As much as I love my children and want them to transition well, I cannot be everything for them in this. There will be days when I fall apart, and that is ok.

I cannot meet all the needs. There will be needs of my husband’s, of my kids that will be unmet. I can trust that God will meet them, just like he meets me. 

He is carrying me, he is carrying you. In everything, everywhere, his kind hands are carrying us home.

If you’re in the middle or end of a transition, could I invite you to  read Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition? It’s a series I wrote last October about our latest move. I hope it will bless you. Right now, I’m trying to capture moments of beauty and change over on Instagram, so head over there and follow me if you want to see more.

I’m linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes today. 

Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

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Hello from the other side. And yes, I’m listening to the radio again, and Adele! Apparently she’s been around for years, but I’m only hearing about her now. Send help fast before I get a reputation as the least cool mom at kindergarten.

The last you heard from me we had arrived in Australia, living with family, getting over jet lag and gastro. A lot has changed since then. On February 1 Husband went back to work, and my oldest started kindergarten. And now I’m still listening to Taylor Swift via Ryan Adams’ cover album on Spotify while sitting on our deck watching our chickens forage for food. We are all growing up.

I know, I know, I had you all at chickens. We are pet owners, much to our boys’ delight, and the chickens’ dismay. I suppose one day they will stop trying to pick them up, throw balls at them and hit them. I blame the chickens. The boys keep expecting them to interact, like a toy that moves without  batteries to replace. Obviously chickens are the Perfect Toy, except that they run away and only want to peck for things in the ground. When we moved into our house (the chickens came with the house), we had three eggs a day from the three chickens, a few weeks ago we were down to two, and in the past few days, it’s been an egg a day. This is their way of protesting? Any chicken experts out there who can educate me?

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We first walked into what is now our house 17 days after we first arrived in Melbourne. We were supposed to see a yellow weatherboard house, and I wrote the story in my head, we leave one yellow house for another one. I had looked at the photos for days. But the inspection was cancelled unexpectedly for yellow house, and we drove on to a plain, brick house instead. I had taken five steps into the house when I knew it was ours.

When we are lost, we will look to the past to guide our way. God’s hand took us to the Yellow House in Sweden, and he made a nest for us within those walls, and I thought he would do the same thing in Melbourne. But he had a new thing for us, it is brick  and there are chickens, and it is good because it came from him. What is he doing in your life? Are you looking back and wondering why he doesn’t provide the way he provided for you in the past? He’s doing something new for you, too. A new way of working, a new season to live in, a new taste of his grace, a new need for his help.

Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and a stream in the wasteland.

I’m linking up with Jennifer today.

This post is day 28. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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play time

I was lamenting to my mother about some of the painful and difficult behavior we witnessed daily with our boys. Both Husband and I regularly felt drained and at a loss about what to do. My mother, who is a therapist, suggested play therapy for both of them, and just to clarify, she did not mean that we should take them to a therapist. She meant that we could apply basic play therapy techniques at home.

Once again, it is necessary for me to say here that I am not a qualified counselor or anything close to that, so these are the thoughts of a mom sharing with you what is and what is not working with my kids.

Husband and I structured our mornings so that after breakfast, teeth brushing and clothes-changing, we took one child each and spent an hour of focused play time with him. We set aside 8:30-9:30am for this. Most of the time, it is one-on-one, focused play time, but three times a week, I try to have more of a play therapy type approach to our time.

We stay in a confined space like the living room or a bedroom or outside, and there are a few toys that I have set up. Then I let my sons play with whatever they wanted, not intervening at all, just letting them direct their own play time. I only observed and made comments like, You put the axe in the fireman’s hand, the hook is pulling the police car, etc.

There are no quick fixes for any parenting issue, and certainly there is absolutely no quick fix for the slow, deep work of character development in our children, but the hour I spent with my sons individually produced incredible fruit in our relationship. Play time reveals something much deeper to me about my children, and it gives them a safe place to work out their own emotions.

It slows down the morning chaos. We found that the time between wake up and post-breakfast was often the most drama-and-tension-filled for the four of us, and it helped to separate our kids, it helped slow Husband and myself down. Play time with a child is slow, pure work. There isn’t an agenda, it is simply time spent with my child to give him my full, undivided attention as he does the work of a child: play, play, play.

They were immediately aware that they were getting quality one-on-one time with us, and they relished this. They felt seen, known and loved. In a time when we are focused on many, many other things (that we have to focus on), they are easily overlooked, but this hour was about them, their interests, their needs, their wants, they thrived in this place. 

There was no reason to tell them no in this hour. They were only playing, and so far I haven’t seen a way for them to defy or disobey us in this time. They loved being able to do whatever they want, I loved being able to say yes as much as I could. It helped me let go of control and let my boys just be.

