Well, some moms' days start at night, or never ended to begin with. Like this:   Little man woke 8 times in about as many hours. Then he wanted to get up at six instead of seven and while Daddy and I drooped bug-eyed on our bed gasping for breath from lack of sleep, he brought his toy box into our room and threw his balls around and bounced off the walls in happy boisterousness.

I said,  "I think our son has worms and wheat intolerance and milk allergy and ADHD and insomnia." Daddy  said, "There is nothing wrong with him." I said, "Then why has he been so wound up and grumpy the last couple weeks?" Daddy said, " Because he was wound up and grumpy." I said, "Why did he sleep the way he did last night? " And Daddy said, "Because he woke up so often. "   =) =)

(And lest you think that is an uncaring, unsympathetic husband, let me tell you that he is only very practical and wise, and the above conversation was
all in fun. =) We decided that the natural dewormer we were doing that week was what made for some interesting nights. We have some interesting nights
on a regular basis with our almost two year old who's pet peeve is sleeping, but we are working on it and we'll sleep better some day.

So....the day. It begins with all the normals in this house of three people- a daddy, a mama, and a little boy on top of this mountain in East Africa. Getting dressed, breakfast...and that may be porridge, which is the little boy's favorite, but not the daddy's, or it may be pancakes or biscuits, or eggs, which is the daddy's favorite. Then Bible time, which is beginning to include a younger version for our littler person. It may be interrupted, depending on the day or time, by a knock on the gate, which may be either the milk man or Mama Tuombe. They both come three days a week at about the same time.

If it is a Mama Tuombe day, she will begin by diligently sweeping the yard, every corner. We have lots of trees and flowers and grass and while it is the delight of my soul, it does make for more upkeep. Mama Tuombe does a good job. (She doesn't know that I don't do it the days she isn't here.) She stays about three hours, has just started helping me and we like each other so far, I think. Her name means "Let's pray". (Actually, that must be her oldest child's name. Here, that's what you go by.

Once the house is in order and dishes done, I begin laundry. If it is a laundry day. Mama Tuombe and I do it together so we have a chance to talk, so I have a chance to practice my slowly progressing language skills. In the meantime, Little Man thrills to the outdoors and the water and the dirt. We have chai together and then....school! Yes, fairly basic, but a good thing for a little man who needs the structure and direction. Coloring, counting, puzzles, stories, matching, practicing the sounds he knows.....We both enjoy it a lot.

It may be a no-Mama Tuombe day and hence a no-laundry day. Maybe it is shopping day. Market is far enough and my son heavy enough that I cannot just run when I need to. What is working very well for me is to do it once a week and keep a shopping list. I enjoy the challenge of using what I have on hand and seeing the fridge almost clean for the next batch of produce. Then Little Man will either stay with Daddy while I go all the way into town (.5 mile?) or they will both go along if Daddy has some business there or Little Man and I will go to a variety of nearby dukas to get what we need.

Lunch time...almost always leftovers from the night before. I just cook once a day. =) And naps! Mama's free time, right? Well, this mama is still in the language learning stage and is trying to discipline herself to use that valuable time to study. Sometimes that means going over to the neighbor girl to talk. Sometimes it means self study ....on the couch...with a pillow and blanket....and that usually means fall asleep a bit. =) Other times I cheat a bit and...maybe write a story for TCK mom. =)

At this time, with the Bible translation project barely beginning here, my sweetheart is still working some for a company in the US (he's a computer programmer), usually studying in the mornings and working in the afternoons. It is very much of a blessing to have him so much a part of our day.

Afternoons vary, obviously. They usually start when little guy wakes up with washing lunch dishes and then we may go outside. We actually have space for a garden and there are tiny little spinach and lettuce and onion and tomato and sweet corn and cilantro and mint plants shining green, and strawberries that are growing well....so fun!!  Little Man enjoys helping me water the garden. There may be other yard work - pulling weeds or just playing together in the dirt or throwing a ball. Or maybe going over to the elderly neighbor lady sitting on her porch, sewing...a place where ladies seem to gather a lot and a valuable place to make friends and practice language. Or there may be bread to bake or laundry to take care of... and of course supper to cook. Somewhere in there is a little quiet time when Mama gets to read her Bible and Little Man plays on a mat by himself, usually with a container of rice and some spoons or something, saved for the occasion.

