Thursday, December 19, 2013

A White Christmas

What can you do when you're surrounded by Sub-Saharan African heat in December and your 3-year-old dreams of snow?  Spend a few minutes on Pinterest, grab a few supplies, and make some! 

This afternoon Savannah and I mixed up some cloud dough (8:1 flour to baby oil), headed out on our little veranda, tucked Nathaniel into a stroller to see all the action, and got creative.

First we used a silicone muffin pan to make fun shapes.


 Then we smashed the shapes for the pure joy of smashing.

After much squishing and smashing I flung some white powdery fun into the air and started a full fledged snowball fight! 

Much giggling and chasing ensued and even Nathaniel had a good time watching us.  In the end we were absolutely COVERED in "snow", but a fast sweep of the porch and a wet washcloth erased all evidence of the winter wonderland.  

Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Coming back to the USA

Why is it so difficult to pack with a toddler around?  Maybe because of all of the wonderful "help" you get :-)

  Savannah "reorganizing" a suitcase just for me :-)  lol

Before we left Bissau I made and wrapped up two more busy book pages as surprises for our little two-year-old on the four day journey back to the US.  The first one was covered with buttons and had flowers that buttoned on and off and a little fabric lined pocket they could tuck into.

She loves numbers and counting almost as much as she loves hiding and buttons so I combined them all in this cute little peek-a-boo page.
The buttons are the same color as the felt flaps.

I also whipped up this little bag out of some adorable bandanna fabric from my Grandma to keep the busy book in.  For some reason felt seems to attract dust and I knew that getting shoved into all sorts of bags in our journey would not improve matters :-)

As you can see the pages kept her occupied for many hours on our long long trek :-)  What a precious little girl!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Antidote to Guilt

Guilt.  What a conniving little thief!  The past four days of frantic packing have seen our two-year-old watching more shows than she’s ever watched before :-)  Elmo, Lady and the Tramp, Baby Einstein, Veggie Tales, you name it, she’s been enjoying it.  Don’t get me wrong, she hasn’t been in front of the TV 6 hours a day or anything like that, just a whole lot more than normal.

I know she’d rather be running around outside or playing a game with her mommy; but at 7 months pregnant, with meals to cook from scratch, bags to pack, and an entire apartment to clean out… well, I’ve had other things overflowing my plate.  The thing is, it’s just a week.  Life has phases, and this is a busy, busy one.  I know that, but still I feel guilty.  Every day, every double click that starts another show, giving me just enough time to pack a suitcase or clean out a closet or wash a mountain of dishes – guilt!  

This morning my friend Janera came over to help me pack.  We’re leaving tomorrow and right now we’re at the end of the road, find a spot to stick this, don’t forget about these 12 essential things, phase.  My friend was eager to help, but I was getting so frustrated by spending longer to decide and explain how and why and where things needed to go than it would’ve taken for me just to do it myself.  Meanwhile Savannah was busy unpacking every box I packed, so I started another show.  Guilt.  Guilt looking at my child, sitting on the couch; guilt looking at my friend, clueless as to how to help.  Guilt.  

Then inspiration!  I turned off the show, turned to my confused toddler and said, “How would you like to go run around outside with Janera?”  She jumped off the couch and ran to get her shoes with my friend Janera right behind her, laughing.  I smiled and got back to work in the kitchen.

About an hour later I heard the sweetest giggle and looked out the window to see Savannah and Janera having a great time.  Savannah was running and jumping and laughing and Janera was right behind her, cracking up at Savannah’s antics.  Right in that moment I felt freedom.  Everyday is not going to be endless hours of story time and imaginative play with my toddler, with decadent meals simmering on the stove of my immaculate kitchen, especially with another little one on the way.  I don’t usually think like that.  But in times when I’m stressed out, when guilt rears its ugly head and that image of perfection taunts me, I need to learn to let go so that I can make room for gratefulness.  

Playing in her room with Janera about a month ago.  Yes, she is inside her toy box, and yes, pretty much every toy she owns is out :-)

When I heard my daughter’s glee I remembered how grateful I am that Savannah has so many people who love her and want to be part of her life.  How grateful I am that she will have memories of friends on different continents.  How grateful I am that she gets to travel around the world and consider it normal.  And in order to make all of those things a reality in her life there are going to be times where I’m crazy busy and she watches more shows or where a friend runs around with her outside.

Smelling flowers in an African jungle.

Feeding her pet deer.

So here’s my decision – from now on I’m not going to let guilt rob me of gratefulness.  I’m not going to focus on the things that my children won’t have and miss the wonderful blessings that they do have. 