They opened up and talked while they played about things they didn’t normally talk about. One morning while he was playing with the fire truck, Big Boy started talking about how he missed Stockholm, the yellow house and the rocks in our driveway. He climbed in my lap, I miss my toys, Mommy, the ones that are on the ship to Australia, he seemed genuinely sad about this but also happy to be able to share his feelings. It gave me valuable insight into his heart in this time, it deeply bothers him not to have his toys.  It explains frustrating moments of defiance related to sharing toys with other kids and his brother, and while it never justifies it, I need this insight into his heart. It helps me parent him better, it helps me pray, it helps me empathize.

It helped me to pay closer attention to the non-play times because let’s face it, what is going on in my kids’ heart isn’t necessarily number one on my priority list when I am trying to get things done. A few weeks after we left Sweden, Big Boy was playing and told me he was packing and to tell him when it’s Saturday because he would have to load the container then. Oh, I said, playing along, and where is the container going?

To Stockholm, he said, without missing a beat.

A tiny role play, but it said something about his heart. I want to go back to Stockholm, that’s what he was trying to tell me. Another evening, after a day of pretending to be a bird making a nest, he and I were going to his bedroom to make a nest for him to sleep in for the night. He was changing his clothes when he said, I miss my nest in Stockholm, so I pulled him into my arms, and we talked about his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet cover, his white bed, and all the things about his nest in Stockholm that he missed. We talked about Jesus, how he left his nest in heaven to live on earth, and how he must have felt sad, too. We talked about sadness, why it is good to feel sad. And we talked about how thankful we are that we have a nest in Germany.

Husband and I had the luxury of time because neither of us were working, but if you find that you don’t have the ability to divide up your kids because of time or because you have more kids, find creative ways to get alone time with your children. Swap kids with another parent in your community, take one of our kids out in the evening when your spouse is home, use one child’s naptime to have focused play time with another child, put a movie on for a few of your kids and take one outside to play, and if you have other creative ideas about how to spend one-on-one time with your kids, please do share it in the comments section.

I’m linking up with The Grove, part of the Velvet Ashes community today. 

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 Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

This post is day 21. New to the series? Start here. The last few weeks I’ve written about the emotions involved with moving and transition, there have been tips about what to do to prepare to leave and ideas about how to end your time in a place. This week we are looking at the actual move, how to get where we need to go and the tools we need along the way. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. We are flying today to Australia, so do keep us in your prayers if that is your thing. I’ve got posts scheduled for the next few days, but if there are some computer glitches it may interfere with posting. Please keep checking in to see. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.
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There are approximately a 2,334,432 blog posts out there on car travel with kids, so why write another one? I’ve learned since having kids that all parents have tricks, and the tricks are different. It helps me immensely to hear what others are doing because it gives me ideas.

So today’s post are some of the things that have worked for us on longer road trips with kids. The boys were four and two on these trips and in rear facing car seats, meaning we couldn’t see their faces. I would love it if you could join in the conversation in the comments section with your tips on how to manage car travel with kids.

Set Expectations

This is basically the only piece of advice necessary to navigate all marriage and children-related dilemmas. Expectations determine your experiences, and for something that involves small children locked into a seat for indefinite amounts of time, I’ve found that keeping my expectations next to nothing goes along way. My goals are lofty, like, Get there. With no car accidents. Amen.

Know Your Kids

I have one son who is extremely sensory, as in his favourite thing ever is to jump into a ball pit or something textured and just roll his body all over it. My other son is off the charts auditory, wants to talk all the time and loves listening to music and stories. My sensory child needs something to hold and touch when he is traveling. He has shorts with zippered cargo pockets, I put some rocks or other things in those pockets, he opened the zippers, took the rocks out, put them back in, it was a sensory dream that cost nothing. My other son needs good music and audio books (more on that further down), he needs reassuring words from me, my tone of voice is so important when I communicate with him.

Nap Time

Both our kids will still sleep in the car, and because their sleep was so off with the moving around, often they slept even more in the car than they normally would. We tried to plan our driving to maximize nap time. It was also the only time we could listen to something other than Psalty the Singing Songbook. Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah. More on that later.

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Remove Time Pressure

I’m not against wanting to arrive at a certain place by a certain time, but if I want to have a relaxed drive where I am not going to resent my kids or drive for hours with unrelenting screaming in my ears, I will have to relax my attitude on time. If something is supposed to take four hours, with our kids, it will probably take six or seven hours. This way we know that when we arrive at our destination, our kids feel loved, they’ve had a good trip, and we have had a tour of the truck stops of Germany. For our drive from Sweden to Germany (via Denmark), we had two ferry crossings on two separate days, we booked the crossings in advance with flexible timing, but we still had a vague idea of needing to be at a certain place at a certain time. We over-budgeted by about two hours, and that way when we did arrive at the ferries, we were not stressed, and the boys were overjoyed to see a boat.