This week we had one of 'those' evenings. You know, when the power is off. The kitchen is too dark to see in, and the mangos you are cutting up are very tasty, but slimy and stringy and your two year old very helpfully holds a flash light for you, shining...in your eyes. You were going to bake a delicious eggplant lasagna, but because the power is off you change your menu and run to the nearby duka for some last minute pasta. The sauce you made is chunky instead of blended, because, of course, you can't use the blender. Your little boy needs to go potty in the middle of the meal and it's too dark to see properly and it goes on your dress instead of the accepted normal place....and.....you finish your meal. And tell your husband, "Now wasn't this romantic? We just had a candlelight dinner!"  And you smile and go on. =)

Then dishes and floors and baths and bedtime for a little person, and maybe a few minutes for Mama to write while Daddy puts him down. (THAT has been a situation in itself for the past year and a half, the getting him to sleep.....and sometimes took an hour or two,  It's going better now.) And then...is he and me time! =) And if I am still sweeping the floor, my dear husband just may take the broom from me, put it away and steer me to the couch to begin our time together. =) "It's not necessary to work in the evening, " he says.

So that's a brief glimpse of what a normalish day may be like, in this season of life with just one little TCK. I love being a wife and a mama and though it has it's unique challenge in a different culture and away from family and friends, I am very blessed and thank the Lord for his faithfulness.

I think we're not the only ones who have experienced this, are we? You get busy, you get overwhelmed, you have babies interrupting your moments of time together, you live very different lives with your own sets of responsibilities, and before you know it, you feel disconnected from your husband. Your date nights, if they happen at all, are more like business meetings. You realize it's been a long time since you just enjoyed each other's company, laughed together about nothing, held hands and looked into each other's eyes.

I started to title this article "When Marriage is Hard". But I am not writing for those who have truly difficult marriages. Not because I don't feel for them, but because I don't have wisdom or experience to offer. This article is for the rest of us - we who really have good marriages, and yet there are times when things are hard. Seasons when we're not connecting, not romancing, maybe even not feeling in love.

There can be lots of reasons for this, but here are a few that we've found.

1) We're both sapped by other responsibilities and have no mental/emotional energy left for each other. This is especially applicable for introverts who need time alone to refuel.

2) We live in two different worlds, and have trouble connecting with each other's lives. Maybe because of lack of time, lack of interest, lack of knowledge & understanding, or all of the above.

3) One of us is sick and requiring care from the other - or if not requiring care, at least not able to give to the relationship.

4) Misunderstandings cause distance in the relationship, even if we're not "fighting" or "angry" with each other.

5) One (or both) of us are dealing with past hurts or current stresses which we take out on our spouse, even though the he/she is not responsible.

So when you find yourself in one of these situations, what do you DO? None of us want to be content with the status quo . . . we want to keep pressing on in our relationships, right? We want to keep that love alive and not grow distant from each other. How do we stay connected? How do we reconnect?

1) Remember that your marriage needs to be a priority. It just has to be! Yes, there are seasons when life is way too full, way too stressful, way too interrupted by little people, or whatever your "way too" is. But even in those seasons, we need to figure out how to squeeze in time (and energy) for our marriage. Is there something else that you can let slide a little, in order to make room for your partner? Identify what is causing you to drift apart right now, and see if it's something that can change.

2) Find out what your spouse needs most from you. Hopefully you can ask him. Talk about what is working and what isn't. Talk about what speaks love to him and what doesn't. Read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, together if you can. If you can't sit down and talk about it, then do your homework. Experiment with different ways of saying "I love you" (not just with words, but with actions) and take note of how he responds.

3) Let your husband know what you need from him. I don't mean that you should give him a big list of dos and don'ts, or demand your rights from him. But if there is something that just really isn't working for you, or something he's doing that is especially hard or hurtful for you, TELL HIM. Of course there are marriages and situations where you can't do that. But most men would be really glad to hear this from their wife. Usually, they don't have a clue that what they're doing is a problem for you. Talking about it is SO much more productive than trying to ignore or suppress it, and struggling with resentment or frustration. HOWEVER, make sure that you approach him in the right time and the right way. Throwing out hints as you storm around the kitchen isn't going to help anyone. Make sure you have his attention, he knows you want to talk about something that's important to you, and that you speak in a respectful, gracious way.