My sweet girl giving kisses to her pregnant mommy :-)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ready for Travel With a 2-Year-Old

Over the past week I’ve been combining my free time and my crafting powers to create a few fun new toys and activities to occupy our busy two year old on the four day journey by car, boat and plane from West Africa back the US.  

Today, during my Sunday afternoon creative time, I took a handful of bright popsicle sticks and some velcro dots and made a simple, portable, activity just perfect for Savannah’s busy little hands and imagination.

She saw me making them and she just had to get her hands on them.  Look at all of the fun shapes we made!

I’ve always saved cute cards and little pieces of boxes that had characters on them that Savannah liked.  I gathered up a few cute ones, a bottle of wood glue, and some plain old popsicle sticks whipped up a few puzzles.

A tried and true activity that I’m also bringing along is her sewing kit.  She loves to slide all of the buttons onto the string and then slither her button caterpillar around making hilarious ‘caterpillar noises’.

I’ve also got two little Sesame Street sticker books and I’ve been working on a few new pages for her beloved felt busy book.  Before we go I’ll wrap everything up and tuck all of her new little toys into my carry on to be revealed at different times along the way :-)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Savannah's Busy Book

If I had to choose one word to describe my two-year-old over the past few months it would be ‘busy’.  She’s full of energy, but it’s not really the hyperactive, running, jumping all the time kind; she just always needs to have her hands and brain engaged.  

She loves to line up her toys, stack all sorts of objects into “beautiful block towers”, take things out of one container and put them into another, to zip and unzip, snap and unsnap, button and unbutton.  She also loves take her little toy animals and people and make up hilarious little scenarios, and her favorite ones involve mommies and their babies. (Can you tell she spends most of her time around a pregnant woman?)

This year for Christmas I wanted to make Savannah a special present and that’s where I got the idea for a busy book.  I created a Pinterest board (isn't that how all good projects start?) and scoured the internet for ideas.  I mapped out about 20 pages to make, and then ordered some felt, snaps, rivets, and glue online for a friend to stick in his suitcase.  My supplies arrived in the beginning of December and I dedicated Savannah’s naps and my evenings to creating a fun book for my daughter’s busy little hands.

In the end I did not get anywhere near 20 pages done, but I’m actually glad I didn't   She LOVES the 7 pages I made and plays with her “special book” pretty much every day.  I made the book so that it’s really easy to add new pages and I’m planning on expanding it a page or two at a time for special presents or as a surprise on long trips – we seem to have no shortage of those in our family!

I didn't use any patterns for any of the pages or pieces, which meant cutting every shape and number freehand.  I also didn't use my sewing machine because I didn't really know how to get all of the tiny pieces of felt just right with it and because I wanted to use cute blanket stitches, so every stitch is hand sewn.  I had a ball summoning all of my creative energy and whimsy and my dear daughter couldn't love it more!

 Page 1 - A rainbow puzzle that velcros together

Page 2 - Flowers with petals that velcro on and off and tuck into the pocket.  In a tribute to one of my favorite kids books I added a very hungry caterpillar and a beautiful butterfly.

 Page 3 - Shapes that match and snap and tuck into the pocket from an old pair of jeans.

Page 4 - A zipper pocket made from bright African fabric filled with double sided strips that can snap together into chain links, letters, shapes, or even end to end.

 Page 5 - Buttons that slide back and forth on ribbons with different shapes on the ends.

 Page 6 - Savannah LOVES ladybugs so this page has three little babies that can come in and out of the zipper pouch and even tuck under the mommy ladybugs wings. 

 Page 7 - Snapping balloons on ric-rac stems.

I've already got a button page done for our trip to the US in March and I'm hoping to add another one before we go, so stay tuned for more busy fun :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

More than I do!

When I was pregnant with Savannah I never worried about how she was doing.  She was safe in my belly, growing every day, snuggled in tight.  When we lost our second baby last May, my world was changed in so many ways.  I mourned the loss of our tiniest Atkins - all of the potential of who he or she could’ve grown to be and the ways our family would’ve been changed.  It helped to know our precious little sweetie was in the best place possible, and even though I would not have the privilege of knowing the little one now, we would have eternity to spend catching up.

Ever since the beginning of the new year I’ve found my thoughts wandering to the new tiny life growing in my belly.  Our second baby’s due date was December 25th, and as that day came and went, my thoughts turned to the memories I have of Savannah when she was new – her rounded little back, her tiny features, and even nursing her around the clock. 

Snuggling my tiny newborn early in the morning

I love our newest tiny blessing, and even though I’m in well into the 4th month with a nicely rounding bump, I find myself wondering.  Wondering if the baby is ok, if I’ll have the opportunity to hold and nurture this little one, if this pregnancy will end with empty arms and another tender place in my heart.