No Sensory Overload

Travel is a sensory overload on its own, there is no need for me to stress my kids out further by expensive toys for the road, lights and unnecessary loud noises. They are entertained and interested in the most mundane of things, often the travel itself. The ferries were a huge hit and came at the end of long drives, so it was the entertainment for the duration of the boat trip. We like to keep the trip as calm and normal as possible.

No Screens (sort of)

I am not into parent shaming, and I have nothing against the use of screens at all. I happily hand our one iPad mini to the boys to give me time to get dinner together or to stave off temper tantrum hour or to let me catch my breath for 30 minutes. Or an hour. Or. Nevermind. My kids watch untold hours of movies on airplanes, but we have found that on car trips keeping the screens off is better for them. They are more easily worn out by car travel, their patience is thinner, and their attitudes are more grumpy than gracious. Screen time makes fatigue and attitudes that much worse. I prefer to use screen time when my kids are well rested and in a good mood. It has worked much better for us to have a big supply of books on hand and to keep passing books to them. We also had an etch-a-sketch that worked for Little Bear.

Music and Audio Books

We hit the jackpot with a friend’s gift to us of a Finding Nemo audio CD, it was our first foray into the world of audio books, and it was such a hit with both our sons. We will definitely invest in more radio plays and audio books for future car trips. I also pulled out a kids CD we hadn’t listened to in a long time, and it became their favourite CD, so much so that it is all they wanted to listen to for about five hours on end. Husband says Psalty’s Little Praisers CD is now his favourite CD, and while I think that is definitely stretching it, I have never been more thankful for the blue Singing Songbook or for the chance to hear my kids singing, Jesus loves me this I know, softly from the backseat.

Healthy Snacks

Again, I am not into parent shaming, so please feed your kids whatever you think is best. Apple chips, dried mango and other fruits, nuts, lots of water, rice crackers, and other crackers have all gone down very, very well with the boys. And I do think that the food they eat helps to keep their mood a bit more even. This may seem obvious to you – I am not always the most prepared parent out there – but packing many snacks was a necessity. We can always use the snacks we didn’t use, so nothing went to waste. We tried to stop for meals, which ended up being French fries, French friends, and also some French fries, so as I mentioned before, I am really not into parent shaming. Do what you have to do.

Rest Stops and Running Breaks

Every time we stopped, we made sure to get the kids to run around a bit. Even if it was just in a simple patch of grass or concrete. I even ran up and down with them once to get them into it. If your rest stops have playgrounds, even better. Most of ours did, but one or two did not, but kids can still get movement in without a playground.

Now it’s your turn: What are your parenting tricks for car survival with little ones? And car survival for yourself?

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This post is day 20. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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Fehman

Fehman is a German island a ferry ride away from the southern shores of Denmark. It sits in the Baltic Sea a few kilometers away from northern Germany. The little town is full of quaint shops and German restaurants on red brick streets and large cobblestones. It is the first week of September, the tourist rush is gone, but cheerful visitors remain.

We were there as a means to an end. We were driving from Stockholm to Frankfurt, supposedly a 15-hour drive, and we knew we wanted to make it as slow and easy as possible for our kids. So we stopped in Copenhagen and spent the night there, looked around in the city for a few hours before driving again three hours to Fehman. The next morning, I wanted to get an early start to work on the six hours it would take to get to Frankfurt. I knew we would have to stop a few times, I didn’t want to get there late at night, but Husband had a different idea. Let’s take the kids to the sea, and they can run around a bit.

He drove us around, we were looking for a lighthouse. What we found instead was a German military outpost that looked like a lighthouse, but beyond it was an isolated beach.

It took our breath away.

The water sparkled, the sand powder soft between my toes, the boys threw rocks into the sea. It is our thing after all. There was something magical about this unexpected stop. It was like this beach had been set aside for us. We arrived and noticed.

I am all about a schedule, and they are necessary to stay sane in the world of small kids and travel. But there is a time when putting the schedule aside is the best thing I can do for my soul and for my family. We were only there for an hour, but each one of us needed it.

We needed the beauty of the sea to rub healing salve into our goodbye wounds, we needed to be surprised, to see that there was a table prepared for us on this little island we knew nothing about, we needed to know that we could taste and see the goodness of God anywhere.

Because it’s not only about letting go and saying goodbye. It is also about receiving the gifts, the little and big ways that He pours his love out on his children. Skipping the schedule makes room in my heart to start to believe the truth: Good things are coming, good things come from his hand. Open your eyes, heart of mine, and see again, He gives us the desires of our hearts.

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Now it’s your turn: How can you skip your schedule today? Can you take some time to write down the little surprises from God in your day?

I’m linking up with Jennifer and Holley today. 

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