4) Realize that you have different ways of connecting, and by pushing your way you can cause hurts and resentment. This is tied in to the last two points, but it's important. You may be in a situation where one of you feels that your marriage is great, while the other one is feeling disconnected and unloved. Our personalities and cultural expectations determine how we express love and what we need out of relationships. But here's the good news - we can learn to adjust our expectations. If you are married to an introvert and you're always nagging him to spend more time together, you're hurting the relationship instead of helping! He needs quiet space to "decompress", and when you nag and make him feel guilty for not being with you, it makes him resent you. Ideally you can both learn to express your love in a way that helps the other, and both of your needs will be met. But if "ideal" isn't happening, at least make sure that you're not making the situation worse by rejecting the ways he is trying to love you, or demanding things that he can't give you.

5) Be interested in your husband's world. There are times I listen to "lectures" on topics I care nothing about, simply because it means a lot to my husband. He wants to share his interests with me - whether it's work or hobbies. If I think, "Why am I wasting my time listening to this?" I will be resentful. If I think, "This is a chance to connect more deeply to my husband's world" I will realize that it really is worth it! And most likely it will mean a LOT to your husband . . . unless he's in a situation where he doesn't want to talk about it. If he needs to leave the stress behind and forget about it when he walks in the door, respect that too!

6) If your husband is sick, make sure you take care of yourself. I'm not talking about a week of the flu or a bout of malaria. I'm talking about prolonged illness. It might be a physical illness and you are his primary caregiver. That can give you so many special bonding opportunities, but it can also exhaust you and put a strain on your relationship. Make sure you're getting the rest you need, and taking breaks to replenish. Maybe it's not a physical illness, but depression, anxiety, or a mental illness that's making him unable to hold up "his end of the deal." In this case, you may not actually be taking care of him, but may be shouldering some or all of his responsibility. In either case, it is easy for you to become exhausted. With exhaustion comes feelings of resentment, and then guilt that you're having those feelings. You HAVE to get the rest that you need and take care of yourself or your relationship will suffer.

7) If you're dealing with past hurts or major stresses, make sure you take care of yourself. Get help to work through your emotional issues so that they're not damaging your marriage. Implement whatever self-care routines need to happen so that you can manage your stress instead of taking it out on your partner. I know these things are easy to say and much harder to do. But consider our first point - your marriage needs to be a priority. Which means you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your marriage.

8) Don't overlook the everyday love. Of course the romance is wonderful, and we all want to have those heart-flutters and gushy feelings sometimes. But seriously, ladies, doesn't changing messy diapers and dealing with beggars at the door and taking out the trash and getting up with the baby SHOUT "I love you" louder than any chocolate or roses ever could? When a man sacrifices himself over and over and over for his family, that is true love. Look for the little everyday ways your husband is saying "I love you" by taking care of you.

9) Don't give up. Some seasons are just hard, and there's no way to change that. Keep trying anyway. Read an inspirational book about marriage. Search for free date ideas (although this might be depressing if you live overseas). Think of a new way to say "I love you" this week. Don't wait for the feelings, just keep on keeping on. Seasons will pass, and when they do, we want to make sure our relationship is stronger than ever.

When we were first married, I put together an album of our wedding pictures. I included a quote which I loved at the time, 'TRUE LOVE is when you can't sleep at night because reality is better than your dreams.'  So romantic . . . and true when you're on your honeymoon. But you can't live life that way. My favorite quote now? "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

 

What do you do to "keep the love alive"? What has brought you through a challenging time in your marriage? OR what do you do to prevent those hard times from bringing distance in your relationship?

I am part of a couple groups for women overseas, and quite a while ago, one of the members asked this question:

"Has anyone else dealt with feeling physically "off" when you first moved to a new country? It seems like I have a few good days and then am flat on my back with some sickness or other AGAIN. I almost never feel normal. Any suggestions of things that worked for anyone? Or an idea of how long this will last?"

Good question! Most of us overseas have dealt with this, so I think it's worth discussing here. Yes, it's normal, and mostly you just have to wait it out. I think it can easily take a year to get used to the climate and "bugs" of a new place. But here are a few things to keep in mind as well . . .

1) Get plenty of rest. Give your body a break. You are dealing with a TON of new stuff, physically and emotionally, and it's exhausting. If you've just moved to a tropical climate from a temperate one, you're dealing with the heat which is very draining on your body. Take naps. Go to bed early whenever you can.