I shared struggle with a good friend and fellow missionary yesterday.  She was so truthful and encouraging, and as I read the words in her email one truth jumped out at me - God loves my children more than I do.  Sometimes I act as if that’s impossible.  I plead with the Lord as though I need to bargain with Him for their welfare.  I forget that their creator, sustainer, and savior does indeed love them more than I could ever imagine.  Before they were ever mine, they were His, and long after I’m done raising them and they leave my home they will still be His precious children.
Me and my big girl on Christmas Day

Of course I still long to be the mother of many children; to love and cherish them and raise them to know and love the Lord.  I long to know this little one; but last night as I lay down to fall asleep, one thought drowned out all others – God loves my children more than I do.  As I let that truth sink in deep I felt a little kick, and another, and another, and another.  I hadn’t felt the baby move for sure for several weeks, and as tears of joy rolled down my cheeks I knew that no matter how much I love this child, I’ll never even be able to imagine the depth of God’s love.  No matter what happens, my children are His precious sons and daughters and they belong in His hands. 

Singing with my sweet Savannah

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Sunday Afternoon Creations

Lately every Sunday I get the urge to create.  Sunday is a fairly quiet day in our house.  Jason doesn't go to work, I cook very simple meals, and we have lots of intentional soul care time.  After church we listen to podcasts, read tons of books to our daughter, play outside, make fantastic playdough and block tower creations, and Jason and I both make a point to do something restful and energizing.

For the month leading up to Christmas I had been spending all of my spare time working on Savannah’s busy book (more about that later), but yesterday I wanted to make a simple project that I could start and finish in an hour or so - something pretty and useful.   Usually I would pick up a hook or some needles and ball of yarn, but yesterday I got out my sewing machine.  

I am a very novice seamstress and somehow sewing anything always takes about 27 times longer than I think it should, but yesterday I was overflowing with the confidence only Pinterest can bring; so I pulled out some bright, African fabric and dove in.  To my great surprise, a few hours later I had not 1 but 2 fully lined, zipper close-able  very useful little bags.  

I made the tiny one first and it's just perfect to hold Savannah's treasured Elmo cell phone.  The large one holds all of her little people.  She's really into organizing and she loves that she can zip and unzip them herself.

There’s nothing like making something functional and useful with my own two hands to refresh my spirit!  I love that creativity in all of its many forms reflects the very image of our wonderfully imaginative God :-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thoughts from Evacu-cation

Evacuation…  I’ve always known that it could be a possibility.  Like I read in a news article this morning: “In truth, there hardly is a country in Africa where the army represents such a great danger for peace and stability as in Guinea Bissau. For the third time in two years the country will now have to embark on another post-coup transition.”

While I’ve always know that we could have to pack our lives, hop in the car, and head for the Senegalese border, the reality of doing it is hard to get used to.  Now that we’re starting our fourth day in Senegal, I’ve been able to switch out of survival mode and the processing part of my brain is finally starting to catch up with me :-)

Jason, ever the optimist, is calling our unplanned escape “Evacu-cation 2012”.  I understand why – we found a great deal and we’re splitting a beautiful bungalow by the beach with another missionary family; we have hot water, there are flowers everywhere, and even a pool!  On the outside this deserves every bit of the “vacation” side of Jason’s hyphenated name.  In our hearts though, the concept of being on vacation is a hard one to get used to.

There are things about evacuation that I always thought would be hard.  Even though we have a tiny apartment, you can’t pack three people’s whole lives into one suitcase.  There are lots of things you have to leave behind and I am a bit sad that I didn’t grab my recipe box and my Creole notebook.  On the other hand, God has given us so much grace for the tough decisions we’ve had to make, and even while we were packing it seemed easy to take the most important stuff and let everything else go.  

Leaving our friends wasn’t so easy.  As we said goodbye to the National Director of YFC Guinea-Bissau, who is a very close friend of ours, tears spilled down my cheeks as I told him how heartbroken I was to leave.  He said that when a family has problems there comes a time when the problems get so serious that everyone else has to leave and the family has to sit down and deal with them.  He went on to say that the problems in Guinea-Bissau are of their own creation and now is the time for Guineans to deal with them.  He also said that it was a load off of his mind to have us go because if something big did happen he wouldn't have to worry about us since foreigners are always targets in times of uncertainty.

While we’re fully expecting that this conflict will be resolved in a matter of days or weeks and we’ll be able to go back to our normal lives in the country we love, we also have to deal with the possibility that it could be months, or even years before we’ll be able to head back to Guinea-Bissau.  When we arrived in Africa nearly six years ago everything felt so foreign and I cried out to God to give my heart a home in this strange land.  He answered that prayer in so many ways, and while I’m so grateful, it also makes this process that much harder.

Our hearts and our prayers are with the people of Guinea-Bissau.  The country needs change.  The people are tired of war.  They are tired of poverty and suffering and fear.  We know that God often does His greatest work in times of great uncertainty and we’re trusting God for miracles in our little corner of West Africa!  

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— 
   where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, 
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip— 
   he who watches over you will not slumber; 
indeed, he who watches over Israel 
   will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you— 
   the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 
the sun will not harm you by day, 
   nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm— 
   he will watch over your life; 
the LORD will watch over your coming and going 
   both now and forevermore.

-Psalm 121

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just to make you smile

A while ago I was teaching some of my students about writing simple, clear sentences. They always want to write these long, flowery, verbose things and consequentially, their writing is very difficult to understand. I asked them to write three simple sentences about their favorite sport. This guy cracked me up, so I thought I would share it with you.

“The sport that I like the most is swimming. Swimming allows you to exercise your entire body. Unfortunately, I can’t swim.”

Just to make sure you're smiling, here are a few recent pictures of our little ham :-)

"yum, yum, yum, I love Cheerios!"

"The ocean is awesome!"

"One of my favorite pastimes - seeing who can roar the loudest, me or Daddy!"

"I LOVE food!!!!"

"For me! You shouldn't have!"

"Super baby!!!"

"Mush, Daddy!"

"iPhones, handy and also delicious!"

"Yes, if fact I am too cool for school!"

"Yup, I'm 11 months old - look at me go!!!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gina's Boys

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
-Psalm 27:13-14

That's what I read this morning, and after I read it, I couldn't stop thinking about the woman I met on Sunday at church. Her name was Gina and she came in with the cutest little boys. Same height, toddling right on her heels, two years old. They started dancing around, and Savannah was watching them and squealing, so Gina and I struck up a conversation.

When Gina was pregnant she knew there was more than one baby. She was huge, and her stomach never stopped moving. Her husband worked for the government, so even though he showed up to work everyday most months he didn't get paid his salary. About halfway through her pregnancy she had to stop working because she could hardly stand and she was retaining so much fluid that she couldn't even close her hands to grasp anything. Her midwife got scared. She told Gina that she was going to die if she didn't give her money to go and perform ceremonies involving demon worship. Gina refused. She said that she was in the hand of God. Her midwife continued to tell her she was going to die everyday.

When her labor started, her midwife was expecting the worst. One baby came, then the next, then the next. Triplets!!! No C-section, no drama, no problems. Three healthy babies, one healthy mother. The midwife was amazed and that day she gave her life to the Lord. Gina was confident that she would see God's goodness and even when she didn't know how things would turn out, she was completely content waiting on Him.

I wish her story ended there; but there were only two little boys with her on Sunday. After the boys' first birthday, one of them got sick. He had a high fever and wouldn't stop vomiting. She took him to the hospital and found out that he had malaria and was severely dehydrated. They started treatment and then left him alone for hours, waiting for a bribe to come back into the room. Gina begged them to come and look at him again when he became lethargic and blood was climbing up the IV tube that was supposed to be giving him nutrients. In the end, he died in front of her. As she looked at me with tears in her eyes (and quite a few in mine as well) her face lit up with a huge smile and she said, “I don't have a single complaint against God for what happened to my son. All my life, He has taken care of me and He knows better than I do what my son needed. My son is with Him, and I will see him again. Right now I look at my other sons and I know I am blessed, but even if they were all taken away from me I would still know that I am blessed.”

I was floored by Gina's faith and strength. I was inspired by her joy; and I was humbled. After we chatted a while longer I sat down with Savannah and all I could think about was Romans 5:3-4:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Nobody likes suffering. Nobody likes pain and hurt and disappointment, but when we invite Jesus to come into our suffering, to be with us in our hurt, that's when suffering produces perseverance; and when God gives us the strength to persevere, we develop character; and from the fiber of our character, springs hope. Gina was filled with it.

Sometimes in the middle of our hurt we turn from God. We shut Him out and all we have is pain. God waits for us to invite Him in, so that He can change us. God has used so many difficult things in my life to make me who I am; to teach me more about myself and more about Him. I don't know what pain will come in my future, but I do know that God can use it to strengthen me and to make hope fill my heart and shine from my face. I am confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and I'm waiting on Him.

It's not easy to get a good picture on a camera phone in a dark room :-) Gina and her two boys. Their names are in Balanta (her tribal language) but they translate to "God loves us" and "God loves you". The one who died was named "God loves me"