 

2) Drink plenty of water. Especially if you're in a hot climate. Drink, drink, drink! The average recommendation of 64oz a day may not be enough for an active lifestyle in a tropical country. Set a timer to remind you to drink a glass of water every couple hours, or do whatever it takes to make sure that you're staying hydrated.

 

3) Take a good multivitamin. Your diet is most likely not as varied and "enriched" as it was in America, and you need to make sure your body is getting the micro-nutrients you need. I really recommend one of those green smelly kinds made from whole foods, rather than the cheap ones you can get at Walmart. :-)

 

4) Eat a good diet. At first, give yourself some grace on this one, as you're learning to cook with strange foods and limited variety. But have a long-term goal of eating as healthy as you can with what you have available. I hope to write an article specifically on this topic soon.

 

5) Avoid what stress you can. Obviously moving to a foreign country is hugely stressful. There is no way around that. Stress takes a measurable toll on your body, and people who have high stress levels are much more likely to get sick. So take this into account, and take special care of yourself through the first stressful months of life in your new country.

 

What am I missing? Do you have any tips to add?

Last year, I was introduced to the idea of OneWord365. I didn't join the community, but I loved the idea of choosing a word to focus on for the year. A word to grow into, to intentionally shape your life around.

 

The word I chose was thrive. At the beginning of 2015, we had just moved again for the seventh time in three years. We were in the midst of burnout. It felt like our whole married life (almost five years at that point) we'd just been surviving. Holding on for the next season. Waiting for things to get better, more settled, easier. I was tired of living in survival mode.

It was time to thrive.

I was realizing that it might be a long time until our life felt settled. It might be a long time until things were easy again. With a burned out, depressed husband and many questions about our future, I wasn't even sure how we were going to survive, let alone thrive. But that was the word God put on my heart. Thrive.

So I wrote it down. And then I wrote out what thriving looked like to me. My list was divided into categories, and included things like "weekly meal plans", "regular date nights", "daily exercise" and "hospitality". I chose my one word, and then I made a whole list of New Year's Resolutions that I felt would help me live out that word.

Little did I know that things were going to get worse before they got better. I've already shared some of our story, so many of you know that by April we were desperate for help and signed up for a three-week counseling program. Not exactly thriving. At some point about halfway through the year, after a few months of barely surviving, I pulled out my New Year's list. As I read down through all the worthy goals I had set for myself, I felt hopelessly condemned. I most certainly picked the wrong word. This was not a year to thrive.

And then it hit me. Thriving is not defined by whether or not my kitchen is clean, my meals are planned, or my husband is taking me out for a date. Thriving is the state of my heart, an attitude. I can accomplish my to-do list and still not be thriving. On the other hand, I can rest in God in the midst of turmoil, confusion and pain, and my heart can thrive.

I still don't feel like I did a good job of living out my OneWord this year. I do not feel like I thrived. But I did learn that thriving is not something you do, it's something you are. I did realize how quick I am to make lists and measure my success by what I get done, instead of focusing on the attitude of my heart. I did learn that God is not nearly as interested in my goals and accomplishments as He is in meeting me in my pain and weakness.

And now that I've learned those things, I think I'm ready to learn to thrive.

 

This article is part of a link-up at Velvet Ashes. Don't miss the great articles there about other ladies' experiences with their word for the year!

 

rsz ow 365

Self-care. How does that word make you feel? For the longest time, I catagorized "self-care" with "selfish" - in the list of things I shouldn't really do, or should only do if I had lots of time completely free from responsibilities. (Which never happens when you have children!)

But I've learned something over the last two years of walking through burnout and depression. You ARE responsible for taking care of yourself. No one else will. No one else can. And you know what? It's not selfish. It's part of being the best person you can be, so that you can have something to offer those around you. You are the mom. The world revolves around you. If you crash, you take everyone down with you! Isn't it better to take time for yourself now, rather than find yourself debilitated by depression, or leaving the field because of burnout, or hospitalized with a physical illness a few years down the road?**

I believe ALL moms need to focus more on taking care of themselves. However, this is especially necessary for moms overseas. Why?

  • Our support system is small or non-existent. No grandma to babysit while we go shopping. No best friend to take us out for coffee. Perhaps no Christian community to meet for regular fellowship and encouragement.
  • We're under huge cultural stress, making everything more exhausting.
  • Everyday life is harder. No air conditioning, unreliable eletricity, no convenience foods - you know the list.
  • There's fewer people around us that will notice the danger signs when we're not doing well.
  • There's more pressure on us, from locals and from supporters, to meet up to certain expectations and perform well.

That's a lot of stress on a mom, who ALREADY has enough stress in simply running the home and raising her children! I believe self-care is absolutely essential to survival as a mother overseas.

So what does self-care really mean? How do we DO it?

I am NOT an expert, but here are some things we have been learning. The outworking of these things will look different in each situation.

  1. Draining vs. Energizing Activities - Everything you do is either energizing for you or draining for you. It is different for each individual - for one mom, cooking is a fun hobby, while for another it is a stressful chore. For one person, large social groups are energizing and exciting, for another they are exhausting and draining. Obviously we can't avoid everything that is draining for us, but we can identify those things and make sure to follow them with "recharge" time. If cooking is stressful for you, figure out a way to take a break from cooking one day a week. If large groups are exhausting, make sure you can take some time alone after the event is over. Balance your draining activities with energizing ones, and eliminate any that you can.
  2. Self-Talk - I am finding this to be a huge need in my life. What are you saying about yourself in your head? "I can't keep on top of things no matter how hard I try."  "I'll never be good enough." "I'm such a failure as a mom." Sound familiar? Just this morning I realized that I forgot eggs at the store AGAIN and the words in my head were "Brilliant homemaker, can't even remember her whole grocery list." STOP! Talking this way about yourself (even if you never say the words outloud) is hurting not only you, but your children as well.
  3. Time to Create. You might be thinking, "But I'm not a crafty-type person." Fine. I'm certainly not! But we all need time to be creative. For some this means writing. For some it means drawing, painting, sewing, or craft projects. It might be cooking or home decorating or photography. Whatever it is, you need to have a creative outlet. Even if you can only squeeze in an hour a week, DO IT!
  4. Time to Meet Your Needs - As busy moms, especially in ministry, we often deprive ourselves of the most essential physical needs. This ought to be obvious, but ladies, we need to feed ourselves as well as our children! We need to get enough sleep to keep our bodies healthy. We all need exercize (unless we have a toddler to chase!) These physical needs should be a priority, even on busy, crazy days. But we all have other needs, emotional and spiritual, as well. Don't feel guilty about taking a hot bath, scheduling a coffee date with a friend, or spending the evening reading a good book. Identify what your needs are and make sure they're getting met on a regular basis! Obviously there will be weeks when everyone has the stomach flu, or you're packing to leave on furlough, that everything is upside down and there is no time for you. But don't constantly live in the 'maybe I'll have time next week' mode. Time for you will not happen unless YOU make it a priority.
  5. Time with the Lord. I shouldn't even need to mention this one, right? But it's SO easy as a busy mom to let personal time with the Lord get bumped out by more urgent things. Keep it a priority! And I'm not talking about the legalistic "have to read a chapter" that you can check off your to-do list. That is not life-giving or relationship-building. Do what you need to do to really connect with the Lord and be refreshed by Him: maybe praying the Scriptures outloud, journaling through a chapter of the Bible, reading a devotional, or listening to an audio message.
  6. Get Help. Maybe you need practical help - Are household chores taking all your time? Consider hiring local household help. Do you really need to get out? Find someone who can babysit and give you a break. Or maybe you need emotional help and support. Reach out to a friend. Find a mentor. Join an online community of women who can understand and give support. Find a counselor before you're desperate. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

A closing thought on what self-care is not? Self-care is not self-medicating your stress by spending mindless hours on Facebook or YouTube or reading novels, or whatever your escape might be. I'm not saying that doing something like that to relax is always wrong. But when you find yourself binge-watching a TV series to escape your responsiblities (and emotions), please do not call it self-care. Rather, realize it's a warning sign that you NEED to put some healthy self-care in place before it's too late!

**I certainly do not suggest that every case of deperession or illness is caused by lack of self-care. There are many other circumstances out of our control that can also cause these things. But let's be responsible to do what we can, and that means taking care of ourselves!**

So now it's your turn, ladies! What do you think when you hear the word "self-care"? Do you have some boundaries in place that allow you to take care of yourself? What do you find most helpful to you? Please share in the comments below!